The Beverage Testing Institute Announces The Top Whiskeys Of 2021

The Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) is a Chicago-based organization that plays a dual role in the beverage industry. On the one hand it reviews and scores, on a hundred-point scale, thousands of beverages each year. This activity makes it more like a conventional wines and spirits competition

On the other hand, it also functions as a consultancy that, in its own words, utilizes:

Exceptional methodology, proprietary tools and decades of experience to offer research, development and marketing services that protest large investments, elevate brand reputations, optimize market reception and engage consumers.

This dual role is unprecedented within the beverage industry. Its evaluations and advice are closely followed in the beverage industry by both global wine and spirit companies and by recently established craft spirit producers, as well as by consumers around the world.

BTI has just released its list of top spirits of 2021. Included in that list are 11 whiskeys, including one with a rare, perfect score of 100, that it judged the world’s best in each of their respective categories.

The Redbreast 27 YO Pot Still Irish Whiskey
The Redbreast 27 YO Pot Still Irish Whiskey PHOTO, COURTESY REDBREAST

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The top whiskey in the world, one of only five beverages to have received a perfect score in the last 20 years, was the Redbreast, Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey, 27 YO, 54.6% ABV, 700 ml, $585. Redbreast is one of the great icons in the Irish whiskey universe and, despite its many awards, is still a hugely underappreciated spirit.

The official tasting note from the BTI called the Redbreast 27 YO “spicy, rich and fruity,” describing it as possessing:

Aromas of candied lemon and ginger, echinacea, toasted caraway seed, caponata and sarsaparilla with a velvety, vibrant, drying, medium-full body and a warming very complex, endless cola, eucalyptus, Chinese 5-spice, exotic woods and crime brûlée finish. The stylish, brooding, Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey that will surely be unforgettable for the whiskey connoisseur; a dapper extrovert that engulfs the senses.

Next in line, scoring a 99/100 points, was Kavalan, Solist Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, 59.4% ABV, 700 ml, $225. Its sibling, the Kavalan Solist, Fino Sherry Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, was awarded scores of 100/100 in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The Solist, Oloroso Sherry expression has been a consistent gold medalist in this year’s spirits competitions.

This is a smooth, rich, flavorful whisky that delivers powerful aromas of red and black fruit, especially blackberries, raisins and prunes, and milk chocolate. The BTI’s tasting notes described it as “a colossus of a Whisky that delivers seemingly endless waves of flavor and evolves with every sip.”

This is an incredibly complex, layered whisky that according to the BTI’s official tasting notes features:

Savory, sweet aromas and flavors of butter sautéed marcona almonds, schmaltz and duck fat sweet potato fries, warm chocolate nut fudge, and caramelized bacon and forest mushrooms finished with shoyu with a chewy, tangy, off-dry full body and a warming, very complex, endless finish that exhibits accents of mint, spiced fruits, pepper, and minerals.

An exceptional value for one of the world’s truly great whiskies.

Uncle Nearest, Master Blend Edition, Premium Whiskey Blend No 002, 57.5% ABV, $149, took top honors in the Tennessee Whiskey category with a score of 97/100. Uncle Nearest has been a phenomenon since it was launched in July 2017. This year it won Best Tennessee Whiskey at virtually every major spirit competition.

This is a rich, fruity, spicy whiskey, which shows a layered, nuanced complexity. According to the BTI tasting notes:

Golden amber color. Inviting, elegant aromas and flavors of kirsch, ripe fig, fine leather, caramelized mango, and spice cake with a lightly tannic, vibrant, dry medium-full body and a warming, subtle, very long finish with shades of graham cracker crust, tropical fruit tart, and cafe au lait.

The top prize for Best Irish Blended Whiskey, with a 96/100 score, went to Jameson, Bow Street, 18 YO, 55.3% ABV, 700 ml, $208. The BTI’s official tasting notes described it as:

Woody aromas and flavors of dried figs, spiced chocolate, toasted almonds, thyme, and oak with a chewy, crisp, dry medium-full body and a warming, appealing, long finish with notes of vanilla-caramels, grilled peach, and apple crumble. An oak-centric Irish Blended Whiskey with power and potency.

Also scoring 96/100 was the Elijah Craig, Barrel Proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 61.8% ABV, 750 ml, $59. Described as “intense, nutty and sophisticated,” the BTI’s tasting notes went on to describe it as having:

Aromas of dark chocolate shavings, hazelnut, black tea, and mahogany with a round, vibrant, dry medium-full body and a warming, distinctive, very long peanut butter cups, honey-roasted nuts, cocoa butter, espresso bean, and roasted dates finish.

Town Branch, Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey
Town Branch, Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey PHOTO, COURTESY BEVERAGE TASTING INSTITUTE

The Town Branch, Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey, 50% ABV, 750 ml, $53 scored 96/100 points. The Town Branch rye whiskey is based on a mash bill of 55% rye, 30% corn and 15% malted barley. This mash bill is typical of Kentucky rye whiskeys, and features a significant component of corn as opposed to the classic, Pennsylvania rye whiskeys, where were almost entirely based on mash bills of 90%-95% rye grain.

