The results are in!

First, our Barleycorn Society of Spirits authors, educators, and journalists unveiled their favorite whiskeys of the year thus far, and now it’s time to reveal the best of everything else. From a kick-ass cognac by Pierre Ferrand to an incredible espresso martini vehicle to our top-rated non-alcoholic spirit, read on to discover fantastic spirits worth sipping all summer.

Best Tequila

Camarena Silver

Jalisco, Mexico
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $25
High Score: 98/100 Points

The rich distilling history of the Camarena family traces back to 1761 when ancestors co-founded the town of Arandas in the Jalisco Highlands: the heart of tequila country. Today, Camarena combines traditional cooking methods with modern distillation techniques to procure their crowd-pleasing and economical line of 100% Blue Weber agave tequilas. It was their flagship silver expression that impressed our judges above all others. Featuring “gorgeous honeyed agave aromas” and a “clean minerality” on the palate mingling with “grass, agave, and big juicy fruit.” Don’t miss the “beautiful, dry and peppery” finish that builds pleasantly on the previous flavors before tapering gently off.”

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Best Mezcal

Ojo De Tigre Mezcal

Oaxaca, Mexico
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $34
High Score: 90/100 Points

Ojo de Tigre Mezcal is distilled at Case Lumbre distillery in Tlacolula De Matamoros, Oaxaca, and was co-founded by Mexican film star Luis Gerardo Méndez. Translating to Eye Of The Tiger, this artisanal mezcal utilizes traditional production methods such as cooking in earthen pits, crushing a combo of Espadin and Tobala agave with a Tahona wheel, and double-distilling the fermented juice in alembic pot stills. Clearly, the attention to old-school distilling techniques paid off. A “warming” mezcal delivers a “bright and clean nose with only a trace of smoke, leading to a mesquite palate that balances sweet agave notes and a bit of funk on the finish.”

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Best Vodka

Lumiere Vodka

Cooksville, Maryland
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $30
High Score: 95/100 Points

To disrupt a vodka industry he considered needing more creativity, Lumiere Founder and CEO Terrence Wheeler turned to the Netherlands to put a fresh twist on a neutral spirit. To get there, Dutch Craft Distillery Master Distiller Roelof Schipperus distills Dutch-grown barley with a secret weapon, Panela sugar, imported from El Salvador and bottled the vodka non-chill filtered. This helps the special notes from these carefully curated ingredients to shine. The result is a “bright and light vodka for a spirit-forward cocktail lover,” featuring a “vanilla nose” and “oily palate, loaded with flavor, texture, and body.”

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Best Gin

Citadelle Original Gin

Ars, France
Vitals: 88 Proof (44% ABV); $28
High Score: 90

Cubeb pepper, Mexican Orange Peel, Moroccan Coriander, and locally sourced juniper berries are just a few of the 19 botanicals used to create this oh-so-French style gin. Produced by Maison Ferrand in Cognac, France, this Citadelle gin sports a “fragrant, citrus and juniper forward punch on the nose,” leading to a balance of “bitter and sweetness” on the palate, concluding with a prominent, peppery spice” on the finish. Overall, judges agree this “sweet and tasty” gin “would make a killer martini.”

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Best Rum

Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Rum

Vitals: 80 Proof (44% ABV); $50
High Score: 93

This “gorgeous” rum was developed 10 years ago in honor of Plantation founder Alexandre Gabriel’s 20th anniversary as Master Blender and has remained a vital portfolio member. To make Plantation XO, Gabriel finishes ex-bourbon barrel-aged Barbadian rums in French Oak casks for 12 to 18 months. The result is a “beautiful” rum with “crisp and light floral notes of honey and rose water greeting the olfactory. This leads to “smooth, light tastes of honey, hints of wood, and pops of sweet citrus, capped by a mouthcoating finish,” that one judge described as “a fresh and spice-laden slice of fruitcake. “

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Best Brandy

Starlight BIB Single Barrel Estate Apple Brandy

Borden, Indiana
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $52
High Score: 90/100 Points

Starlight is back! After nailing Brandy Of The Year in 2022, Starlight Distillery by Founder Ted Huber again bested the category with their “Huber Reserve” Bottled-in-Bond Apple Brandy. Distilled from estate-grown fruits in an 80-gallon Christian Carl pot still, this farm-to-glass, single-barrel spirit is a true testament to what an American brandy can be. Our judging panel was impressed with the “apple pie and baking spice aromas,” leading to a “pleasing, sweet, and apple-centric sweetness palate, concluding with a long and balanced finish that makes you want another sip.” “Excellent!”

