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Here Are All The Bourbon Finalists From The 2022 ‘Super Bowl Of Spirits’

Sep 23, 2022

Finding the best bourbon whiskey isn’t as easy as it was even a few years ago. Today, the average liquor store shelf is teeming with more bourbons than you can imagine. That’s why spirits competitions like the famed San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) still matter — they offer a way to weed through all the bourbon out there today.

To that end, SFWSC just announced their bourbon finalists for 2022. What does that even mean? These are the bottles of bourbon that not only received a “double gold” medal — meaning every judge at the table unanimously and anonymously agreed that the bottle was a gold medal — but the judges also thought that the pour had a chance at winning “best in class.” That means a long-ish list of bourbon bottles went to another round of double-blind tastings where those bottles were whittled down to the finalist, listed below. From this list, SFWSC judges will decide which bourbon whiskey is the bourbon of the year, or the “best in class” bourbon (announced in June).

The eleven finalist bourbons below are all pretty stellar whiskeys. I was lucky enough to be on several bourbon judging panels this year at the SFWSC, so I’ll be providing my tasting notes where I can and adding in notes from the distiller, blender, or judges when I haven’t tried an expression.

Let’s dive in and see if we can’t find you a great bourbon to sip on this summer!

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SMALL BATCH BOURBON

Penelope Private Select Bourbon

Penelope Bourbon Penelope Bourbon

ABV: 59.1%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This whiskey from Penelope really helps solidify the brand as a powerhouse in blending. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of three bourbon mash bills (one is 21 percent rye, another 90 percent corn, and a 45 percent wheated bourbon — all from MGP), which create a four-grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) bourbon. All of this is to say that this is a masterful blend of four to five-year-old barrels into something bigger than the individual parts.

Tasting Notes:

You get a sense of dry cornmeal on the nose next to apple crumble, plenty of wintry spice, a hint of mulled wine, wet brown sugar, and a thin layer of wet-yet-sweet cedar. A hint of brandy-soaked cherries arrives on the palate with a dusting of dark chocolate powder next to more apple pie filling, spice, and buttery crust alongside a sweet, toffee-heavy mid-palate. The end arrives with a dry wicker vibe, cherry tobacco chewiness, and a hint of that dark chocolate.

Bottom Line:

This really is the “good stuff.” All that orchard fruit, chocolate, and spice combine to make a very fine sipper.

Laws Whiskey Bonded Four Grain Bourbon

Laws Whiskey House

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $87

The Whiskey:

A.D. Laws out in Colorado is renowned for its award-winning four-grain bourbons. The juice is made from 60 percent corn, 20 percent heirloom wheat, ten percent heirloom rye, and ten percent heirloom malted barley. That hot juice is then aged for over six years before it’s batched and cut down to 100 proof per bonded whiskey laws.

Tasting Notes:

This feels more crafty on the nose with a balance between bitter black tea that’s been cut with a summer-y and floral honey as touches of cinnamon, pancake batter, and orange pop in the background. The orange and spice thickens and leans into an orange pound cake with a buttery and spicy streusel crumble as that black tea bitterness circles back to cut through all that butter, spice, and orange. The end leans into the spice with more of a cinnamon candy vibe that leads towards a final dusting of dark cocoa.

Bottom Line:

This is a complex and rewarding sipper. I also think you can build an amazing cocktail on its foundation of orange and spice with that nice black tea bitterness providing a good counterpoint to any sweetness.

Ezra Brooks Old Ezra 7 Year Old Bourbon

Old Ezra 7 Luxco

ABV: 58.5%

Average Price: $97

The Whiskey:

This brand from Luxco is still sourced juice though they did start distilling their own in 2018. This bottle is a seven-year-old blend of barrels with a bourbon mash bill of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and ten percent rye, which just so happens to be Heaven Hill’s bourbon mash bill. These barrels are blended down and left as-is at cask strength for bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This is a pretty classic bourbon from nose to finish with a strong sense of rich caramel, pancakes with plenty of vanilla, sweet oak, wet brown sugar, and a whiff of cherry tobacco. The palate leans into the woody brown spices as a dark cherry vibe sweetens the mid-palate. The end circles back to that sweet oak and spicy cherry tobacco on a short finish.

