File this under: “unexpected.” The full results are in from this year’s annual New York World Spirits Competition. And of the 14 ‘Best In Class’ winners, a single bottling was selected by the judges, deemed better than all the rest. Out of thousands of total entries, this singular standout was enshrined as ‘Best In Show’ across all categories of spirit. For 2022, that bottle is a non-age-statement Peruvian whiskey distilled from Andean black corn.
Even as an ardent enthusiast of world whiskey, I must admit I was unaware that any aged grain spirit was coming out of Peru, let alone award-worthy examples of the stuff. Nevertheless, I do tend to trust the analytical skills of the industry professionals behind NYWSC. And the bestowal of any award can potentially have an effect on the immediate supply of its recipient. So, naturally, I had to score a bottle of Don Michael Black Whiskey while I still could. What does it taste like? Well, I’m glad you asked…
First let’s start off with how it looks. The copper-hued liquid touts a mashbill that will feel familiar to fans of wheated bourbons: 60% corn, 30% malted wheat, and 10% Malted Barley. Of course the corn is, as advertised, black: an ancient high-altitude maize plucked from the foothills of the Andes. And the cooperage (although unspecified) most assuredly does not consist of virgin white oak. So, actual flavor comparisons to any traditional American whiskies are tenuous at best.
Instead, Don Michael retains a slightly smoky edge. Not one of peat, but more of a roasted, barbecue-like variety that works well with the flavors of fall. Complexity is realized beyond the mid-palate as a combination of clove and dark roasted coffee come out to play. A pronounced creaminess to the mouthfeel ensures these finishing notes are drawn out slowly.
I can’t say it’s the best whiskey I’ve had all year. But I can say that it stands out in a crowd; I feel confident that I’d remember its idiosyncrasies if I happened to taste it blind in the near future. Currently it retails at $55 a bottle, which—although not cheap—is modest enough to justify experimentation. Of course that pricepoint could change quite quickly as accolades accumulate.
Whether you love or hate this particular expression, you might want to keep your eye on the liquids rolling out of the warehouses at Don Michael. The Lima-based distillery is specializing in handcrafted spirits made primarily from ancient grains. I certainly won’t be sleeping on them from here on out. And the fact that a Peruvian whiskey is holding its own against notable competition from Kentucky, Scotland and Ireland underscores the truly global evolution of the category. Any open-minded aficionado these days better be prepared to collect a lot of passport stamps in pursuit of their preferred spirit.
A complete rundown of the ‘Best In Show’ winners at the 2022 NYWSC can be found here.