Here’s the list!

First, we presented the finest whiskeys according to spirits authors, influencers, and journalists, and on its heels are the the best of the rest of Spring 2022. From a unique barrel-aged gin to perhaps the finest pre-made cocktail we’ve ever tasted, Barleycorn Society members have uncovered dozens of amazing spirits in our blind taste competition, and here are the are their top-rated picks.

Best Tequila

El Tesoro Extra Añejo

La Alteña Distillery
Jalisco, Mexico
80 proof (40% ABV); $100

Extra-aged añejo tequilas, those aged in a barrel for more than 3-years, often get a bad rap for being over-oaked. But this El Tesoro offering crafted by legendary master distiller Carlos Camarena at La Alteña distillery in Jalisco’s Highlands features “wood that’s so well integrated it disappeared.” Instead of a barrel spice bomb, judges discovered an “a classic tequila nose with orange, basil, roasted pineapple,” followed by a “yummy” palate of “rich, honey and lemon custard,” capped with a “round, peppery, and fruity finish that’s long and clean.”

Learn more about El Tesoro

Best Mezcal

Cutwater Spirits – Mezcal Reposado

Cutwater Spirits
San Diego, CA
90 Proof (45% ABV); $60

To make their Mezcal Reposado, Cutwater travels to Durango, Mexico, where Maguey Cenizo (agave) is roasted in traditional volcanic rock pit ovens and naturally fermented with wild yeast before distillation and aging in whiskey barrels. The judges were digging the result, pointing out Cutwater’s “savory and meaty” flavors of “ripe berries, salinity, and an entire rack of spices enveloped by tendrils of smoke.” “This is insane,” comments one judge. “ Whatever this is, get me a case!”

Learn more about Cutwater Reposado

Best Sotol

Watercross Sotol

Dime Box Distillery
Giddings, Texas
92 Proof (46% ABV);

Watercross Texas Sotol producers Dime Box is a family-run distillery tucked away in Giddings, Texas, population 5,000. The company prides itself on its “commitment to innovation, excellence, and patience,” and these values paid off with this “nice and funky” Sotol featuring a “fantastic vegetal nose flecked with creosote and clay.” The palate features “super earthy, mineral and sweet flavors” and a “wisp of smoke to balance things out.” Ultimately, our judging panel agrees that Watercross is “a delicious highlight for cocktails when other agave spirits seem boring.”

Learn more about Dime Box Distillery

Best Vodka

Haku Vodka

House of Suntory
?sumich? Sakamoto, Japan
80 Proof (40% ABV); $28

House of Suntory’s Haku vodka, made from 100% Japanese white rice and bamboo charcoal filtered at the Osumi Distillery in Japan, scored double gold and took Best Vodka in Spring 2022. One reason? This “super clean” vodka made our collective judging panel “crave a dry martini.” “Delicate on the nose,” this “slightly fruity and sweet” vodka features “lemon zest flavors with hints of ginger,” concluding, like this write-up, with a “with a quick, decisive finish” “So good!”

Learn more about Haku Vodka

Best Flavored Vodka

Hempahol Vodka Infused with Hemp Seed

The Old Nick Williams Co.
Lewisville, North Carolina
90 Proof (45% ABV); $25

The Old Nick Williams Co. is a repeat performer In our Spring Barleycorn competition after taking Best Flavored Whiskey with CoatTail Cinnamon and now Best Flavored Vodka with Hempahol. This “innovative” hemp seed-infused spirit opens the show with a “creamy nose with hints of grain,” leading to a “light citrus and grassy palate that tingles around the edges.” But judges were most impressed by its integration of hemp, which “complements without overpowering, a job well done finding that perfect balance.”

Learn more about Hempahol Vodka Infused with Hemp Seed

Best Gin

Philosopher Bourbon Barrel Aged Gin

Aristotle Spirits
North Carolina
90 Proof (45% ABV); $40

Congratulations are in order! A barrel-aged expression scored Best Gin in our competition with Philosopher by Aristotle Spirits for the first time in Barleycorn’s history. Beating out big-time brands in the competitive gin category, Philosopher “struck a beautiful balance” by marrying “mild caramel, orange, and vanilla notes from the bourbon barrel with the floral, lavender, juniper and spice notes from the gin.” Judges agree this would be a “fun new toy for mixologists” and would likely procure a “perfect ‘aged’ Negroni.”

