The leaves have changed, and the sweaters are out.

It’s time to curl up with our Fall guide to great spirits, chosen in a blind setting by our society of expert spirit authors, educators, and journalists. Beautiful shochu, a gorgeous English single malt, and even a hemp-flavored vodka are a few fun surprises we discovered, and we hope you discover them, too.

Best Bourbon

New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Bottled-In-Bond

Newport, KY
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV)

Yup, New Riff Distilling scored Best Bourbon and Best Rye this fall, edging out some exceptional bottles to earn the season’s top honors in both significant American whiskey categories. New Riff’s core Bourbon is a high-rye recipe (30% rye) aged on toasted, charred oak and bottled in-bond at 100 proof. The result is an “exceptionally sessionable, complex, and balanced bourbon” with “distinct berry fruits mingling with oak and capped by a long, herbal, and juicy finish. “

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Best Single Barrel Bourbon

Tabby Road Single Barrel Bourbon Limited Edition – Daufuskie Select

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Vitals: 110.1, Proof (55.05% ABV)

Based in Daufuskie Island in South Carolina, Tabby Road sleuths out “unique” whiskeys whose common link is 6+ years of aging and a sweet, buttery flavor profile. This bottling rocked a “nutty, earthy nose with pine needle leading to a soft, chewy and herbal palate.” With “spectacular” barrels like this one, Tabby Road is an up-and-coming whiskey house worth putting on your radar.

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Best Luxury Whiskey

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922

Bardstown, Kentucky
Vitals: 124.8 Proof (62.4% ABV)

“Whoa! This bruiser of a bourbon is not for the timid of the tongue.” Aged 12 years and Clocking in at 124.8 Proof, C922 is the third and highest ABV of Elijah Craig’s 2022 barrel proof releases this year. And it was one of our judge’s favorite bourbons this fall. “All is well with the world. And all is very well in my glass.”

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Best American Whiskey

Copper Sky Cigar Blend

Longmont, Colorado
Vitals: 128.4 Proof (64.2% ABV ABV)

Those hunting for something a little different will strike double gold at Copper Sky. In a quest to create the perfect whiskey to pair with a cigar, this veteran-owned, Colorado-based distillery aged cask strength rye in a combo of American and Amburana Oak, a Brazilian wood commonly used to age cachaça. The “experiment” was clearly a success, yielding “an incredibly soft whiskery despite its Proof. Nuts and tree bark meet tobacco, leather, and oak. Very dry, very complex, very interesting.”

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Best American Single Malt

Lost Lantern Desert Dessert

Weybridge, Vermont
Vitals: 113.8 Proof (56.9% ABV)

Rooted in transparency and exuberant love for American whiskey, Lost Lantern founders Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam “Apolon” Polonski seek out exceptional whiskeys from around the United States and release them in their cask strength glory under the Lost Lantern banner. This Desert Dessert Expression is from Del Bac in Southern Arizona. It focuses on mesquite, which adds a proper Southwest spin to an American single malt that’s nothing like its peated scotch relative. “The palate is sweetly smoked, like apples grilled over mesquite. Briny and sweet with the nutty character you’d expect from American Single Malt. Enchanting.”

Learn more about Lost Lantern Whiskey

Best Rye Whiskey

New Riff Balboa Rye

Newport, KY
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV)

Best Rye of Fall 2022 goes to Balboa Rye, whose name refers to the heirloom grain employed to make this “specialty whiskey” by New Riff. Made of a 100% rye mashbill, this “fun and drinkable” whiskey is a four-plus-year-old sipper, bottled-in-bond, and like all New Riff products, sans-chill-filtration. While judges enjoyed the “soft and pleasing fruit notes” and “spark of heat” on the finish, the pure rye bread character was most impressive. “The toasted rye bread nose makes me want to run to the nearest deli for a Reuben, stat. On the palate… well, forget the Reuben. I’ll take the whiskey.”

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Best Single Barrel Rye

Luca Mariano Single Barrel Rye

Luca Mariano Distillery
Danville, Kentucky
Vitals: 101 Proof (51.5% ABV)

Luca Mariano founder Francesco Viola unofficially started his whiskey company in his garage in 2010. Twelve years and thousands of barrels later, Luca Mariano’s stable of bourbons and ryes are resting on his 300-acre farm, where a distillery is in the works under the direction of former Beam and Diageo alum David Phillips. Meanwhile, this single barrel selection crushed the category with this “yummy, modern, 21st-century rye.” The “effortless” whiskey is “enveloped in a thick viscosity” that makes one judge “all warm and happy.” Expect “dry, toasty aromas and spice notes leavened by a light dollop of caramel and honey.”

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Best World Whiskey

Cotswolds Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky

Cotswold, England
Vitals: 118.2 Proof (59.1% ABV)

“Oh, so layered and elegant. This makes me smile, and Scotland blush.” This summarizes the reaction to this cask-strength English single malt from Cotswold’s Cask Expressions Collection. Aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, this “lovely and complex” whisky steeped in “texture and depth” on the palate not only topped the single malt category but was the highest-rated whisky this fall.

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Best Tennessee Whiskey

Leiper's Fork Tennessee Whiskey Bottled in Bond

Leiper's Fork, Tennessee
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV)

Leiper’s Fork is a grain-to-glass distillery based in Williamson County, Tennessee, that filled its first bourbon barrel in 2016. Their category-topping signature Tennessee whiskey comprises 70% corn, 15% rye, and 15% toasted barley malt mash pot distilled, aged 5 years, and bottled non-chill filtered. The result is a “tremendously drinkable, well-integrated, and straight-up delicious whiskey that oozes cinnamon and caramel on the palate. Yum.”

