My bottle review column (last month’s edition here) is about what is unique, standout, new or trending in spirits with my review ratings on a 1-5 rating scale. Small-batch distillers and drink producers need our aid. Please, support small businesses and quality drink. My 10 spirits and four RTD picks of the month:

VERMOUTH

Poli Gran Bassano Vermouths
www.poligrappa.com/eng/liqueurs/vermouth-gran-bassano-rosso

Leave it to the grappa great to turn out a killer vermouth duo: Jacopo Poli’s (whose Cleopatra grappa I recently reviewed) White Vermouth with a Vespaiolo white wine base, showcases floral grapefruit, alongside Merlot-based Red Vermouth, aromatic with herbaceous spice. Both are beautiful on their own or together in a 50/50 vermouth cocktail. Once again, the Bassano del Grappa legend nails it, proving the historic producer shines well beyond grappa. Taste rating: 4.5

BRANDY — Cognac

D’Ussé Cognac
www.dusse.com
Since my first trip (of a couple) around Cognac visiting D’Ussé Cognac and other Cognac houses, I’ve been a fan of their elegant XO brandy. Revisiting the XO Cognac (a style that has to be aged a minimum of 10 years) after a few years, I reveled in its balanced aromas of baking spices, wood and coffee, which rounds out to a chocolate-y mocha on the palate, accompanied by a sort of bananas foster-caramelization. You could say the taste was enhanced by the new limited edition tulip glasses D’Ussé global brand ambassador Sullivan Doh created with Riedel. They recall classic eaux de vie glasses but dark with an onyx-finished patina mimicking D’Ussé’s striking bottles. Taste rating: 5

RUM

Ron del Barrilito Superior Especial Puerto Rican Rum
https://rondelbarrilito.com

Ron del Barrilito
is a Puerto Rican sipping rum ($43.99), distilled in Hacienda Santa Ana using the same process of maceration since 1880, recently available in the continental U.S. As a blend of rums aged between 6 and 10 years in American white oak and sherry barrels, the palate veers nutty and woody with strong hits of vanilla, caramel, raisins and even ripe bananas. It runs a bit sweet but is balanced in its sweeter qualities, a  fine example, especially for the price point, of the beauty in aged Puerto Rican rum. Taste rating: 4

GIN

• Spirit of Abalone Gin
https://spiritofabalone.com/en
The price point is high (€98.00), but Spirit of Abalone is a standout gin, subtle with infusions of abalone and juniper berries in an organic Sicilian grain base, distilled in a small copper boiler fueled by olive and beechwood, with water added post-distillation from natural springs in Sicily’s Peloritani mountains. Given my Sicilian blood, maybe it was a shoo-in. But I suspect it’s more about my penchant for abalone, umami and gin itself that found me loving this mineral, understated, elegant gin (thanks to Dominique Crenn for introducing me to it at her restaurant, Atelier Crenn). Taste rating: 5

• Nàdar Climate Positive Gin
https://arbikie.com
Nàdar means “nature” in Gaelic, the name of a new gin from Arbikie Distillery, dubbed “the world’s first climate positive gin.” Distilled from peas with a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle, the climate change focus is a winning example of how spirits can be done with consciousness. Arbikie Highland Estate Distillery is on the east coast of Scotland, overlooking Lunan Bay, imparting a saline, coastal element to their spirits. Thankfully more than just consciously made, the gin carries seaside notes with a classic juniper-coriander backbone, accented by black pepper, lemongrass and bittersweet orange. Taste rating: 4.5

AGAVE — Tequila

Roble Fino Reposado Tequila
https://partidatequila.com/roble-fino

Note: I’ve only tried the Reposado ($99.99) in the Roble Fino line, launched 2020, a line that includes Añejo ($124.99), Reposado Cristalino ($114.95) and 40-month-aged Elegante ($374.99). Roble Fino Reposado is aged for a minimum of 6 months in former bourbon barrels, then aged an additional 2 months in former sherry seasoned casks from Edrington (of Macallan and the great Highland Park, to name a few). It’s full-bodied, to be sure, but the marriage of agave, oak, dried fruits and peanut-y, rustic quality balance out the elegance of this hard-to-resist tequila. Taste rating: 4.5

WHISKEY — Irish

J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey: The Hanson and The Gael
These recent Irish imports from J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey (founded in 2015) — The Hanson ($60) Irish Grain blend, and The Gael ($80) grain and malt Irish whiskey blend (matured in ex-bourbon and sherry casks) — are welcome entrants into the now well-saturated craft Irish Whiskey category. Founder Louise McGuane sought to revive whiskey bonding (explained here), which died out after the industry collapsed in the 1930s. She is the first whiskey bonder in Ireland in over 50 years, helming a mostly female team. These are also delightful whiskies to drink. The Hanson (aged 4-10 years in former bourbon barrels) will appeal to bourbon lovers with its vanilla and toasted coconut, balanced by pineapple, lime and lemongrass. My favorite, The Gael (60% malt 40% grain blend) ranges 7 to 26 in age, exuding lean citrus, stone fruit and pink peppercorn notes with a toasty apple finish. Taste rating The Hanson: 4; Taste rating The Gael: 4.5

