In every contest there must be a winner. One winning whisky took home more awards than any other last year.
Hint: It’s not from Kentucky.
On December 20, 2019, whiskey-tasting wizard and best-selling author Fred Minnick named his top five American whiskeys of the year live on YouTube.
This marked the first time he had ever made this announcement in such a way. Minnick did so in part to be transparent about his process and inspire others to taste and find out, as he put it, “what’s your jam, what’s your whiskey.” He also hoped to encourage people to gather and conduct tastings.
Minnick’s top five American whiskeys of 2019 are below, along with some comments from the whiskey expert who ranked them, in descending order.
- King of Kentucky. “This is one of the best things that I’ve ever tasted in my life. It’s amazing.”
- Michter’s 20 Year Old. “Absolutely fantastic whiskey… I thought it had a real shot at winning it all.”
- Uncle Nearest 1820. “That is kind of an upset… It’s a whiskey out of Tennessee and they are absolutely pushing the needle.”
- Angel's Envy Cask Strength Port Finish.
- Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch. “Let me tell you something: I have tasted that many times—it is absolutely fantastic… This is great whiskey, everybody. Great, great, great whiskey”
Congratulations to King of Kentucky for receiving the highest accolade from one of the world’s top spirits tasters. In fact, congratulations to all top five—they stood in a field of 36 high-quality contenders.
But Minnick’s top pick isn’t the story here.
When Uncle Nearest 1820 won third place, it was the only whiskey in Minnick’s top five that wasn’t produced in Kentucky. More amazing is the fact that 1820’s third-place finish in this competition gave Uncle Nearest their 45th award of 2019.
The brand racked up an impressive list of awards, including 25 Gold, Double Gold and Platinum medals. Uncle Nearest also earned ten Best in Show and Best in Class titles, a Chairman's Trophy, and the titles of Best American Whiskey and World's Best.
Those awards and more make Uncle Nearest, crafted in Tennessee, the most-awarded American whiskey brand of the year!
This incredible brand comes with an equally incredible story, and as every operator and bartender knows, stories sell product. When those stories are meaningful and proven history, they’re all the more impressive.
Uncle Nearest is named for Nathan “Nearest” Green, a slave whose contributions to distillation and whiskey would likely have gone widely unknown and unacknowledged without the devotion and tenacity of Uncle Nearest CEO Fawn Weaver and her dedicated team. Nearest is the first and only African-American master distiller, granted the honor in the 1850s. He also taught the art of whiskey to another legendary distiller: Jack Daniel.
The brand executed an impressive distribution and growth campaign last year, gaining new markets and new venues seemingly every week. Daily, at some points throughout 2019. Taking the (unofficial) title of Most Awarded American Whiskey of 2019 solidifies the brand’s—and Nearest Green’s—legacy.
"When we set out to cement the legacy of Nearest Green, we knew it would be imperative that we carried forth his standard of excellence in all we did from whiskey-making to timeless marketing campaigns. As the steward of his brand and legacy, 136 years after he poured his last distilled juice into barrels, there is no feeling more proud than this. Every day it is my hope I make him proud. And today, I think he is looking down with a smile, and that means the world to me," says Weaver.
You can watch Fred Minnick select his top five American whiskeys of 2019 below starting at the 1:33:29 mark.
Fred Minnick believes genetics, mood and other factors influence how a person tastes. What they taste and dislike, like and choose as their favorite product may change the next day, week, month, etc.
Some products tasted on December 20, 2019 were purchased, some were borrowed from friends, and some were provided by distilleries. Still, Minnick said viewers should assume everything he tasted was provided by the brand or distillerer. No entry fee was charged to be included in this tasting.
However, Minnick did encourage viewers of the live tasting to contribute money for the USO. Minnick is a veteran, which we addressed in this article last year. He promised that at least of the donations would go to the USO, with the other portion going toward purchasing new camera equipment for future live tastings.
Minnick is a business partner of one American Whiskey of the Year Contender, Pursuit Series 007. He isn’t involved with the whiskey, just the podcast Bourbon Pursuit.
American Whiskey of the Year Contenders
Best Everyday Bourbon: Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond
Best Tennessee: Jack Daniels Barrel Proof, Uncle Nearest 1820, George Dickle Bottled-In-Bond, Pursuit Series Episode 007
Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon or MGP Bourbon: Woodinville Washington Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Celebrity-Related Whiskey: Slipknot's No. 9 Reserve, Metallica's Blackened, Matthew McConaughey Longbranch, Wild Turkey
Wheat Whiskey: Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey
Kentucky Bourbon: William Larue Weller, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2019, Elijah Craig Batch A119, King of Kentucky, Four Roses 2019 Small Batch Limited Edition, Michter’s 20 Year Old, Four Roses Small Batch Select, New Riff Bottled in Bond, Henry McKenna 10 Year Old, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, Evan Williams Bottled-in Bond, Rare Breed, Cream of Kentucky Batch 2, Old Forester 2019 Birthday Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-bond, Booker's 2019-02, Old Forester 1920, Weller Full Proof (114)
Blend of Straights: Barrel Batch 21
Rye: Dad’s Hat Bottled-in-Bond, Pikesville Rye, Old Forester Rye, Wilderness Trail Bottled-in-Bond Rye, Thomas Handy Rye, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, New Riff Bottled-in-Bond Rye
Best Finish: Angel's Envy Port Finish