Bottom Line:

I wouldn’t be surprised if something like this took home best in class. It’s just so classic with some serious depth. It’s not overly heavy or funky, just easy and deep.

SINGLE BARREL BOURBON

Doc Whiskey Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon

Doc Whiskey Single Barrel Doc Whiskey

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $22

The Whiskey:

This sourced whiskey is a bit of an outlier. The mash bill (from MGP of Indiana) is 51 percent corn, 45 percent wheat, and four percent malted barley. That makes this a supercharged wheated bourbon (most wheated bourbons are closer to ten to 20 percent wheat). The juice then ages for only three years before it’s bottled as-is by the blenders at Doc Whiskey.

Tasting Notes (from the SFWSC judges):

“Vanilla on the nose with a noticeable nasal burn. Semi-sweet on the palate with notes of creamy vanilla and dried fruit which continues through the lingering finish.”

Bottom Line:

Notably, I wasn’t on a single barrel bourbon panel this year, so I haven’t tasted this one yet. That said, “creamy vanilla” and “dried fruit” always work for me so I’m intrigued.

Nashville Barrel Co. Single Barrel Bourbon

Nashville Barrel Co. Bourbon Nashville Barrel Co.

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

Nashville Barrel Co. is doing some of the best work in the bottling game, full stop. They’re sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.

Tasting Notes:

Depending on which bottle you come across, expect a nose full of cotton candy, buttered popcorn, vanilla beans, freshly baked cherry pie with a lard crust, and plenty of caramel sauce, mild leather, hints of oak, and a dollop of orange oil. The palate will lean into the spice with plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice with maybe a hint of anise and sweetgrass before a mid-palate of Almond Joy and salted caramel candies take over. That sweet mid-point will give way to a finish with nutty dark chocolate clusters with hints of dried fruits, old leather, sweet oak, and plenty of wintry spices.

Bottom Line:

I can attest that these always rule. They do vary pretty widely depending on who is picking that barrel, but the team at Nashville Barrel Company doesn’t stock bad barrels, period.

SPECIAL BARREL FINISHED

TX Texas Straight Bourbon Cognac Casks

TX Texas Bourbon TX Texas Bourbon

ABV: 50.8%

Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

This Texas bourbon is made at Firestone Robertson Distilling Company with an undisclosed mash bill. What we do know is that this whiskey spends two years maturing under the hot Texas sun before it’s transferred into Cognac casks for a final 17-month rest.

Tasting Notes:

Apricots and floral honey mingle on the nose as a hint of raw oats, soft leather, and plum pudding round things out. The palate leans into the spices from the wintry plum pudding with plenty of lush vanilla and salted caramel sweetness on the mid-palate. The finish ramps up the dark brown spices with a Red Hot vibe as the floral honey returns with a hint of grape seeds and skins on the dry backend.

Bottom Line:

This is a nice change of pace that still feels somewhat familiar. That said, this is one of those bottles that sit on my shelf that I forget is there. It’s nice over a rock or two though.

Doc Swinson’s Kiona Cask Bourbon

Doc Swinsons Doc Swinsons

ABV: 57.1%

Average Price: $85

The Whiskey:

This blender up in Washington is all about finding the prime barrels and creating something new by tinkering, blending, and finishing them in unique ways. In this case, that entailed getting barrels from the Kiona Wintery. The blend of low-rye bourbons are reloaded in Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon casks from Kiona for a final rest before blending and bottling as-is.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“Dark stone fruits, tart cherries, soft licorice, cabernet wine, and toasted vanilla. Dark Chocolate covered brandied cherries (Mon Cheri), baking spice, apple pie filling, and toasted almonds. Full-bodied bourbon with deep flavors of mon cheri cherries, marzipan and crème brûlée.”

Bottom Line:

The team at Doc Swinson’s continually hit it out of the part with these special finishes. That said, this is one of the rarer ones and will be harder to track down. Good luck out there!

