Looking for a new flavor? Need a little help making your next choice at your local bar or bottle shop? Dining and drinks writer and judge Virginia Miller combs through new craft spirits releases to taste, review, and recommend. Here are her top 12 picks of the month, rated on a scale of one to five.

My bottle review column (last month’s edition here) is about what is unique, standout, new and/or trending in spirits with my review ratings on a 1-5 rating scale. My 12 bottle picks of the month:


Aimsir Distilling Co. Vættir Aquavit


I always welcome a new aquavit and Portland, OR-based, Aimsir Distilling Co.’s Vættir Aquavit is a beauty. On the licorice-forward side of the aquavit spectrum, Vættir (named after supernatural entities of Norse mythology) exudes star anise, caraway, lavender, fennel and citrus peel. Its silky body holds up on its own and shines in cocktails. More of this quality, please. Taste Rating: 4.5


Dos Hombres Mezcal


Celebrity agave spirits are coming fast and furious these days and Dos Hombres Mezcal is the latest, founded by actors Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad. An Espadin mezcal ($65) made in San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca, by third-generation mezcalero Gregorio Velasco, this is agave milled by horse-drawn tahona, fermented for 7-10 days with mountain spring water, then double distilled in copper stills. While those of us in spirits know the insanely exponential growth of mezcal in recent years has wreaked havoc on the category and agave growth, Paul and Cranston talk of making mezcal more well known. It’s a good mezcal, best for cocktails with its hit of lemon, tropical fruits, wood and subtle smoke. Taste Rating: 4


Bok Gin


Distilled in Livermore, CA, and produced by Frijolotes mezcal importer/wholesaler, new Bok Gin ($35) is created by Young Jung, a Korean Californian from the SF Bay Area who not only honors her heritage in the botanicals but her restaurateur mother, creating a more culinary, savory gin exuding salinity, dry spice and earth from Koren botanicals, including gochujang (!), ginger, perilla, dried kelp. This works in cocktails like a martini or Bloody Mary, but also opens up creative drink possibilities to showcase its black and white pepper, roasted sesame seed, cucumber, lime peel, coriander seeds and mugwort, in addition to the aforementioned botanicals. It hits a bit hard at first sip but opens up nicely and in drinks. Taste Rating: 4


Holmes Cay Trinidad 2012 10-year Rum


Holmes Cay Rum limited edition rums continue to delight. 2012 Trinidad single cask aged rum ($149) from the now-defunct 10 Cane Distillery (since 2015) is no exception. Made from cane juice, this 100% pot still rum was aged for 4 years in former-Cognac casks, then 6 years in former bourbon casks in the UK, then bottled in New York at 59% ABV barrel proof. With no coloring or additives, the rum’s floral, herbaceous, pepper and spice fully shine, its medium-bodied finish running woody and warm. Taste Rating: 4.5

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned Cocktails/Drinks)

For Bitter For Worse Canned Cocktails

I’ve raved about For Bitter For Worse as among the best non-alcoholic bottled cocktails I’ve ever tasted. That still holds true. Their three bottled cocktails wow, and now one of my faves — Eva’s Spritz — is a canned cocktail. It lacks just a little oomph and body of the bottled version but still tastes beautifully bitter and gratifying. On the canned side, I am most excited about the new Rose City Fizz, tributing the company’s home city of PDX (Portland, OR) with strawberry, cherry, orange amped up by gentian and rhubarb root, bitter citrus peels, herbs and spices. Taste Rating: 4.5


Soov Sparkling is a sparkling tonic line launched 2018 from Miles Gotcher — consulting with dietitians, food scientists and beverage experts — to offer the digestive benefits of ginger drinks without additives, made with real ginger juice and 80% less sugar than typical ginger ales. They now have three flavors: Ginger Lemon Chamomile, Ginger Lemon Mint, Ginger Lemon Pineapple. Each is balanced, not sweet, solid on its own but also works in cocktails like a Dark ‘N Stormy (e.g. ginger pineapple). Taste Rating: 3.5-4.5


Paladar Tequila Blanco


The Orendain family is one of the oldest families in tequila with their El Llano distillery (since early 1900s) the 3rd oldest after Cuervo and Sauza. The family just released Paladar Tequila in the U.S. The Orendain brothers experimented with this line at NOM 1109 in the town of Tequila, Jalisco, at the foot of an inactive volcano. I only tried Paladar Blanco ($50) and despite a softer vanilla nose, it initially hits unexpectedly harsh/hot for a standard 40% ABV). However, minerality and fresh agave vegetal notes do peek through on the finish. Taste Rating: 3


Wilderton Bittersweet Aperitivo


While I appreciated the concepts, if not the flavor profiles of Wilderton non-alcoholic spirits when they launched in 2020, I struggled with the body and flavors, much as I believe in the category (my review here). But the NA category continues to improve flavorwise, even as body remains an issue. Wilderton’s new bitter aperitivo release ($34.99) leaps forward.  Cascarilla, cassia cinnamon, chardonnay grape juice, gentian, grapefruit, mace, orange blossom, quassia, rosemary, sandalwood, Seville orange, Turkey rhubarb root, all weave together in a nicely bitter sipper rounded by subtle sweetness and body from grape juice. This is a real win for NA bitter cocktails and makes a lovely aperitivo on the rocks. Taste Rating: 4.5


