For some people, the past few months are all for cautious return: bars and restaurants have cautiously reopened, long-awaited family gatherings and weddings have taken place, and travel has resumed in fits and starts. Special pours, ranging from limited-edition whiskeys and brandies to amusing, ultraportable canned drinks, were frequently used to commemorate these occasions. Here’s our spirits list!
We consider a variety of factors when deciding which bottles to include: spirits that stand out as unrivaled ambassadors of quality within their category; new or limited-edition releases that live up to the hype or arrive with a bang; and bottles that aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path and then justify their decision. Of course, there’s also the issue of cost. No sum is off bounds (within reason), but each release must live up to its retail price.
Without any further, let’s get right to it!
Siete Misterios Espadin Mezcal
First on our spirits list is Siete Misterios Espadin Mezcal. Although Espadin is the most often agave varietal in mezcal production, this specific offering deviates somewhat from the usual. It has a pungent, umami-like scent with a surge of porcini mushrooms and aged parmesan on the palate.
The agave is mashed by hand, fermented in wooden vats, and distilled in clay pots, much as it has been done in Oaxaca for years, which gives it these unexpected properties. The Mexican brand behind it debuted in 2010, but only lately began to appear on more U.S. shelves, thanks to a distribution partnership with Michter’s Distillery’s Chatham Imports.
Wild Roots Peach Infused Vodka
Is it time, bubblegum, and birthday cake sentiments notwithstanding, to rethink flavored vodka? It may be, based on the evidence of this expressive, fruity bottling from the Pacific Northwest. Mix it up in highballs throughout the day, then try it in a Vesper at night — naturally shaken, not stirred.
Montelobos Mezcal Artesanal Espadin
Multiple factors in the manufacture of mezcal make it difficult for brands to provide a widely available, fairly priced expression. Campari which owns Montelobos, not only checks both boxes but also outperforms expectations with the quality of this fruity and fragrant Espadin. For cocktail-shaking mezcal lovers, this bottle should be a permanent bar cart fixture.
Sông Cái Dry Gin
Next on our spirits list came all the way from Vietnam, Sông Cái Dry Gin. The origins of Vietnam’s first gin brand are as intriguing as the drink itself. Daniel Nguyen, a Vietnamese American distiller who went to the region to develop sustainable agriculture along the Mekong River Delta, founded the company in 2018. He now contracts with over 70 local households to preserve and forage native botanicals and heirloom grains in order to manufacture his gin. These components form the foundation of a spicy liquid that hums with turmeric, pepper, and a dried grapefruit fragrance.
Suyo, which began operations in 2021, collaborates with a number of small-scale Peruvian growers, releasing pisco batch by batch. The scents of the spirits are bright and sweet, reminiscent of orchard fruit with a hint of sourness. The palate is sour and tangy, with a lot of fruit flavor and a crisp finish. Beyond the Pisco Sour, this release has a lot to offer — but don’t forget to stop there along the way.
Grateaud Bouquet des Borderies Cognac
Thanks to fascinating, savory herbal smells and a vibrant flowery and fruity flavor, Grateaud Bouquet des Borderies stood out among many pleasant Cognacs this year. During the summer months, there are another spirits that merits equal attention.
Benriach Smoke Season Scotch
The Hebridean island of Islay is famous for its peated scotch. Benriach achieves something quite distinct by infusing the element into its Speyside liquid. Unlike the Islay stuff, which has medicinal, iodine-like flavors, this non-age-statement single malt is more about campfire smoke. On the tongue, there’s a hint of BBQ tanginess, but it’s rounded off with a creamy caramel undertone. That can be attributed to time spent in underutilized American oak.
Arran Barrel Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
The light golden tint of this single malt, which is made with 7- and 8-year-old whiskies mixed with older expressions, is the first indication of its more delicate nature. The older stock is bright and zesty, with a sweet vanilla kiss on the palate. Any single malt journey should begin with this appealing and approachable first step.
Tattersall Distilling Port Wine Barreled Straight Rye Whiskey
Although barrel finishing is customary in Scotch, Irish, and bourbon whiskeys, it has only lately become popular in rye whiskey. Tattersall’s port barrel–finished release. It is a fantastic example of how a peppery grain-based whiskey can be given a new lease on life with the help of old casks. This wine-kissed release is a superb outlier, bold, delicious, and nuanced.
