From storied, world-class distilleries to small-batch craft producers, our Fall 2023 Barleycorn Awards was filled with twists, turns, and surprises.

But what spirits ultimately rose to the top? Read on to discover who our panel of experts deemed Best In Class in our bi-annual blind taste competition, and where you can buy them. Meanwhile, scroll down for the link to check out our picks for Best Whiskey.

Best Vodka

High Bank Vodka

80 Proof (40% ABV); $19
Columbus, OH

Master Distiller and High Bank co-founder Adam Hines and his team have done it again. After a Best Vodka win in our Fall 2022 Barleycorn Awards, High Bank pulls off a repeat performance by taking the top honors in the Vodka category again in 2023. Impressed with this vodka’s “clean vanilla bean palate” and “cooling mint finish,” our judging panel re-affirmed in a blind tasting that High Bank is “perfect for a classic dry martini” and no question an incredible value with an MSRP of under $20.

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Best Gin

Highclere Castle Gin

Vitals: 87 Proof (43.5% ABV); $40
Hampshire, England

Highclere Castle Gin continues to crush it on the competition circuit with a Best Gin nod this Fall in Barleycorn. The accolades come from recent top honors by the American Spirits Council of Tasters and the International Wine & Spirits. Clearly, the experts agree that this London Dry is something special. Scoring 90+ across our judging panel, expect an “elegant and delicious” spirit featuring a “classic gin profile with juniper, citrus, and florals that’s clean, cool, and soft.”

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Best Rum

Ernest by Papa’s Pilar Rum

100 Proof (50% ABV); $600
Key West, Florida

“This is absolutely delightful, a sophisticated and complex spirit.” Ernest by Papa’s Pilar Rum didn’t just perform well in this fall’s Barleycorn Awards; it was our competition’s second-highest-rated spirit. With a sweep of double gold ratings and a high score of 95, our judges fell in love with the “ethereal” aromas of “light wood notes and a hint of clove” and a “creamy caramel and dried fruit” palate that is capped by a “full and long finish with toasted coconut and dry peanuts.” Hats off to Papa’s Pilar Master Distiller Dan Call for an “incredible spirit,” a blend of rums from South and Central America aged up to 23 years. Since there are only 4000 bottles available worldwide, you’ll need to join a waiting list to score a bottle.

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Best Cognac

Courvossier XO

80 Proof (40% ABV); $163
Cognac, France

After becoming the official cognac of Napoléon’s imperial army in 1811, Félix Courvoisier established Maison Courvoisier in 1828. Ever since the Cognac House has represented the region by producing some of the world’s most exceptional brandy. With a top score of 95 points and double gold ratings across the board, judges were beyond impressed with this spirit’s “robust and captivating nose” and “lovely, slightly subdued fruitiness on the palate.” Overall, the panel concurs that this gorgeous spirit is “an extraordinary example of the cellar master’s art.”

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Best Tequila

Quintaliza Reposado Tequila

80 Proof (40% ABV); $80
Amatitán, Jalisco

“Here is a tequila I could drink every day.” This Double Gold-rated reposado by Master Distiller Iliana Partida is organic Blue Weber agave double distilled in Alembic pots and bottled additive-free. But the twist on this “intriguing” tequila comes in the aging as it’s matured in a combo of ex-bourbon barrels and oak seasoned with organic coffee from Chiapas, Mexico. Refined and masterfully blended, the result is a “beautiful oak and agave nose with a light coffee influence. On the palate, oak, coffee, and agave are balanced beautifully.

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Best Mezcal

Ojo de Tigre Joven Mezcal

80 Proof (40% ABV); $35
Oaxaca, Mexico

“When the roasted agave, spice, and smoke kicks in, all is right with the world.” Double Gold ratings across our judging panel solidified this “delightful” Joven Mezcal as Best In Class in our Fall 2023 Barleycorn competition. Ojo de Tigre is the brainchild of founder Luis Gerardo Mendez, who double distills Maguey Tobala and Espadin, which are cooked in an earthen pit and crushed with a traditional tahona wheel. The result is a “delightful nose of light smoke and pepper,” leading to an “earthy body with a touch of dark grilled fruit, spice, and sharpness on the finish.”

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Best Flavored Tequila

Madam Paleta Tequila Tamarind Tequila

70 Proof (35% ABV); $30
Dobbs Ferry, New York

With a high score of 91 points. this “cocktail darling” from the team at JOBU Beverages begins with a base of beeswax-infused blanco tequila, which is blended with nothing but natural tamarind flavor. Opening with “extensive fruit and citrus aromas, the tamarind-centric flavor “nails it.” Overall, judges praised this “pleasing drinker that, while flavored, is still very much tequila.”

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Best Liqueur

Rock 12 Distillery Victus Amaro

60 Proof (30% ABV); $45
Santa Barbara, California

No longer is it a given that a fine Amaro hails from Italy. Case-in-point is Victus Amaro by Rock 12 Distillery founders Sarah and Marko Suput, who have been producing small-batch vodka, gin, liqueur, and brandy since opening their Santa Barbara-based craft spirits company in 2016. With a nose of “lemon balm, rose, gentian, and black tea on the nose, this “unique” amaro had a high score of 96 points thanks to a “masterful balance of flavors for a beautiful ride.”

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Best Flavored Vodka

Steelbound Blue Balls Blueberry Vodka

70 Proof (35% ABV); $28
Ellicottville, NY

Located in the quaint upstate New York towns of Springfield and Ellicottville, Steelbound Brewery and Distillery does it all. Brewery, distillery, fusion restaurant, and cutting-edge bar, this craft producer caters to locals and ski bums who drop in for a good meal and to stock up on six-packs of locally made microbrew. But Steelbound’s spirits program is not to be overlooked, as the tiny distillery’s Blue Balls bested the Flavored Vodka category this fall. Blue Balls begins with Steelbound’s signature vodka, infused with natural blueberry flavors. The quality ingredients won judges over, resulting in “big aromas of candied blueberry and sweet blueberry fruit throughout. This would be fun on the rocks or an even better cocktail mixer.”


Best Ready to Drink Cocktail

The Glenlivet Twist & Mix Old Fashioned

80 Proof (40% ABV);
Ballindalloch, Scotland

“If I was served this in a cocktail bar, I’d be perfectly satisfied.” This is the general consensus of our judging crew, who declared this Double Gold award-winning Glenlivet Old Fashioned hands down the best ready-to-drink in our Fall competition. The excellent “twist” on this drink lies in the preparation as the sugar, bitter, and citrus essence is hidden in the cap, which releases into the whisky upon opening for a fresh drink every time. From there, pour over rocks and stir for an “easy” cocktail and a “no-brainer tailgate sipper that beats the hell out of a can of beer.”

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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.