If you didn’t catch the results from the 12th annual New York World Spirits Competition, there were some serious shock waves when the winners’ circle was announced. The “Best in Show Whiskey” was awarded to a virtually unknown producer…from Peru! More on that dark horse in a minute, but first a brief background on the competition itself. In August, some of the city’s most prominent industry professionals convened at the Ace Hotel in Brooklyn for several days of blind tasting and meticulous analysis. During that time, the panel of 20 judges “snifted” through thousands of whiskeys, whittling the field down to just 14 expressions deemed the pinnacle of their respective class. Of those, a single dram was drawn to rule them all.
Best in Show Whiskey
And that’s where our aforementioned South American spirit comes into play. The grand champion for 2022 is Don Michael Black Whiskey, a dark amber, non-age-statement offering distilled from Andean black corn. To call it an outlier is quite the understatement: This is the world’s first and only whiskey made from the ancient variety of high-altitude maize.
Although its mash bill echoes that of a wheated bourbon, its taste profile veers sharply from American whiskey territory. Notably in its slightly smoky edges, which swirl around a core of clove and dark roasted coffee in a lengthy finish. It’s a complex sipper for certain, and one that invites experimentation at around $55 a bottle.
Best Overall Bourbon
But the New York World Spirits Competition wasn’t done with the surprises just yet. For “Best Overall Bourbon,” the judges landed on a 4-year-old cask-strength wheater out of North Carolina. Southern Star Paragon is as unexpected on the palate as it is in its provenance. It drinks dry with an herbaceous, almost minty undertone washing over the tongue. Before it fades you’re left to consider hints of tropical fruit and cracked black pepper. As a single barrel expression, its proof will vary from batch to batch. The $100 bottle sourced from the Greater Charlotte metro area bested big names from Kentucky including Elmer T Lee, Blanton’s, and E.H. Taylor—all of which were relegated to the runner-up category.
Best of Class Rye Whiskey
When it was time to try the rye, the judges weren’t wooed by the standard Bluegrass State entries either. Instead, they bestowed top honor to a Danish distillery. Characterized as a Nordic whisky with Spanish roots, Stauning El Clasico is a robust and bittersweet grain spirit that’s finished in ex-vermouth casks. Herbal at first, with a touch of stone fruit in the finish, it draws inspiration from a Manhattan. So it’s only fitting that the judges in New York were enamored with its arrangement. But at just four years in age (and 45.7% in alcohol by volume), the $90 price tag around its collar might seem a bit steep to some.
Best of Class Blended Irish Whiskey
Traditionalists will want to take note of winners in the Irish and Scotch categories. The “Best of Class Blended Irish Whiskey” was awarded to Teeling Whiskey Small Batch. It’s a crowd-pleasing dram from the Dublin producer, which spent time in Central American rum barrels. You can tell: The liquid sings a symphony of dried pineapple and papaya.
Best of Class Single Malt Scotch
Another assertive fruit bomb, this winner hails from the Campbeltown region of Scotland. Glen Scotia Victoriana is a non-age-statement stunner that’s been a critical darling since its initial release back in 2015. The 190-year-old distillery bested age-statement competition from Old Pulteney, though the 18-year-old expression is forever a champion in our book.
As for New York World Spirits, its log keeps getting larger each year: “Entries grew by 30 percent this year over 2021,” according to Amanda Blue, chief operating officer of the Tasting Alliance—which organized the August event, and also puts on the San Francisco World Spirits Competition every April. “We’ve really established a point of differentiation in New York, focusing on lots of new and upcoming brands.”
Indeed, many of this year’s medalists buck the conventional wisdom of what whiskey ought to be. And in doing so, they act as not-so-gentle reminders that exceptional expressions can now hail from any corner of the globe. Gone are the days of select regions monopolizing greatness. For anyone fancying themself an enthusiast, that’s not a bad thing…it’s an exciting thing.
Remember, these liquids were selected blind by a group of experts, so keep your eyes peeled on your next trip to the local liquor store. You might just find a world of worthwhile flavor awaits. A complete list of the winners from the 2022 New York World Spirits Competition can be found here.
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