The World’s Best Bourbon—According To The 2023 Ultimate Spirits Challenge

Food & Drink

As we revealed last week, the Ultimate Spirits Challenge has just named its top-rated liquors of the year. The panel of expert judges threw some real curveballs into the mix this time around. For example, the only 99 point scores went to an Armagnac—a rich and elegant 1973 vintage from Bhakta, and a ready-to-drink vodka cocktail by Boyd & Blair.

When it came to American whiskies, however, the highest honor couldn’t have gone to a more predictable producer. The folks from Buffalo Trace have done it again, this time with W.L. Weller Full Proof. The 114-proof expression of wheated bourbon recorded 98 out of a possible 100 points at USC. Here were the judges official tasting notes:

“An intoxicating array of red fruits fill the nose with underpinnings of jasmine tea, vanilla bean, Marcona almond, and orange peel. A surprisingly mellow mouthfeel belies its high proof, with classic flavors of toasted oak and apricot. Wonderfully complex, it’s a singular Bourbon, indeed.”

As recently as six years ago, the Weller lineup was easily attainable at liquor stores, where its bulbous old-timey bottle would sometimes even collect dust. Somewhere around that time word got out that the mash bill used for this particular series was exactly the same as what is used for Pappy Van Winkle. Once that happened, the liquid evolved into a unicorn—seemingly overnight.

Buffalo Trace responded to surging demand by upgrading the packaging into something more sophisticated and befitting of a top-shelf spirit. And by expanding the brand to include extra marks including Single Barrel, CYPB—a variation conceived by fans, and this very bottling which won the day at the 2023 USC.

Full Proof was initially launched in 2019. Its name is a bit confusing. The liquid does not get bottled at barrel strength, but instead it enters the glass at the same exact ABV as it did when it entered the cask. Most commonly in Kentucky when a bourbon ages for four or more years—as is the case with this non-age-statement release—it begins to get higher in proof. And so Full Proof is almost certainly proofed down for bottling; water is added after it is dumped from the barrel.

All that really means is that there’s a good deal of consistency to appreciate from batch to batch. To my palate it’s always a big, bright cherry bomb of a bourbon. And though the distillery suggests it should retail at a humble $50 per bottle, it’s difficult to find it for under $400 these days. Should you somehow encounter it in the wild at under half that amount, hauling home Full Proof is a fool-proof decision.

The complete list of winners from the 2023 Ultimate Spirits Challenge can be found here.

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