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The results of the World Whiskies Awards 2020 were released last week, and some interesting expressions topped each category. Japan’s Hakushu 25-Year-Old was named the World’s Best Single Malt, Dewar’s took home the award for the World’s Best Blended Whisky, and Tamdhu won the award for World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt. Over in the U.S., an underdog bourbon maker took home the top prize for World’s Best Bourbon and a revamped brand was named the World’s Best Single Barrel Bourbon. But are they really the world’s best? Let’s take a look.
Whiskey bottle on orange background GETTY
Ironroot Harbinger topped the bourbon category, and was named the World’s Best Bourbon. Following this announcement, sales of the Ironroot Harbinger have skyrocketed. According to the co-founder of the Ironroot Republic distillery, Robert Likarish, demand for the expression has soared since the award and distributors the world over are trying to secure more cases. While orders are still pouring in, one thing is clear- the award’s impact on saleswill be ‘substantial.’
A point to note, the Ironroot Republic is in Denison, Texas, meaning the winner came from outside Kentucky, which is a famed hotspot for some the best bourbon producers in America. Some even believe that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky, but in reality bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States. Ironroot Republic competed against much larger, more established producers; in fact, the team never believed winning was possible. ’This is an award that we were not even sure was achievable,’ said Jonathan Likarish, the brand’s co-founder and head distiller. ’It is humbling and almost overwhelming to be acknowledged at such a high level in the industry by people who we hold in high regard. Our hard-working team and families make this possible and we are just thankful to be able to go to work every day.’
The World’s Best Bourbon: Ironroot Harbinger PHOTO: IRONROOT REPUBLIC
But what is so special about the Ironroot Harbinger? The judges of the WWA describe the expression as: ’A punch of alcohol on the nose, kettle corn, oak, salted caramel and vanilla. Full bodied and strong with a caramel sweetness, liquorice and dried fruits. Rounding out with a long finish of oak and spice.’
The expression comes in at a punchy 57.5% ABV and is the first expression by Ironroot- the one that has shot the distillery to fame. The bourbon is made using heirloom, non-GMO corn and what sets it apart are the experimental corn varieties Ironroot grows and uses. In the Harbinger’s case the mash bill consists of yellow corn, purple corn, Bloody Butcher corn, Floriani Flint corn, and rye. According to Likarish, ‘the grains are distilled in a traditional Scottish style pot still using French Brandy making techniques to achieve a paramount of aroma and flavor.’ The spirit is aged in both American and European virgin oak casks, which deliver bourbon’s expected rich, caramel sweetness alongside dried fruit notes and delicate spice. Is there one word best used to describe the expression? Yes, powerful. This is an expression to approach slowly, one sip at a time, and add water little by little until the alcohol is lowered and the myriad of flavours are allowed to pour out.
The beauty of the Ironroot Harbinger is that it can be purchased for as little as $US60, making it accessible to drinkers and collectors alike. Unlike other pricier releases, the expression has remained affordable despite the many other awards it has received over the years. Double Gold at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a Gold in 2017, Best Texas Bourbon at the Texas Whiskey Festival, and many other accolades show that the Ironroot Harbinger is truly a crowd favourite across the globe.
The distillery opened in 2014 by the Likarish brothers while their mother, Marcia, manages the distillery. Ironroot Republic only produces 200-250 barrels of whiskey a year, so the brand is still rather small. While the distillery has plans to expand, production and the quality of the ingredients remain at the forefront. Almost 95% percent of the grains used are sourced within a 60 mile radius of the distillery and every step of the production process takes place in Denison. Ironroot has come a long way in only six years, and after this award the sky’s the limit for the stellar liquid the team is producing.
Writer: George Koutsakis, ContributorSpiritsI drink, I eat, I write.