WHISKEY — American

• Reservoir Distillery Whiskies
Richmond, VA-based Reservoir Distillery, founded in 2008 by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino, is an experiment in whiskey grain blends. All their grains come from within 45 miles of the distillery. Allowing consumers to taste each individual grain on its own (wheat, rye, corn), their single grain series can be blended at home to your taste preference, while others, like Holland’s Ghost, are distillery blends, finished in varying casks. I tried seven of their whiskies, including the single grain bases plus four others. Standouts were the robust Holland’s Ghost with its finish in neighboring Ardent Craft Ales stout beer barrels, and 100% corn Maison de Cuivre, gaining layers from its 18 month finish in Burgundy red wine casks, unfolding with red wine, toffee, smoke and oak notes. Taste Rating: 3.5 – 4 for corn, wheat, rye; Taste Rating Holland’s Ghost & d Maison du Cuivre: 4-4.5

• Brothers Bourbon Cask Strength
As I’ve often said, celebrities behind a spirit makes me skeptical rather than hopeful it will be a decent sip. So enter major TV stars Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, founders of Brother’s Bond Bourbon, and their MGP blend bourbon (65% corn, 22% rye, wheat and barley percentages are confidential). The whiskey is better than expected, reasonably priced for cocktails and whiskey novices, easy drinking but not dumbed down (read: lacking in complexity) for whiskey fans. But it’s their Brother’s Bond Cask Strength expression, coming out in March 2022, that stands out. Hand-picked from 70 of their flagship barrels, notes of dried fruit, banana bread, rye spice and a dry finish characterize both whiskies, while the Cask Strength hits hard with Maraschino cherry, toffee, orange marmalade and lots of spice, given the rye dominance. For the future, they plan to pursue distilling their own spirits and focus on crucial issues like agriculture, soil and climate as they seek to become the first fully regenerative spirits company in the world. Taste Rating Bourbon: 4; Taste Rating Cask Strength Bourbon: 4.5

• Watershed Barrel Strength Bourbon Batch 002
Last year I reviewed Columbus, Ohio-based, Watershed’s Bourbon and Apple Barrel-Finished Bourbon. After its release in September 2021, I tasted their highly allocated 6-year bourbon finished in apple brandy barrels. This robust, full-bodied whiskey celebrates the distillery’s 10-year anniversary with its original five-grain mashbill of corn, wheat, rye, barley and spelt. The Barrel Strength Bourbon Batch 002 ($89.99) is first aged four years in virgin char #4 White Oak, then finished 34-45 months in Watershed’s Ohio apple brandy casks. Barrel master Anne Dimmick selected each barrel that went into the final batch of merely 3,060 bottles. Redolent of spices, oak, cherry, nuts and figs, 120.8 proof means it runs a bit hot and tannic, but unfolds with mid-palate flavors lingering on the finish. Taste Rating: 4

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned)

•  Hunni Soju: I love witnessing the continued rise of soju in the mainstream U.S. drink market, with Hunni Soju being the latest in RTD/canned (ready-to-drink) sparkling soju. While some, including my favorite — the otherwise floral, dry, lovely Yuzu Elderflower, finish with an unwelcome saccharine hint — from packaging to flavor combos, this new line holds promise. Taste rating: 4

• Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills: I didn’t think we needed a Whiskey Paloma, Margarita and Mule, but San Luis Obispo’s Rod & Hammer Distillery proved otherwise with their trio of RTDs using their whiskey as a base. Balanced with citrus kick and a more natural sweet taste (rather than the saccharine, fake sugar note that often shows up in RTDs), these are RTDs I want to drink.  Taste rating: 4.5-5

Tio Rodrigo Margaritas: Tio Rodrigo is a new line of hard seltzer margaritas from San Luis Obispo, California, with mangonada (mango-chamoy), sandia (watermelon, lime, mint) and pina (pineapple ginger) flavors. I admire the flavor combos and most work well, though I continue to struggle with the more diluted, watery taste of seltzers, desiring instead a sparkling version of the actual cocktail. Still, these are crushable tequila-based seltzers. Taste rating: 3.5—4

Original Sin Cider: Launched summer 2021, Original Sin’s “New York Dry” cider celebrates their 25th anniversary with a blend of NY-grown McIntosh, Ida Red and Cortland apples. A restrained amount of residual sugar doesn’t overtake the cider’s natural acidity. Now with over 1000 U.S. cider producers (146 in New York), Original Sin has been a pioneer since 1996, its NY dry cider a welcome, balanced entrant to the line. Taste rating: 4.5