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Best Cognac

Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges (S.D.A)

Ars, France
Vitals: 83.6 Proof; (41.8% ABV); $180
High Score: 95

What makes this Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges Cognac Special? It could be the grapes grown in the Grande Champagne area in the Cognac region and a traditional French distilling method. Or perhaps it’s the intricate blend with stocks aged as long as 30 years putting this “complex and elegant” French Brandy over the top. But whatever Pierre Ferand did to create this Selection des Anges (SDA), which roughly translates to “Angel Share,” the result is a “lovely, mature, and balanced” spirit with “fruit, spices, and a touch of floral, with bright citrus and rose petal on the palate, and chocolate and tobacco at the turn.”

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Best Non-Alcoholic Spirit

MIXOLOSHE Gin Alternative

Jackson, Wyoming
Vitals: Non-Alcoholic; $20
High Score: 90

While the N/A Spirits category is doing approximately $281 million annually, the ever-expanding category is expected to nearly triple in the next decade. And when it does, you can bet that MIXOLOSHE founder Kristina Roth will be along for the ride. And it is thanks to quality N/A spirits like MIXOLOSHE Gin Alternative non-imbibers can enjoy a proper tasting cocktail. “Pleasant and curious,” this “floral and herbal sip with a lightly botanical nose would be simply delightful in a mock gin and tonic.”

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Best Flavored Vodka

Distillery of Modern Art Peach Vodka

Chamblee, Georgia
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $30
High Score: 100/100 Points

Just last year, DoMA Founder Seth Watson designed this distillery/cocktail lounge/art gallery, and the 15,000 square foot space quickly became a hot destination in the Atlanta area. But while well-heeled patrons ogle curated pieces by local artists, distiller Matt Grief is dutifully distilling a host of spirits, most notably this “yummy” Peach Flavored Vodka. Grief’s creation bested the flavored vodka category with a combination of peach varieties, thanks to its “aromas of a harvest season orchard with ripe roadside peach flavors and a nice sweetness that sticks around forever.” And if you are in the Atlanta area, book a tour, have a DoMA Peach Vodka cocktail, and enjoy the space. It’s gorgeous.

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Best Ready To Drink Cocktail

Cutwater White Russian

Mamaroneck, NY
Vitals: 28 Proof (14% ABV); $24 (6-pack)
High Score: 95

Made with two shots of Cutwater vodka and their award-winning coffee cream liqueur, this “beautifully balanced” white Russian was a unanimous top-scorer in the RTD cocktail category. Garnering that consensus is a rare feat. “Delicious and decadent,” one judge declared they would never have suspected this cocktail came from a can. Featuring “great chocolate notes that roll into a fantastic creamy, coffee-forward experience, this Cutwater White Russian is one “The Dude would ABSOLUTELY abide.”

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Best Liqueur

William Price Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur

Houston, Texas
Vitals: 50 Proof (25% ABV); $29
High Score: 93

Unsurprisingly, this William Price Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur shows well on the competition circuit. The reason is that the best products are often made with top-quality ingredients, which is the case here. Made with locally roasted coffee from Ship Channel Trading Company, Head Distiller Toni Hardisty infuses the brew with turbinado sugar, chocolate, and vanilla with neutral grain spirits for seven days to arrive at the final product. The result is a “light and sweet” liqueur that reminds one judge nostalgically of a “New York City coffee cart cup.” But like all coffee liqueurs, one must ask this vital question: “Will it rock in an espresso martini? I believe it certainly will.”

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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.