SpiritsHandpicked by IWSC

Award-winning bourbon

Whiskey made in the Bluegrass State and beyond: these 14 top bourbons impressed judges across the board at the IWSC 2022

Words by IWSC judges

Photography by IWSC judges

bourbon barrel and glass of whiskey
Handpicked by IWSC

The rich, sweet notes of toffee, cinnamon and vanilla that you’ll find in the best bourbons are the ideal introduction to the world of whiskey – and the signature flavours you can expect from the prominent style of the spirit produced in the US.

Bourbon originated from farmers on the east coast, when they realised they could turn their excess grains into something special; and when tax increases forced them further south into Tennessee and Kentucky, an industry was born.

Around the 19th Century it found its focus in Kentucky and became a more refined product from which today’s rules around the drink were set: it must be made with at least 51% corn (barley, wheat and rye can also be found in the drink’s mash bill), aged in charred, new oak and bottled at over 40% ABV.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, winner of the IWSC Bourbon Trophy 2019
The famous Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky

But contrary to popular belief, the whiskey can be made all over the USA, and not just in Kentucky – and some of the best bourbon at this year’s IWSC proves just that. There’s Colorado’s Aspen Stave Finished Barrel Proof Bourbon, which judges praised for its ‘savoury undertones, culminating in an enjoyably warm and spiced finish’. And Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey scored 95/100 thanks to ‘a vanilla sweetness that is enriched with toasted coconut and honey’.

But top of the tree were a host of Kentucky Straight Bourbons from renowned producers the likes of Knob Creek and Buffalo Trace, proving the Bluegrass State’s continued prowess for the spirit. Read on to discover the top-scoring bottles from the IWSC 2022.

stacked barrels for bourbon whiskey

HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE SPIRITS?

We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.

HOW DO WE SCORE THESE SPIRITS?

Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.

MORE FROM CLUB OENOLOGIQUE

Club O is an exclusive community and the go-to platform for wine and spirit lovers. Our flagship Club Oenologique magazine offers even more insights for enthusiasts and collectors. Based in London, our editorial team tells informative, inspirational stories from the world of wine and spirits, gastronomy and travel, as well as covering recommendations and the latest trends in drink. You can take a look at our Explained series, for instance, where we’re tackling grape varieties, regions and styles of wine and spirits. Alternatively, visit our Ask the Sommelier section, where experts answer your wine-related questions.