Entries poured in from across the globe this year as our judging panel uncovered hidden gems from all corners of Earth.

Indian gins, European liqueurs, and exotic rums are just a few examples, and the best of the best is below. So pour a drink and discover these iconic and new favorites. Here is our ultimate Barleycorn Best Of Spring 2024 Competition.

Best Vodka

High Rock Vodka

88 Proof (44% ABV); $18
Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Time to wave a checkered flag! Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t just rip it up on the racetrack as the NASCAR champion and his wife Amy crushed the Vodka category in our Spring 2024 Barleycorn Awards. High Rock by Sugarlands Distilling Company is a “tasty AF” vodka made with 100% corn. Our judges called this seven-times distilled, sugar maple charcoal filtered martini darling “dangerously sippable and refreshing” before awarding a coveted double gold medal with an incredible 95-point rating.

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Best Gin

Jaisalmer Gold Edition

86 Proof (43% ABV); $60
Rajasthan, India

It takes 18 botanicals to produce this “smooth and delicious” gin, most of which are sourced from the spirit’s home country of India. Pink Peppercorns, rose petals, vetiver, sweet orange peel, and, of course, juniper all play an essential role in the taste of this spirit. But the secret weapon here is saffron, a rare and expensive spice sourced from Kashmir in Northern India. The result is “simply a tremendous martini gin,” but you will want to back off the vermouth with this one. It’s the best way to explore the subtleties of what each botanical has to offer.

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Best Rum

The Lost Cask 15 YO Jamaica Rum

117 Proof (58.5% ABV ABV); $100
Frankfort, Kentucky

This “delicate and complex” member of the Rolling Fork Last Cask Series by Kentucky-based founders Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris edged many beautiful rums to take top honors this spring. Bottled at a whopping 117 proof, this high-octane single barrel is a Jamaican rum, aged 15 years, and bottled at the Rolling Fork headquarters in Indiana. The result is a “terrific sipper” featuring “huge earthy notes gilded with a fleeting sweetness and hints of butterscotch.”

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Best Cognac

Courvoisier XO Royal

80 Proof (40% ABV); $300
Cognac, France

Last year, Courvoisier XO scored the best Cognac of 2023. Close off its heels, Courvoisier’s even more prestigious sibling, XO Royal, took home the top honors. This expression is a recreation of Britain’s King Edward VII’s reserve stash from the early 20th century, presented by master blender Patrice Pinet. The result is a “really pretty” cognac featuring “deep, rich aromas of torched caramel and petrichor,” leading to a complex and enticing palate with vibrant fruit and dusty, leather-bound book quality. Like Grandma’s trunk.”

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Best Tequila

Insolito Anejo

80 Proof (40% ABV); $TK
Jalisco, Mexico

Distilled by Maestro Tequilero Alberto Herrera in the Sierra del Tigre Mountains, this Insolito Anejo is a combo of Highland (80%) and Lowland grown agave, distilled and aged 18-24 months in new American oak. Our judges called Insolito a “classic añejo with a lovely balance of sweet agave, oak, and honey, plus an interesting roasted pineapple note to put this beauty over the top.” Tequila old fashioned, anyone? Yeah, us, too.

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Best Mezcal

Gracias a Dios Mezcal Artesanal

80 Proof (40% ABV); $TK
Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca

Fourth generation Maestro Mezcalero Oscar Hernández Santiago makes only about 1,700 gallons per month of this artesanal mezcal for Gracia a Dios, a company that prides itself on fair trade and sustainability. But our panel knew nothing of these fine attributes while blind judging, and the results leading to ‘top tequila’ were based on taste alone. “Sweet roasted agave enveloped in lovely smoke makes this a classic mezcal, but a lovely fruit note adds enough complexity and balance to put this over the top.” A total package, and we are here for it.

Learn More About Gracias a Dios Mezcal

Best Calvados

Boulard Calvados VSOP

80 Proof (40% ABV); $TK
Normandy, France

Founded in the early 19th century by Pierre-August Boulard, this French apple brandy hails from the Pays d’Auge district, an appellation that ensures the apples used for production were grown in Normandy’s Calvados region. Its juice is double distilled in copper pots. The result is an “orchard fresh” spirit featuring “lovely apple and honey aromas.” In fact, judges openly questioned why Calvados is less famous than cognac or whiskey. Perhaps the time for the mass appeal of this fine product is here? We hope so.

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Best Moonshine

Ole Smoky Popcorn Sutton Likker

100 Proof (50% ABV); $TK
Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Popcorn Sutton is said to be a legendary shine distiller from Appalachia. If his hooch rivaled this “well-balanced and complex” sipper made in his honor, then the man is worthy of his reputation. Featuring a “proper kick of alcohol you expect from a moonshine,” this grain and sugarcane-based spirit is “perfect for passing around at a campfire.”

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Best American Brandy

Starlight Distillery Estate Bottled-In-Bond Apple Brandy

100 Proof (50% ABV); $TK
Borden, Indiana

“I love a good apple brandy; this is a delicious testament to an oft-overlooked category.” This was the general consensus of our judges who evaluated this sipper from the Huber Starlight Distillery in Indiana. To make this “beautiful” spirit, estate-grown apples are distilled and aged at least 10 years in French oak casks and bottled at 100 proof per Bottled-In Bond regulations. The result is a “sweet, warming, and complex” brandy that our judges would be “happy to drink anytime.” And you should , too.

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Best Liqueur

Ferrand Dry Curacao

80 Proof (40% ABV); $TK
Ars, France
95 Points

Few entries break the 95-point threshold in any Barleycorn competition, but this Ferrand Dry Curacao is “about as good as a dry curacao can be.” Ferrand founder Alexandre Gabriele teamed up with cocktail historian David Wondrich to recreate a classic 19th-century recipe of bitter orange peel, spices, and brandy to make this orange flavored cocktail companion. Our judges found the spirit a “wonderfully balanced sip featuring layers of unique flavors with an intriguing sweet and bitter tension.”

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Best Hard Seltzer

Lake Hour Rosemary Yuzu

10 Proof (5% ABV); $TK
Consensus Lake, NY

You know this Lake Hour Hard Seltzer is slammin’ cause it’s the only drink in its category to hit the coveted 95-point level. “Well balanced between Yuzu tartness and just the right touch of sweet,” this “killer” hard seltzer by actor Wyatt Russell and partner Richard Peete is put over the top with a “natural touch of rosemary to keep flavors interesting.” “Refreshing, delicious, and made with real ingredients, “this is a testament to how good a hard seltzer can be. Kudos!”

Learn More About Lake Hour

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.