The New York World Wine and Spirits Competition held its annual judging in Brooklyn last month and its organizers have been slowly pouring out the results ever since. A few weeks back, whiskey lovers were shocked to learn that 15 Stars—a relatively obscure craft producer out of Kentucky—had beaten out far bigger brands from the Bluegrass State, and beyond, to take home the prize for Best Bourbon.
Now we can report some even more shocking news, in a Forbes exclusive: The very same producer has won for Best Whiskey, overall. More specifically, 15 Stars First West Rye Whiskey (Batch #1) is the Best in Show Whiskey; top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-1. You’re surely wondering what this liquid actually tastes like in order to achieve such a distinction. We will reveal that in exhaustive detail below. But first it’s worth mentioning just how unlikely the achievement is.
In order to attain such vaunted status, this bottle of six year old rye overpowered scotches, bourbons, and Irish whiskies with far wider-reaching stature (and far more elongated age statements). Best Scotch, as we reported two weeks ago, was a quarter-century-old single malt from Ardbeg, one of the most storied whisky makers on the planet. Other Double Gold-winning American whiskies included the ballyhooed offerings of Knob Creek, EH Taylor and George T. Stagg. Yet this small family-owned label out of Bardstown triumphed over them all.
And it did so in a fully blind competition. The expert panel of judges sampled through thousands of liquids, across all major categories, throughout a three day tasting period. Never having any idea of what specific brands they were sampling. Eventually the top-rated expressions were winnowed from each subcategory of spirit, and then those were pitted against one another until only one victor remained.
In the case of whiskies, for example, came a total of 16 winners from individual subcategories including, Best Blended Scotch, Best Straight Bourbon, Best Small Batch Bourbon, Best Tennessee Whiskey, Best Special Barrel-Finished Bourbon, Best Canadian Whisky, etc. Ultimately, the judges pulled the best from each primary category and then those squared off in one final Battle Royale.
When the dust had settled they had landed on a sourced rye, blended from whiskies originally distilled in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana at an exacting ABV of 52.5%. For a rye to take home top-prize was startling enough. But then came the reveal that this liquid was bottled by the folks responsible for the bourbon that these very same judges had already lauded as top tier. It serves as stark reminder for spirit enthusiasts that the only thing that matters is what’s inside the bottle.
And it’s hard to argue with the beauty of what you’ll find inside a bottle of 15 Stars First West Rye Whiskey. There’s an eminently complex interplay between sweet and spice to appreciate here. It begins in the nose, which is generous in clove as well as citrus fruit characteristics. Freshly-baked apple crumble defines the first few sips, particularly with the emergence of cinnamon and nutmeg as it begins to go down. By the time it finishes, the amber-hued juice presents a stern portrait of the namesake grain at its core, complemented with a slight send-off of butterscotch.
You can hope to take home this tipple experience for $89 a bottle. We say ‘hope’ because 15 Stars currently has limited distribution across the United States. And its top-ranked bourbon was promptly stripped from shelves after news hit of its success at New York World Wine And Spirits Competition. You know the tune—if it can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Let’s just hope you can find it somewhere.