Learn more about Philosopher Bourbon Barrel Aged Gin

Best Rum

Five Stories Barrel Aged Rum

Northern Row Brewery & Distillery
Cincinnati, OH
53 ABV; $40

This truly small batch molasses-made rum scored “Best Craft Spirit” in addition to “Best Rum” in our Spring competition. And we predict the serious rum experts who evaluated Five Stories will no doubt be surprised to discover this relatively little-known rum outperformed higher profile brands. “Earthy aromas redolent of char and honey” lead to a “bombastic entry that’s rich, round and multilayered with coconut, banana, baking spice, and gingerbread notes on the palate.” Warm and earthy on the finish,” this “complex and appealing rum concludes with “a pleasant funk.”

Learn more about Five Stories Barrel Aged Rum

Best Shochu

Masako Honkaku Shochu

Honkaku Spirits
70 Proof; (35% ABV); $70

Distilled and aged in Odotsu Village, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, Masako begins with 100% barley shochu, whose starch is converted to sugar via white koji before a single pot still distillation. The result is a lion of a shochu tamed by 11 years of aging in ceramic pots and enamel tanks. What’s bottled is a “beautiful” spirit that’s “very clean” on the nose like “rice crackers without the salt” and “a mellow palate like a breakfast cereal in a glass.”

Learn More about Masako Honkaku Shochu

Best Brandy

Starlight Distillery 10 Year Estate Grown Bottled In Bond Apple Brandy

Starlight Distillery
Starlight, Indiana
100 Proof (50% ABV); $130

“Let’s make some cocktails!” To make this well-aged apple brandy, Huber Starlight Distillery distilled home-grown apples before maturing the distillate in a combination of French and Hungarian Oak. The result is this chart-topping, “beautifully aged and integrated” spirit featuring “light and airy apple pie aromas” that turn “bold and spicy” on the palate. Here, “soft tannins and crisp green apple meet caramel and vanilla,” and the “tart and lively” sip concludes with “rich wood and ripe fruit.”

Learn more about Huber Starlight

Best Cognac

Branson Cognac XO

Branson Cognac
Grande Champagne, France
80 Proof (40% ABV); $250

Grande Champagne is prime real estate in France’s Cognac region, and this Branson Cognac XO is a testament to the district’s ability to produce grapes that make exceptional French Brandy. “Deep oak and cherry aromas” lead to a “complex palate of well-aged, oaky tannins, softened by chocolate raisin flavors and a tropical fruit bowl of mango, papaya, pineapple.”

Learn more about Branson Cognac

Best Liqueur

Last Shot Chocolate Creme Brûlée

Last Shot Distillery
Skaneateles, New York
30 Proof (15% ABV); $32

“Hell Yeah! This is what a chocolate liqueur should taste like.” It’s always fun to see a crew of hardened booze experts fall apart over a sweet dessert liqueur, and that’s what happened here. It’s no surprise since Last Shot’s founder Chris Uyehara was a pastry chef for decades before opening a distillery in 2015. The judging team was unanimously enamored with this “gorgeous” Chocolate Creme Brûlée, which “cascades with layers of flavor—not sweetness— here’s a creamy and chocolatey liqueur with a carefully executed flavor balance. Well done.”

Learn more about Last Shot Distillery

Best Ready To Drink

High Peaks Barrel-Aged Manhattan

High Peaks Distilling
Lake George, New York
74 Proof (37% ABV); $45

Every time High Peaks distilling enters the Barleycorn Awards, something good happens. And this spring is no exception as the Upstate New York distillery crushed the Ready To Drink category with this “kick-ass” Barrel-Aged Manhattan. Made with High Peaks’ double-gold winning Cloudsplitter American Single Malt and Landrace Empire Rye, this “cocktail bar quality” Manhattan is rested 90 days in oak before bottling at a robust 74 Proof. The result? Nothing short of impressive as judges loved the cocktail’s “nice cherry vibe with a unique, smoky twist” “Bravo!”

Learn more about High Peaks Distilling

Barleycorn Awards Spring 2022 Taste Competition


Spring 2022 Marketing 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.