Parker’s Heritage 11-Year-Old Heavy Char Wheat Whiskey
Unlike bourbon, which requires a majority of maize, this autumn 2021 release is produced on a 51 percent wheat mash bill. The slight change in grain imparts a nice smoothness to the liquid, evocative of sugared egg whites. Honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg sit atop the base. Despite its seemingly frightening 61 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), this copper-colored showstopper is eminently approachable.
Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum
This was our first taste of Thai rum, and this expression, created from Thai-grown sugar cane and matured for 7 to 12 years, set the standard high. A kiss of red berries and a prickly spice on the finish complement the molasses, oak, and vanilla aromas.
Appleton Estate Hearts Collection 1995 Rum
It doesn’t get any better for fans of funky Jamaican rum than this. With harsh odors of petrol and rubber cement, the 25-year-old expression stimulates your nose. You’re already licking your lips if you seek hogo. The sip, on the other hand, is a sensory overload. On the tongue, candied orange and sour cherries reroute the typical overripe tropical fruit of a drink with this provenance. In its wake, a sting of high-octane heat fades.
Stauning Floor Malted Rye Whisky
Local rye grains, floor malting, and pot distillation sound like American craft whiskey fantasies. Nonetheless, this three-year-old release emanates from Denmark’s West Coast. This is the closest thing to a liquid version of rye bread, and it succinctly recalls the caraway seeds that typify Nordic food in general. It’s new and expensive, but it’s got a lot of personalities.
Frapin VIP XO Cognac
Cognac Frapin’s latest XO release is a tribute to the category’s intricacy. Its refinement is instantly apparent through a flowery, almost perfume-like nose made from grapes from the Grande Champagne cru. To prioritize that potpourri, make sure to use a decent brandy snifter. And take it slowly, since as it oxidizes in the glass, hints of orchard fruit and freshly made gingerbread emerge.
Old Forester Single Barrel Rye
Given that much of the premium, the market has been obsessed with ever-more-experimental barrel finishings. This huge, bold, unashamed statement of the eponymous grain comes as a surprise. It delivers roast and toast after a minute of opening in the glass. While the front palate may detect some brown sugar sweetness, the finish is all about dill, caraway, and cracked pepper—a liquid deli counter. Pastrami and mustard can be purchased separately.
Komos Tequila Anejo Cristalino
Cristalino tequila is thriving in both the United States and Mexico, despite dogmatic agave aficionados. The style is an excellent starting point for people who find the savory, vegetal side of the spirits difficult to accept. This bottle tastes like an agave-sweetened confection with a hint of peppery spice on the finish. Skip the final course in favor of a glass of Komos Cristalino.
Hapusa Himalayan Dry Gin
Domestically cultivated ginger and cardamom, as well as Himalayan juniper, make up the botanical list for this Indian gin. Mango and turmeric, which sing throughout, are two further components that distinguish it as unmistakably Indian. While Hapusa isn’t the best first or only gin for your bar cart, its distinct personality allows for a wide selection of culinary-inspired cocktail creations.
Castle & Key Restoration Rye 2021 (Batch #1)
This is the third release in Castle & Key’s Restoration Rye line, and it’s a small-batch mix made from only 80 barrels. It delights the senses with flowery and stone fruit scents, as well as a sweet and spicy flavor. This distillery has a lot of potentials. Rye drinkers should keep an eye on it and the rest of the series. One of the must-try spirits!
Isle of Harris Gin
Isle of Harris, one of a growing number of exceptional Scottish gins, made its debut in the United States in 2021. Locally harvested sugar kelp plays a prominent role in the botanical bill, infusing spirits with a spritz of seawater and completely evoking a sense of location. Martinis with an olive garnish.
Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Mitchell & Son reintroduced its “Blue Spot” single pot still Irish whiskey this year after a 50-year hiatus. The release was well-received and delicious. But due to the limited supply, $85 bottles are currently being sold for $400 or more online. That isn’t unique to this product, but the long and short of it is that the release served as a good reminder of how good the brand’s more affordable “Green Spot” whiskey is. It’s a blend of 7 and 10-year-old single-pot still whiskeys that’s both approachable and complicated, and it’s overpriced.
Oban 14 Year West Highland Single Malt Scotch
Oban 14 seems to encapsulate a spectrum of various Scotch styles in one coherent, delightful sipping experience, despite being a single malt and not a blend. It starts with a strong spray of seawater and ends with rich, honeyed fruits with a faint tropical edge. Allow it to sit in the glass or on the palate for a few moments and you’ll get a nice whiff of smoke.