WHEATED BOURBON

Weller 12

Sazerac Company

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $350

The Whiskey:

This expression of Weller rests in the warehouse for 12 long years. A fair amount of juice is lost to the angels during that stretch. In the end, the whiskey is vatted from the barrels that survived and then proofed down to a soft 90 proof.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a deep, creamy sweet corn note on the nose that gives way to old wool sweaters and vanilla pancakes rolled around soft marzipan. The palate has a warm biscuit vibe with hints of buttery toffee syrup and old cutting boards that still smell of dark spices and dried fruit. The end takes its time and touches back on the cakey vanilla, buttery syrups, soft marzipan, and old, fruit-stained wood as it gently fades away.

Bottom Line:

There’s a lot of backlash to Weller always being so hyped. But … this expression in particular delivers on every bit of that hype. Weller 12 might be the best of the standard Wellers out there these days. Plus, this is the exact same bourbon as Pappy 12, mashbill-wise.

CRAFT DISTILLER

Frey Ranch Single Barrel #589

Frey Ranch Single Barrel Frey Ranch

ABV: 66.06%

Average Price: Limited Availability

The Whiskey:

These releases are private barrel picks that usually got to retailers, bars, and private whiskey clubs (who sometimes sell them online). In this case, this is a Distiller’s Reserve pick that you’d only get at the distillery and was picked by the team at Frey Ranch. The actual whiskey in that barrel is Frey Ranch’s five-year-old whiskey that’s barrel as-is with no cutting, filtering, or fussing. Basically, this is Frey Ranch at its purest.

Tasting Notes (from the SFWSC judges):

“The nose has notes of dried fruit and cinnamon. It is dry on the palate with pronounced herbal notes and dried fruit, with a long, slightly peppery finish.”

Bottom Line:

Frey Ranch is one of those craft distillers that have yet to miss. This is bound to be a great dram … if you can track one down.

TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Jack Daniels 10

Jack Daniel's 10 Brown-Forman

ABV: 48.5%

Average Price: $400

The Whiskey:

This new age statement released from Jack Daniel’s feels like a throwback to a bygone era in Tennessee Whiskey. The whiskey is aged for at least ten years. During that time, the barrels spend time in the “Buzzard’s Roost” at the top of the rickhouse. Once they hit the right flavor profile, those barrels are moved to the bottom floors of other warehouses to slow the aging down. Finally, the whiskey is vatted, proofed, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a rich matrix of cherry syrup, apple cores, sticky toffee, vanilla ice cream, and a thin line of wet and sweet wood. The palate opens up towards the dark fruit but dries it out and married it to a sticky and spicy tobacco leaf while toasted cedar soaked in salted caramel vibes with dry corn husks that are just singed. The finish really takes its time as the cherry attaches to an old cinnamon stick and the tobacco takes on a sticky chewiness with a mild savory fruit edge.

Bottom Line:

It’s no surprise that one of the industry’s favorite whiskeys of last year is winning all the awards this year. Expanding on that, I would not be surprised — at all — if this took home best in class. It’s just freakin’ good. That said, I wasn’t on the finalists’ panels as a judge this year. So, who knows?

George Dickel Bottled in Bond Spring 2007

Screen-Shot-2021-08-19-at-4.35.35-PM.jpg Diageo

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in spring 2007. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.

Tasting Note:

The nose on this one is mildly sweet with almost earthy maple syrup next to pecans from a pie with a touch of dried apple and old leather. The taste runs deep with vanilla leading the way next to a touch of apple and pecan crumble. The mid-palate takes a turn away from all of that and dives into a candied cherry that’s dusted with dark chocolate and a ground-up fruit Neco Wafer or Flintstone’s multivitamin (that’s also cherry-flavored) before the finish gets this browned butter vibe with a touch of soft, sweet oak.

Bottom Line:

This would be my third bet in my trifecta for “best in class.” I was on the original panel that blindly awarded this double gold and everyone at that table was blown away. The fact that it made it through the next round and into the finals is not a surprise whatsoever.


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