It’s bourbon time, people!

From Kentucky born classics to exciting new craft offerings, there is no shortage of double gold level bourbons worth exploring. Here are some favorites from our Spring 2021 Barleycorn International Spirits Competition, guaranteed to deliver on taste and value.

All photos by John Barleycorn Society

Copper Sky Wheated Bourbon

Longmont Colorado
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $60

Copper Sky Distillery’s signature whiskey is born of a “high wheat” bourbon mashbill of 51% Corn, 45% Wheat, and 4% malted barley before aging five years. Barleycorn judges loved Copper Sky’s “Rollo chocolate and berry aromas with fruit and vanilla flavors,” and its “nice balance of spice and tannins.” The “terse and pronounced” finish concludes with “ripe mixed fruits and dried herbs and a touch of menthol.”

Heaven Hill Bottled-In-Bond

Bardstown Kentucky
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $40

This highly anticipated Heaven Hill seven-year-old bottled-in-bond butt-kicker replaced a six-year-old version which was only available in Kentucky in 2018. And it does not disappoint. This “big, bold, and spicy bourbon” opens with “aromas of integrated fruit, wood, and brown sugar on toast.” On the palate, our expert tasters found “layers of velvety, warm baked apple and cinnamon flavors that conclude with a long and silky finish of dried fruit and herbs.”

Barrell Private Release Bourbon BX2i

Louisville Kentucky
Vitals: 114.88 Proof (57.74% ABV); $110

Barrell Craft Spirits is an independent blender of exceptionally high-quality whiskeys, and this five-year-old, cask-strength private label Bourbon BX2i is a perfect example. “The brown sugar and baking spice aromas make my mouth water,” writes one Barleycorn judge. “This is pretty close to the ideal bourbon for me, says another.” A third judge summed it up like this: “The is classic bourbon. Leathery and well-balanced overall, this is well done all around.”

Southern Star StandardStatesville, North CarolinaVitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV); $40

Elizabethtown, North Carolina
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $20

Southern Distilling Company owners Vienna and Pete Barger opened their distillery in 2017, and they have been racking up gold medals on the competition circuit ever since. Made from a high rye grain recipe and aged four years, this Southern Star Standard flagship bourbon is a “gorgeous, elegant whiskey with vanilla cream notes and evolving flavors like chocolate, cinnamon, and black pepper.” The “delicious and silky” finish is laden with “bananas foster and crème brûlée.”

Larceny Barrel Proof A121Bardstown, KentuckyVitals: 114.8 Proof (57.4% ABV); $49.99

Bardstown, Kentucky
Vitals: 114.8 Proof (57.4% ABV); $49.99

“Now, here’s a great wheated bourbon.” This sentiment was unanimous amongst Barleycorn panelists who applauded Larceny’s long-anticipated barrel-proof expression. Expect “distinct aromas of toast, dried strawberries, and newly mown hay” on the nose, leading up to a “silky mouthfeel and bright orange and blueberry flavors” on the palate. The finish is “elegant with piquant fruit and what seems like the entire kitchen spice rack. Yum!”

Jim Beam Black

Clermont, Kentucky
Vitals: 86 proof, 43% ABV); $23

The ubiquitous Beam Black once again showed well at Barleycorn this spring with a double gold medal, proving a bourbon doesn’t need to be expensive to be delicious. Judges appreciated the “classic ‘bourbontastic’ combination of aromas and flavors,” citing “toasted cereal with a creamy vanilla richness, orchard fruits, light baking spices, and a minty, pleasing finish.”

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.