The New York Wine & Spirits Competition took place last month, and the results were recently announced. There were many whiskeys competing in this blind competition, and given the quality of most of the entries the Best Bourbon and Best in Show winners might surprise you–both came from a non-distilling producer based in Kentucky called 15 Stars.
The way the competition works is as follows–judges are presented with flights of spirits in different categories, and they taste through them completely blind. The only information revealed is proof, category, and style of spirit. Those that are awarded Double Gold medals go on to a final round of judging, still blind, where the winners of each spirits category are picked. The winner in the Best in Show whiskey category came from the aforementioned 15 Stars, which was certainly up against some stiff and better known competition.
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15 Stars, as we’ve covered before, was named as a tribute to Kentucky becoming the 15th state to join the Union. Father and son team Rick and Ricky Johnson run the company, and one of their experiments was making bourbon (in partnership with Bardstown Bourbon Company) from corn normally used to make popcorn. The Best in Show whiskey at the competition was not a bourbon, however, but 15 Stars First West Rye Whiskey, a blend of whiskey aged between six and eight years bottled at 105 proof. The mixture of spice and notes of dried fruit and honey on the palate won the judges over.
The Best Bourbon winner was also a 15 Stars release, the Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon which is a blend of 13 and 10-year-old whiskey from Kentucky and Indiana bottled at 115 proof. The fact that it was finished in sherry-seasoned casks might be controversial to some whiskey purists, as opposed to a straight bourbon with no secondary maturation winning the top prize like George T. Stagg, Rabbit Hole, and Blue Run Spirits. But hey–if it’s good, it’s good. Both of these winners coming from the same producer was purely coincidental, and can be considered a testament to the quality of whiskey that 15 Stars is releasing.
If you’d like to sample for yourself, you can find the First West Rye available to purchase from Total Wine. The Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon seems a little harder to locate online, so check your local liquor store to see if they have it in stock. And if you’re feeling inspired, try setting up your own blind tasting to see if you agree with these results.
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