Dudognon “Reserve” Grand Champagne Cognac
Whereas most people associate Cognac with rich dried fruits, tobacco leaves, and used wood, this release takes a different approach. Crisp orchard fruit, zesty citrus, and scented floral notes await in the glass of this Grand Champagne. Oak is an afterthought, if not a completely separate form of transportation. This offering will appeal to single malt fans.
Ocho Tequila Reposado
Tequila Ocho continues to accentuate the unfettered joy of pure agave character across all of its variations. A time when tequila connoisseurs are fixated on additions and “natural” flavorings. In actuality, any could have made the list but the reposado was chosen as the best manifestation of style in 2021. The brief maturation period has added a subtle hint of sweet oak, while the basic distillate’s flowery, honeyed, savory charm remains.
Appleton Estate 15 Year Black River Casks: Jamaica Rum
There aren’t many other spirits styles where a 15-year-old release can be found for this cheap. When contemplating the quality of this rum, which mixes a blend of the column- and pot-still Jamaican distillates, considerations like price and age seem trivial and distracting. This exceptional sipping rum comfortably competes with comparably aged Scotches, Cognacs, and bourbons, with a welcoming cast of fruity, woody, and spicy overtones.
Fords London Dry Gin
One of the few — if not the only — drawbacks of tasting dozens of gins side by side for annual roundups is that the borders between them sometimes blur. Bottles stand out for going off the beaten road and for using uncommon botanicals. While no one can deny its superb balance, Fords may struggle in that environment.
However, the most common way to drink gin is to mix it into cocktails. This is where Fords reveals its true potential. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any gin that is as flexible as this one. And that is as well-suited to drinks like the G&T, Martini, Last Word, and Corpse Reviver. Then there’s the price: incredible value.
Worthy Park Estate ‘Rum-Bar’ Premium White Overproof Rum
This unaged pot still rum is grassy, vegetal, and full of genuine Jamaican funk, with a 63 percent ABV. With an exuberant flavor profile, this rum offers a wide range of drink possibilities. Don’t dismiss it as an affordable, albeit sophisticated, beverage.
Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila
Bar carts deserve a Blanco tequila that delivers balance and real agave taste at an affordable pricing range when Marg season begins. With aromas of lime and salty brine on the nose and taste, Olmeca Altos Plata nails this brief and even conjures the cocktail itself.
Ak Zanj Haitian Dark Rum
On the taste, this rum has the extra depth of vegetal and underripe tropical fruit. Meanwhile, it also smells lead to sweet molasses and prunes. For your next Old Fashioned, skip the bourbon and grab this bottle instead.
Sugar Monk Amari Akhenaten
In its innovative interpretations of the classic Italian herbal liqueur, this New York-based Amari manufacturer crafts complex tapestries of flavor; tinted by esoteric herbs, spices, and other organic additions. More than 40 of them are used by Akhenaten, including tree bark, cumin, cedar, eucalyptus, basil, and myrrh, to name a few.
Although bartenders could have a field day incorporating the roast, minty tonalities found here into high-minded cocktails, they’re enticing enough to drink plain or with a single cube of ice. The Harlem School of the Arts at the Herb Alpert Center will get 25% of all earnings from this bottling.
Egan’s Single Grain Irish Whiskey
This 10-year-old product from Egan’s defies the tendency of grain whiskey to be positioned as a blending component. It has a lively and spicy blend of dried fruit and vanilla aromas from being aged in bourbon barrels. Meanwhile, its light-bodied, effervescent texture lends itself to highballs and summertime sipping.
Lejana Y Sola Mezcal Artesanal Joven
This mezcal has a bright mix of tropical fruit, briny jalapenos, and crisp floral notes thanks to a blend of Espadin and Cuishe agave. On the palate, the category’s distinctive smokiness is complemented by spicy, textural complexity. This mezcal doesn’t require cocktail shakers.
M&H Classic Single Malt Whisky
Scotch drinkers are well aware of the benefits of sherry cask-aged or finished releases. Consider making your next sherry bomb at Israel’s M&H Distillery. The scent and tongue are defined by lush notes from the fortified wine, similar to booze-soaked raisins, but the earthy character of malt is not drowned out.
A. Smith Bowman’s Pioneer Spirit Single Barrel Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey
A. Smith Bowman from Virginia doesn’t get nearly as much attention as its Sazerac siblings. The end result for drinkers is that bottles are truly available, and at MSRP. You won’t be disappointed if you try this delicious, herbaceous bourbon.
