This Is the Best Rye in America, According to the Olympics of Whisky Competitions. What Makes It So Good?

Uncle Nearest won the top three awards for Best Rye and Best Tennessee Whiskey at this year's IWC

Five whiskeys from Uncle Nearest, a TN distillery that earned several major awards at this year's IWC competition
Uncle Nearest won the top 3 medals at IWC for Best Rye and Best Tennessee Whiskey
Kirk Miller

The International Whisky Competition (IWC) has a lot to offer as a spirits contest. Launched in 2010, the IWC only awards three medals per category (Gold, Silver, Bronze), which has earned the event an unofficial title of “the Olympics of whisky competitions.” An expert panel of judges conducts blind tastings and winners have to score above 85 points (out of 100) to earn a medal in almost all categories.

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A simplified approach, that format also leads to some interesting results. At this year’s event, for example, Tennessee’s Uncle Nearest managed an awards trifecta, racking up Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for its various rye whiskey releases. In our review last year, we noted the following about Uncle Nearest Straight Rye (which came in third, after a single barrel and a small batch bottle): It’s a “rye (100% rye mashbill and 100 proof) … sourced from Canada, aged in New York and then rested in used Uncle Nearest barrels. A lot of bready dough on the nose and a delectable balance of sweet and spicy on the palate, with notes of vanilla, anise and mint.”

Some other fun tidbits from this year’s winners’ list:

  • The only American whiskeys to place in the top 10 overall were George T. Stagg and Stagg. Parent company Sazerac, however, did grab 12 of the top 15 medals in the major Bourbon and overall American Whiskey categories.
  • Uncle Nearest also earned the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals trifecta in the Tennessee Whiskey category
  • Some smaller American brands to keep an eye on: Good Trouble (Silver, Best Small Batch Bourbon), Olde Raleigh (from North Carolina, earned a Silver and Bronze in Best Barrel / Special Cask Finish and won Best Microdistillery) and Five Trail (which has a connection to Coors and earned Gold and Silver in American Blended Whiskey)
  • As for global results: Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1989 Mortlach 31-Year-Old scored 97.1 points. The independent bottler also came in third overall for its Connoisseurs Choice Caol Ila 1997 23-Year-Old (more on Gordon & MacPhail here).
  • Kavalan, from Taiwan, came in second and fourth overall.

You can find all the 2023 IWC results here.


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