The New York World Wine And Spirits Competition held its annual judging in Brooklyn last month, and its organizers have been slowly releasing the results since then. A few weeks ago, whiskey lovers were surprised to learn that 15 Stars – a relatively little-known craft producer from Kentucky – had beaten out much larger brands from the Bluegrass State, and beyond, to take home the award for Better Bourbon.
Now we can give even more surprising news, exclusively to Forbes: The same producer won the award for best whiskey. More specifically, 15 Stars First West Rye Whiskey (Batch #1) is the Best Whiskey in Show; the first on the list, the king of the hill, number A-1. You’re probably wondering what this liquid really tastes like to achieve such a distinction. Below we will reveal it to you in great detail. But first it is worth mentioning the improbable nature of the achievement.
To achieve such high status, this bottle of six-year-old rye beat out Scotches, bourbons, and Irish whiskeys with much greater stature (and much longer age statements).
The best scotch
The best Scotch, as we reported two weeks ago, was a quarter-century single malt from Ardbeg, one of the most storied whiskey makers on the planet. Other American whiskeys awarded Double Gold included Knob Creek, EH Taylor and George T. Stagg. However, this small family-owned brand from Bardstown triumphed over them all.
And he did it in a completely blind competition. The jury of experts tested thousands of liquids from the main categories over three days. Without having any idea what specific brands they were trying. Finally, the best expressions of each subcategory of spirits were selected, which were pitted against each other until only one winner remained.
In the case of whiskey, for example, there were a total of 16 individual subcategory winners: Best Blended Scotch Whiskey, Best Straight Bourbon, Best Small Production Bourbon, Best Tennessee Whiskey, Best Cask Finished Specialty Bourbon, Best Canadian Whiskey, etc Finally, the judges selected the best from each main category and pitted them against each other in a final battle.
When the dust settled, they had decided on a sourced rye, blended with whiskeys originally distilled in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana, with a demanding 52.5% alcohol content.
That a rye whiskey took home first prize was already surprising. But then came the revelation that this liquid had been bottled by the people responsible for the bourbon that these same judges had already praised as top-notch. For spirit lovers, it’s a reminder that the only thing that matters is what’s inside the bottle.
And it’s hard to argue with the beauty of what lies inside a bottle of 15 Stars First West Rye Whiskey. There is an eminently complex interplay between sweet and spicy to appreciate here. It starts on the nose, generous with cloves and citrus.
The flavor notes
The freshly baked apple crumble defines the first sips, especially with the appearance of the cinnamon and nutmeg when it starts to go down. By the time it’s finished, the amber-colored juice presents a stark portrait of the namesake grain at its core, complemented by a light hint of caramel. You can expect to take home this experience for $89 a bottle.
We say “wait” because 15 Stars currently has limited distribution in the United States. And its top-rated bourbon was quickly pulled from shelves following its success at the New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.
You know: if you can succeed here, you can succeed anywhere. Let’s hope it can be found somewhere.