The BTI’s tasting notes described it as a “skillfully crafted,” and “completely delicious Rye Whiskey with exceptional balance and length,” which offered up aromas of:

… spiced plums, ginger-peach tea, toasted sesame, and peppermint with a lively, dryish medium-to-full body and a very complex, endless sweet berries, star anise, chocolate shavings, fresh buttered croissant, nutmeg, hints of olives, and marcona almonds finish.

With list price is under $60, and often available for much less, the Town Branch Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey and the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey, represent two of the most outstanding values in American whiskey.

Town Branch is an up-and-coming craft distiller that is rapidly earning a reputation for excellence. See for example their absolutely outstanding Sherry Cask Finished, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

All six of the whiskeys featured above were awarded Platinum medals for scoring 96 points or higher.

Aberlour, A’bunadh, Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Batch 69, 61.2% ABV, 750 ml, $99, was the highest scoring Scotch whisky, with a rating of 95/100 points. The A’bunadh is a no-age-statement, cask strength whisky that is entirely matured in Oloroso Sherry butts. This is an outstanding whisky that delivers both exceptional value and taste.

The BTI’s tasting notes described A’bunadh as “a bourbon-lover’s Speyside Single Malt with a Sherry flair” with “rich, undulating chewy flavors,” It offered up notes of:

 … roasted corn, butterscotch, ripe red fruit, fresh cruller, marzipan, and roasted pecan with a round, vibrant, dryish medium-to-full body and a hot, layered, long finish.

The top Irish single malt whiskey was Limavady, Single Barrel, Irish Single Malt Whiskey, 46% ABV, 700 ml, $49, while the top American single malt whiskey was, Copperworks Distilling Company, American Single Malt Whiskey, Release No 038, 50% ABV, $99. Both whiskeys scored 94/100.

The Limavady Distillery is a historic Irish whiskey producer that first began producing whiskey in 1750. The original distillery closed in the early 20th century. It has been recently resurrected by Darryl McNally, a descendant of the original founders. The whiskey was just released in the US.

This is a “complex Irish Single Malt with big impact and big elegance” that, according to the BTI, showcases:

Aromas and flavors of peach, starfruit, spiced caramel, butter cookies, and hints of grapefruit with a velvety, vibrant, dryish medium-full body and a peppery, very complex, very long finish conveying impressions of toasted scones with honey, baked apples, roasted nuts, and toasted sourdough.

Copperworks Distilling Company, American Single Malt Whiskey, Release No 038
Copperworks Distilling Company, American Single Malt Whiskey, Release No 038 PHOTO, COURTESY BEVERAGE TASTING INSTITUTE

The Copperworks Distillery, on the other hand, is a craft distiller located on the waterfront in downtown Seattle. Founded in 2013, by Jason Parker and Micah Nutt, both craft beer makers, the distillery produces small batch single malt whiskeys, gins and vodkas from a mash bill of malted barley. Copperworks was named Distillery of the Year by the American Distilling Institute in 2018.

This is a “deliciously chewy American Single Malt with robust and endlessly satisfying flavors of grilled fruits.” Per the BTI’s tasting notes, the whiskey offers up:

Aromas of butter pecan ice cream and chocolate ganache with a velvety, lively, dry medium-to-full body and a peppery, complex, long grilled figs and dates, toasted kasha, espresso beans, and savory herbs finish.

Also scoring a 94/100 was the top ranked flavored whiskey: Ole Smoky, Peanut Butter Flavored Whiskey, 30% ABV, 750 ml, $24. Many American flavored whiskeys have lower proofs and are on the cusp between being a whiskey and a whiskey-based liqueur. This whiskey was also awarded a Best Buy designation by the BTI’s judging panel. They described it as “absurdly delicious” with:

Aromas and flavors of peanut butter honey sandwich, kettle corn, chocolate chips, and banana slices with a satiny, soft, sweet medium body and a sleek, amusing, long finish revealing nuances of vanilla-honey milkshake.

The top scoring Canadian whisky, with a 93/100 rating, was the Collingwood, Double Barrel Canadian Whisky, 45% ABV, 750 ml, $28. The Collingwood Distillery is Canada’s longest continually owned and operated distillery. Located in Collingwood, Ontario on the shore of Georgian Bay, it produces one of Canada’s top rated blended whiskies.

The whisky is “double barreled.” It’s first matured in used white oak barrels and then re-barreled in new barrels of white oak that have been heavily toasted and lightly charred. According to the company, “after an extended maturation, the whisky is then finished with toasted maple wood staves” that are inserted into the barrels.

The result is a complex whisky that is smooth, subtle and warm. The BTI’s tasting notes described it as “a rich and nuanced Canadian Whisky” that features:

Aromas and flavors of cream of wheat with brown sugar, grilled corn, and dried figs and dates with a velvety, crisp, dryish light-to-medium body and a smooth, intricate, medium-long finish that shows notes of crusty pumpernickel loaf, cinnamon roll, and brown butter.

The Beverage Testing Institute’s top whiskeys of 2021 feature an outstanding mix of both well-known brands and up and comers that are well worth discovering. It also features one of the great standout whiskies of the decade in the Redbreast 27 YO, Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey. If you taste nothing else, at least taste the Redbreast. Lots to explore here. Good hunting!

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