The World’s Best Bourbon—According To The 2023 International Whisky Competition

Food & Drink

Buffalo Trace is no stranger to awards. After all, this is the distillery that produces Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, Weller, E.H. Taylor…Some of the most sought after names in all of American whiskey, all coming out of one hallowed space in Frankfort, Kentucky. But even given their elevated standards, the makers of these marquee bourbons and ryes have to be blown away with their recent performance at the International Whisky Competition.

It was a clean sweep.

Out of hundreds of entries from distilleries across the country, Buffalo Trace took home the top three awards in the bourbon category. George T. Stagg bested the field, amassing an impressive 94.4 points out of 100 for its 2022 release—a high-octane molasses bomb, which spent upwards of 15 years resting patiently in charred American oak. A close second was its younger sibling, Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon (formerly known as Stagg Jr.). This 131-proof powerhouse surprises in the sip with overtures of dark fruit that hold firm from mid-palate to finish. Its 93.4 point rating narrowly edged out the latest offering of William Larue Weller, which had to settle for third place with a 93.28 score.

For those unfamiliar with Buffalo Trace’s products, both the George T. Stagg and the William Larue Weller exist as part of the Antique Collection. Better known to bourbon geeks simply as BTAC, this annual series was born all the way back in 2000. It consists of five highly allocated—and highly proofed— bottlings, released as they are only once every autumn. As such, they are catnip for collectors and are susceptible to exorbitant markups on secondary markets.

Stagg, for its part, is only slightly more available as a year round offering. It’s a non-age statement liquid believed to be batched from 7 to 9 year old barrels. Last autumn, I blindly tasted George T. Stagg along with its non-BTAC counterpart. To my palate, the younger Stagg actually came out on top. But I digress.

For those unfamiliar with the International Whisky Competition, the prestigious event just entered its 14th year. It only awards three medals per category, compelling its founders to self-style as the “Olympics of whisky competitions.” For the 2023 go-round, the expert panel of tasters convened in Bardstown, Kentucky over four days in late May.

According to the head of the tasting panel, whisky expert Sébastien Gavillet, “each bottle was rigorously tested among a select few professionals, determining quality of color, nose aromas and distinction, palate complexity and balance, and quality of finish to accumulate to a score out of 100 points. The committee regularly includes esteemed judges, distillers, and members of the Council of Whiskey Masters.”

Results such as these aren’t going to make allocated Buffalo Trace products any easier to find. Or any cheaper, of course. As of now, you’re not going to get a bottle of the most recent George T. Stagg for less than $1400. When it hit shelves in 2022 it was meant to retail at $99. But the distillery’s unprecedented era of success has also prompted parent company Sazerac to invest some $1.2 billion USD into an expansion project. A newly constructed still house came on-line last December and will allow the operation to double output. Which means, if demand stays the same, that bottle of Stagg might theoretically be twice as easy to find…In 7 to 9 years.

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