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Best Scotch Whisky

Old Pulteney 15-Year-Old Highland Single Malt Old Pulteney

Wick, Scotland
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV)

Old Pulteney Distilling Co has been making Scotch whisky in their seaside distillery in Wick since 1826, and this 15-year-old Highland single malt is a fine testament to the craft. Aged in bourbon barrels and then finished in Spanish Olorosso Sherry casks, the result is a “lip-smacking” single malt with a “field of flavors” that “keeps this whisky exciting from start to its light, bright finish.”

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Best Brandy

King's Family Apple Brandy

Sevierville, Tennessee
Vitals: 121 Proof (60.5% ABV)

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, King’s Family consistently turns out a beautiful collection of bourbon, rye, and other spirits. This “bright and crisp” Apple Brandy is no exception. The secret to this sauce is six solid years of aging and aggressive Proof. The outcome is a “big and bold” brandy that’s “too nice for a cocktail.” But the brandy is not only heady. It’s also “sophisticated enough to convince naysayers who think apple brandy tastes like boozy apple juice.”

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Best Shochu

Jikuya Black Satsuma Shochu

Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
Vitals: 50 Proof (25% ABV)

Honkaku Spirits’ Jikuya Black is a rice-based, twice koji-fermented shochu with sweet potato added to its secondary fermentation. Pot distilled only once and aged 18 months in unglazed clay pots, this “lovely spirit” has a “perfume and floral nose like a fresh bouquet.” The palate is “subtle and soft” with “aromatic hints of sweet rice and blossoms with a warm finish. Quaffable flawless.”

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Best Awamori

Yokka Koji Ryukyu Awamori

Okinawa, Japan
Vitals: 86 Proof (43% ABV)

For the uninitiated, Awamori is a distilled rice spirit traditionally made in Okinawa, Japan, and the Chuko Oshiro Distillery, which produces Yokka Koji Ryukyu, has been making the spirit since 1946. Made from Thai Indica long rice, fermented with black mold, and aged in clay pots, this Awamori is an “indulgent spirit with a dewy, herbal nose, funky rum structure, and a nice brandy sweetness. Very aromatic and pretty.”

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Best Rum

Aristotle Spirits Explorer Rum

Garner, North Carolina
Vitals: 120 Proof (60% ABV)

“A bright, complex, and slightly funky nose leads to an earthy and complex pot still rum.” This comment sums up the consensus on Aristotle Spirits’ Explorer, a “sweet and earthy” naval strength rum that will no doubt stand firm in any cocktail ingredients with which you choose to mix it. But this “tasty” rum still “drinks easy” despite the hefty ABV. Expect flavors of “marzipan and molasses with a pinch of tropical fruit for good measure.”

Learn More About Aristotle Spirits

Best Gin

Tiger Gin

Shropshire, England
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV)

Tiger gin is perhaps best known in England as the company whose founder, JJ Lawrence, fought a legal battle with Heineken and won. But here in the States, the “perfect gin-and-tonic vehicle” is known for racking up medals for its taste. This is not the first time Tiger earned a double gold at Barleycorn; this time, the “proper, juniper-forward” spirit won best-in-category. Described as “clean, sweet, and refreshing,” this gin “would be lovely served ‘up’ with a fresh lemon twist.”

Learn More About Tiger Gin

Best Tequila

Camarena Silver Tequila

Jalisco, Mexico
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV)

To create their flagship Blanco tequila, Familia Camarena roasts their 100% highland-grown agave in stone and brick ovens, then distills their spirit twice in a combo of column and pot stills. The effort paid off as Camarena emerged as this fall’s top tequila, with judges pointing to its distinct, fruit-driven profile. “Orange, lemon zest, and a crisp nose lead to a palate that pops with pineapple and granny smith apples plus a hint of caramel, capped by a lingering, spicy finish.”

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Best Vodka

High Bank Vodka

Columbus, Ohio
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV)

After scoring double gold in our spring Barleycorn competition, the High Bank team doubled down by resubmitting their vodka this fall. This time the craft distillery bested the category. Made of a recipe of wheat and local Ohio apples, High Bank is “crisp and clean as it should be with bright, fruity flavors and a terse finish. This would make an excellent martini or a shot straight from the freezer.”

Learn More About High Distillery Co.

Best Flavored Vodka

Hempahol Vodka Infused with Hemp Seed

Houston, Texas
Vitals: 80 Proof (40 ABV)

The Old Nick Williams Co has done it again. For the second time this year, their hemp seed-infused vodka scored double gold twice and won best-flavored vodka in both Spring and fall. This makes Hempahol a shoo-in for best of the year, which will be announced in December. Our judging panel was impressed with this vodka’s “light, clean aroma and herbal sweetness on the tongue” and discovered a new “cocktail vehicle” would work in a mixed drink or “dare I suggest a martini? Straight up.”

Learn More About The Old Nick Williams Co.

Best Liqueur

Three Chord Bourbon Cream

Victoria Park, New York
Vitals: 33 Proof (16.5% ABV)

The holidays are the perfect time of year to indulge in guilty pleasures, and this “sweet and decedent” Bourbon Cream by Three Chord is an ideal place to start. Made from a base of Three Chord’s signature bourbon, this “simply delightful” small batch liqueur “scores major points for a clean and silky texture and is “perfect to use in about dozens of holiday cocktails. Well done!”

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Barleycorn Awards Fall 2022 Taste Competition


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.