Belvedere Heritage 176 Vodka Mixed with Malted Rye Spirit
The highest-ranking vodka on this list isn’t exactly a vodka at all. Except that it defies legal definitions for all intents and purposes. The latter lends a characteristic cereal and fruity taste to the drink, which is made using a blend of Belvedere Vodka (98%) and malted rye spirits (2%). For a vodka cocktail unlike any other, combine martini and highballs.
When it comes to bitter liquors from the Czech Republic, Becherovka is the greatest. The color is golden, with a slightly syrupy consistency. The flavor is strong at first, but then it smooths out and leaves a Christmasy aftertaste. It’s simple to shoot, but tasting it is just as enjoyable. Many people in the Czech Republic believe it has medical properties, and that a drink a day keeps the doctor away.
Benriach, The Twenty Five
Benriach, a Speyside distillery, has gained increased attention in the United States in recent years for its amazing range of single malts. Both peated and unpeated, matured in a variety of cask types; a tour of the warehouses displays a rainbow of barrels with different-colored tops. The distillery produced three top-shelf whiskies aged 21, 25, and 30 years. The 25, a softly smoky single malt with subtle flavors of tropical fruit, dark chocolate, and baking spice dance across the palate. It is the best of the lot, matured in bourbon, sherry, virgin-oak, and Madeira casks.
Hennessy, Master Blender’s Selection No.4
The fourth in a limited series from renowned Cognac house Hennessy, the unique release was inspired by the sights, sounds, and smells encountered on a winter walk in the mountains, according to eighth-generation master blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde. The bottle comprises eaux-devie aged for at least five years in French red-oak barrels. With flavors of apricot, candied orange, and sweet spice on the palate, but with a lightness that one wouldn’t anticipate from such a rich Cognac. Each one—and especially this one—deserves a trophy status on your bar cart. Why? Because the Master Blender’s Selection is genuinely a series of one-offs, a world away from the basic V.S and V.S.O.P. expressions and never to be re-created.
El Tequileño, Anejo Gran Reserva
This new El Tequileño expression ups the ante on old agave spirits by focusing on the maturing process and employing a variety of barrel types to create a delightfully deep añejo tequila. It’s a limited-edition product using tequila from American and French oak barrels for two years before combining it with tequila aged in American oak for six years. Caramel and roasted agave dominate the aroma, which is followed by tropical fruits, brown sugar, and a hint of caramel candy, all bound together by a bright, grassy undercurrent. It’s a lesson in how careful barrel selection, careful aging, and thorough blending can produce an aged tequila with the primary agave flavor preserved while reaching new levels of flavor and complexity.
Barrell Craft Spirits, Seagrass
Barrell Craft Spirits, a Louisville-based blender, and bottler, has created one of the year’s most unique and tasty rye whiskeys. They completed Seagrass, a blend of Canadian and American rye taken from several distilleries, in three barrel types chosen by company founder Joe Beatrice: Martinique Rhum Agricole, apricot brandy, and Madeira wine.
On the taste, there are layers of apricot jam, fresh garden herbs, and a touch of candied orange and brown sugar in this caskstrength whiskey (at 118.4 proof). Despite the varied cask finishes, the rye whiskey retains its individuality, with spice and vanilla aromas bursting through.
Monkey 47, Distiller’s Cut 2020
Monkey 47, a German gin brand, released a limited-edition Distiller’s Cut to commemorate its tenth anniversary. With a recipe of 47 botanicals (thus the name), including angelica, acacia flower, chamomile, and sage, the basic gin is already a fragrant and complex spirit. Due to time spent in pricey, highly sought-after Japanese mizunara-oak barrels, this edition of Distiller’s Cut gains even more taste. Incense, sandalwood, and vanilla aromas were added to the gin during the maturing process. It produces an intriguing martini, but it’s also one of the fantastic spirits to drink straight.
Black Tot, 50 Anniversary
The concept for this anniversary bottle from Black Tot comes from the British Royal Navy’s practice of giving its men a modest daily ration of rum known as a “tot”. It commemorates the half-century since the empire’s last cargo of the spirits distribution. Only 5,000 bottles were made, utilizing a blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad, as well as some of the UK’s original, un-rationed maritime stock, and bottled at a whopping 109 proof to match the potency of what the navy previously distributed. Brown sugar, vanilla, and banana notes abound, making this a go-to sipper that rivals complex drinkability with any other aged brown spirits.
