Six spirits companies, a marketing firm and seven products received Best of the Year accolades today from the John Barleycorn Society.

The recognition was determined based on performance in the organization’s spring and fall John Barleycorn Awards International Spirits competitions.

The John Barleycorn Society is the preeminent organization of spirits writers, marketers, and broadcasters and publisher of the popular BarleycornDrinks! online publication.

Large Distillery of the Year

Heaven Hill Brands

Heaven Hill has again blown away our judges with an outstanding showing of high-quality spirits across a broad spectrum of products. Heaven Hill claimed the “Best Of” title in five categories: Flavored Vodka (Deep Eddy Ruby Red, spring), Canadian Whiskey (Black Velvet Reserve, spring), Bourbon (Larceny Barrel Proof A121, spring) and Wheat Whiskey (Parker’s Heritage Collection Wheat, fall). Heaven Hill has also earned the distinction of Best Aged Spirit 2021: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B521.

Small Distillery of the Year

Woodinville Whiskey Co.

Woodinville was launched in 2012 inside a tiny multi-tenant facility with a humble 250-gallon pot still. By 2017, the distillery had relocated to a historic tavern in the heart of tourist-friendly Woodinville, Washington, before being acquired by Moet Hennessy. Today, Woodinville has created innovative whiskeys that have racked up medals on the competition circuit, including Best Rye in the 2021 Barleycorn Awards. And while the Woodinville imprint on the industry grows more prominent, the company remains relatively small, producing only about 7 barrels per day.

Company of the Year

Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Since opening in 2017, Uncle Nearest has become the fastest-growing American spirit and holds the record for the highest-rated product in Barleycorn’s history. This year, master blender Victoria Eady Butler’s whiskey blends have racked up an astonishing four double gold medals in the Barleycorn competition, earning best Tennessee Whiskey in the spring and fall competition. But Team Nearest has proven to become so much more than an excellent whiskey company. Founder Fawn Weaver has done an incredible job championing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and female voices in the spirits industry. Not only is Uncle Nearest run by minority women, but Weaver also partnered with Jack Daniel’s to create Uncle Nearest Venture Fund, which has pledged $50 million to support minority-owned spirits brands.

Rising Star

New Riff Distilling

This relative newcomer's impressive lineup of whiskeys and gins, including delicious single barrel offerings, earned a pair of Double Gold medals in addition to five golds at Barleycorn this year. And while New Riff has created much buzz from the community, the whiskey is currently available in 13 states. But this will soon change as New Riff grows, and whiskey enthusiasts should be on the lookout, thus being named “Rising Star” in 2021.

Company To Watch

Cutwater Spirits

Cutwater is on a mission to conquer the spirits world. In the 14 years since it started as a side project at Ballast Point Brewing, the company has produced a constantly expanding portfolio of quality whiskeys, vodkas, gins, rums, tequilas, and liqueurs. In recent years, with the help of a sale to Anheuser-Busch, Cutwater has exploded onto the canned cocktail scene by incorporating its own spirits into a full host of innovative products. Cutwater’s Spicy Bloody Mary was our best ready-to-drink canned cocktail of 2021. If you haven’t seen their products yet, you soon will.

Blender of the Year

Barrell Craft Spirits

The goal of blending is to elevate the barrels into something beyond the sum of their parts. No one does it like Barrell Craft Spirits. They source the most interesting casks they can find, then put their mad scientists to work creating distinct, delicious, mostly limited products. The flavors of each expression vary greatly from the next. Everything they do is quality. Barrel Craft Spirits is like a great band in its prime, you can’t wait to see what they are going to come up with next.

Marketer of the Year

Hanna Lee Communications

When Hanna Lee Communications markets a company or product, the media listens. In reviewing the local and national publicity they garner for their bar, restaurant, and brand clients, we kept asking, “How, did they do that”? Hanna Lee Communications is a small company that gets big results through innovative use of in-house video, mastery of social media, generous support for the spirits industry, and good old fashioned hard work.

Bourbon Whiskey of the Year

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B521

Heaven Hill Brands

White Spirit of the Year

Affinity Gin

Urban Press Spirits

Agave of the Year

DE-NADA Tequila Reposado

De-Nada Tequila

Brandy of the Year

Branson Cognac XO

Sire Spirits

Liqueur of the Year

Hecate Coffee Liqueur

Bently Heritage Estate Distilling

Ready to Drink of the Year

Cutwater Spicy Margarita

Cutwater Spirits

Best Value of the Year

Pinnacle Vodka

Beam Suntory

2021 Taste Competition


2021 Marketing Competition