Upstate Vodka


Upstate Vodka ($29.99) is a new release June 2022 from Charlotteville, NY, distilled from 100% New York State apples at The Sauvage Distillery. The nose is clean and bright, while the palate is silky, aromatic of apple blossom, pear and subtle sweetness. Distiller Ken Wortz uses 70-80 apples per bottle from wild apple trees, some over 100-years-old, from local farms. The liquid is fermented with Kosher yeast, then twice-distilled in 16 and 18-plate, two-column stills. They use a range of sweet apples (including Spy Gold, Cortland, Kingston Black, Liberty) to create a more complex flavor profile, though ultimately, it’s still a fairly neutral vodka. I’ve tasted gins and other spirits distilled from apples and this is a welcome entrant in that style. Taste Rating: 4.5


10th Street Distillery Peated Wine Whisky


San Jose’s 10th Street Distillery nails American single malt — whiskeys that appeal to Scotch, Indian and Japanese whisky lovers (my 2020 review here). Their latest summer release is another winner, aged in two casks: first fill bourbon casks made of charred American Oak, then finished in local California Pinot Noir casks of toasted French oak. It hits with campfire and peanuts, brine and honey, even strawberry and a green whisper of mint. The complexity and range 10th Street continues to turn out impresses me every time. Taste Rating: 4.5

Oak & Eden Whiskeys


While I appreciate the musicians behind Oak & Eden Whiskey (have long been a fan of The Civil Wars; the duo’s John Paul White is behind a O&E whiskey), I struggle with over-oaked small batch whiskies and processes like adding staves (dubbed “spires” here) to bottles. My common complaint when blind-judging whiskies is that they’re “too tannic,” “over-oaked,” or I’ve even often said “it tastes like licking a stave.” That is the case here. The Troubadour Chapter of their celebrity collaboration line, the Anthro Series, launched fall 2021, while I recently tasted through their “Inspired” series ($49.99 each), including a bourbon, 4-grain, rye and wheat whiskey, all with “spires” in the bottle. You guessed it: I find each “too tannic” but the rye fares the best with rye spice coming through nicely despite heavy oak. Taste Rating: 2.5-3.5


Shanky’s Whip Irish Spirit


Let’s get this out of the way first: Shanky’s Whip ($29.99), a heavily sweet black Irish Whiskey rife with vanilla, cream and cola notes is so not my “cup of tea.” A sweetened whiskey is what cocktails are for… with balance, always. But this will really appeal to “sweet tooths” and those who aren’t hardcore whisk(e)y aficionados. Think an Irish Coffee if it were a bottled whiskey or an Irish Whiskey liqueur at a lower 33% ABV. Blended and bottled in Cavan, Ireland, Shanky’s is sweet to the point of cloying but almost isn’t. It’s not about the whiskey, more so it’s a boozy vanilla cream liqueur with a whiskey backbone. I liked it best with the “Woody” Coca-Cola Signature Mixer they sent it with, adding balsam and basil layers to the spirit. Shanky’s is an ideal post-dinner dessert or brunch cocktail fodder and will win some fans doing what it does well. Taste Rating: 3.5

Ready for another round? Visit Virginia’s website for last month’s edition, plus personal recommendations on the best spots in cities around the world.

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Founding The Perfect Spot in 2007 sharing top recommends globally in food and drink, Virginia Miller is W. North America Academy Chair for The World's 50 Best Restaurants, regular columnist at The Bold Italic and Medium, Distiller Magazine, American Whiskey Magazine, Whisky Magazine, VOICES, Liquor.com, Gin Magazine, etc. She held roles as Zagat SF/NorCal editor, SF Guardian restaurant critic, Table8 National Editor/VP of Content. Published in over 60 international publications, she’s covered global dining, travel, spirits, cocktails, hotels and bars with regular columns at Time Out, Where Traveler, Google’s Touringbird, Food Republic, Thrillist, Travelux, to name a few. She wrote The Official Emily in Paris Cocktail Book. Virginia consults in dining, spirits, cocktails and drink. She co-created Avion’s Reserva Cristalino tequila with Pernod Ricard’s House of Tequila innovation, marketing and distilling teams and is now working multiple agave spirits projects in Mexico over recent years, including cutting edge innovation products and blends for different clients. She consults for multiple distilleries on short-term projects, whether evaluating and providing feedback on samples or products or multiple versions. She helps create various samples and flavor profiles with distilling teams or in labs, edits or writes tasting notes, provides feedback on marketing materials and leads tastings virtually or in-person. She leads tastings virtually for Whiskies of the World and for company parties or private events, educating on a range of spirits. Virginia creates drink menus for Michelin-starred restaurants (like Dominique Crenn’s Golden Poppy in Paris, a multi-month project creating an entire menu of cocktails and non-alcoholic cocktails with stories and photos for the restaurant’s launch). She aids in honing and curating food and drink menus and provides feedback on dishes and drinks. Virginia judges in many international dining, food, spirits, cocktails and bars competitions and awards (including SF World Spirits, ADI Craft Distilling, Tales of the Cocktail, Good Food Awards, IWSC in London, Nola Spirits Comp, Whiskies of the World, etc.) and has visited over 13,000 restaurants and even more. top bars around the world.