Pinhook Vertical Series 5 Year “Bourbon War”
This whiskey, the second in Pinhook’s Bourbon War series, gives the concept of a vertical tasting a whole new meaning. The series follows the progress of 1,350 barrels of MGP bourbon and rye, 150 of which they release each year. Light, tropical aromas from the first release have become headier after an extra year in barrel, while the palate has gained a rich, spicy flavor. If you want to call the concept a gimmick, the whiskey inside the bottle stands on its own.
Salvatore’s Legacy, the world’s oldest cocktail, is Playboy London’s house drink of choice. Salvatore Calabrese, the famed bartender, creates each cocktail.
He uses four primary ingredients: 1778 Clos de Griffier Vieux Cognac, 1770 Kümmel Liqueur, circa-1860 Dubb Orange Curaçao, and some early 1900s Angostura bitters. This is an opulent and pricey cocktail, but it’s also a fantastic experience!
Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection releases the younger (and possibly better) sister of George T. Stagg every year. Each year they release two batches of Stagg Jr., each with a variable ABV depending on the barrels. The bourbon is uncut, unfiltered, and matured for seven to eight years using Buffalo Trace’s medium-rye mash bill No. 1. Last winter, the 15th batch arrived, clocked in at 131.1 proof, powerful and wonderful, with sweet notes of butterscotch, candied cherry, and a hint of char. Despite its high proof, Stagg Jr. has a lot of complexity and flavor, which is better with water or a huge ice cube.
Hangar 1 Smoke Point Vodka
Smoke Point vodka is made from Napa Valley merlot and malbec that has been affected by the destructive 2020 fires in the region. Rather than wasting the juice, this Alameda, Calif.-based company took it to the stills and turned it into a mostly neutral spirit. It’s not quite as smoky as the name suggests, but it’s faintly licorice and butterscotch. It’s a sipping vodka, the most unexpected of alcoholic outliers. The California Fire Foundation, which provides financial assistance to firefighters and their families, receives proceeds from sales.
El Tesoro Mundial Collection: The Laphroaig Edition
This Anejo tequila was aged for nine months in ex-bourbon barrels before finishing for four months in casks previously used to age Laphroaig 10-year-old single malt whisky. It’s the first of a series in which El Tesoro head distiller Carlos Camarena will experiment with a variety of pre-seasoned cooperage from across the world—and no, that famous Laphroaig peatiness doesn’t imply this tequila tastes like mezcal.
A tantalizing blend of maple BBQ and salted, cured bacon awaits you here. The earthiness of the agave remains constant throughout.
Bardstown Bourbon Company, Phifer Pavitt Cabernet Finish II
The second whiskey in Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Collaborative Series with California winery Phifer Pavitt was released this winter. It’s a 10-year-old Tennessee bourbon (from an unnamed distillery) that’s been aged for another 18 months in the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon barrels before being bottled at 100 percent. The bourbon’s prolonged secondary aging allowed it to absorb more aromas from the freshly empty casks, imbuing it with sumptuous notes of grape, cherry, and both milk and dark chocolates. The result is a superb after-dinner bourbon, with a new burst of flavor with each sip.
Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series FAE-01
The Wood Finishing Series, which debuted in 2019, relies on a technique that Bill Samuels Jr. pioneered with Maker’s Mark 46. The maturing procedure is to produce “Maker’s on steroids,” with completely mature cask-strength Maker’s Mark being put into barrels with a particular blend of hardwood staves. The barrels will then go into the limestone cellar of the distillery, where whiskey, casks, and staves can interact and generate intriguing flavors and fragrances. into
The Wood Finishing Series features a different composition each year to amplify a different aspect of the flavor profile of the spirits. While the combination of staves for Maker’s 46 remains constant, the Wood Finishing Series features a different composition each year to amplify a different aspect of the spirits.
Mezcal Vago Espadín By Joel Barriga
This is high-definition, high-intensity mezcal. It starts out strong, with a 50.3 percent ABV, and quickly reveals more than just overwhelming smoke. The wine’s higher-than-average alcohol percentage brings forth tropical fruit and flowery flavors, while scorched earth undertones linger around the edges. This mixture lengthens the finish, making this a mezcal that can be used in cocktails, highballs or sipping.
Francois Voyer X.O. Grand Cru Grande Champagne Cognac
Cognac proved to be a remarkable and competitive category. The fact that this bottle became our favorite speaks volumes about its quality and simple enjoyment. This X.O. has been aged for 14 years, four years longer than the legal requirement. It presents a variety of flavors, ranging from rich and sweet to fruity, zesty, and vibrant. It develops in the glass as well as on the palate, resulting in a true sipping “experience.” This really deserves to be on the best spirits list.