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. My 12 bottle picks of the month: 


Mommenpop Makrut limepop
Photo © Nicola Parisi

Mommenpop Aperitif Wines

Mommenpop California Citrus Apéritifs has been a hit with savvy SF Bay Area restaurants, bars and shops since launching in Napa in 2017 from winemaker Samantha Sheehan. She uses local, organic citrus, her own local Chardonnay and whole botanicals. Starting with a tiny 23 cases, Mommenpop grew into an award-winning aperitif line, ideal on the rocks but lovely in cocktails I’ve tasted on menus around San Francisco and am now trying at home. Sampling Ruby Grapefruit, Blood Orange, Seville Orange and seasonal Makrut Limepop, each is a delight, made with in-season, California citrus. With tart salinity, I wish Makrut Limepop ($38) would be a permanent part of the line (it’ll be back next year) as my favorite and most unusual for an aperitif flavor. The balance of bitter, herby complexity and tart, juicy citrus strikes the right note in each, while playfully vivid packaging is sheer fun. Taste Rating: 4.5-5


Matusalem Rum 

Celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, Matusalem Rum ($39.99) comes from a family with storied roots since 1872 in Spain, moving to Cuba, then the Dominican Republic in the Castro revolution. Ron Matusalem is produced using a solera aging system (akin to sherry and brandy), from their original recipe when they began in Cuba. Matusalem Rum Gran Reserva 15 year their flagship. Its woody and buttery, which will appeal to some whiskey lovers. But with a low sugar content (only 5.7 grams per liter), its molasses depth runs more musty and complex in that dank, dark way I love in some aged molasses rums. A pleasure to drink neat or in cocktails. Taste Rating: 4.5  

Faraday West Indies Rum

Faraday West Indies Rum launched this May 2022 in select U.S. markets, recently winning a gold medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition (in which I judge). The rum is named for the cable ship Faraday, which laid the first transatlantic telegraph cables between Europe, U.S. and the West Indies, ushering in swifter global communications. It’s a blend of three small-batch rums from across the Caribbean, resulting in a flavor profile ranging from sweet, butterscotch and char to a whisper of grassy citrus. I could have used more of the latter from the column-stilled Martinique rhum agricole distilled at the great La Favorite. But sweet aged rums dominate: a 5 year pot and column-distilled rum from Barbados’ beloved Foursquare Distillery, and 5 year column-distilled rum from Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos in Dominican Republic. At 42.5% ABV, it’s robust, bold, buttery and holds up well in cocktails. Taste Rating: 4


The GlenDronach Cask Strength Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Batch 10 

I’ve long been a big fan of The GlenDronach Distillery Scotch line and this is the tenth release of their limited Cask Strength Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($99.99), out this June 2022. Famed master blender Rachel Barrie is behind it again, marrying PX (Pedro Ximénez) and Oloroso sherry cask-aged whiskeys, bottled at 58.6% ABV. Batch 10 exudes all that sweet sherry meatiness I love so, radiating chocolate, orange, almond, raisin and stone fruit notes with a robust body and a finish that lingers like spiced fruitcake. Another winner from GlenDronach (other GlenDronach favorites: Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage, classic 12, 15 and 18 year whiskeys). Taste Rating: 5


Las Californias

Las Californias Gin ($32.99) is a welcome concept partnering California with its historic roots and beloved neighbor, Mexico, from the Casa Lumbre Innovation Team and master distiller Iván Saldaña. Launching June 1, 2022, its name calls on the region spanning Alta and Baja (modern day California and coastal Mexico) with dual-origin gins: Nativo and Cítrico. Piney Juniperus californica only grows between Hollywood and Mexico’s Ojos Negro Valley, forming the botanical base of both gins. Nativo showcases endemic regional botanicals, while Cítrico is about botanicals brought to the region over centuries of migration. My samples were too small to try them in more than one cocktail after tasting neat, so I opted for an easy Gin & Tonic. Cítrico hit with orange citrus and honey, almost sweet on its own, but nicely tempered in a G&T. Nativo worked better neat and in a G&T, its forest-y herbaceousness, woodiness and salinity calling on California and Mexico’s vast beauty and terrain, from mountain forests to desert to lush coastline. Taste Rating: Nativo (4), Cítrico (3.5)


You & Yours Distilling Co. Gin

Since 2017, San Diego-based You & Yours Distilling Co. (Y&Y) founder/distiller Laura Johnson produces grape-based gins and vodkas (including their flagship Sunday Gin), both of which form the base of her RTDs/canned cocktail collection. In delicately elegant packaging, Y&Y’s flagship Sunday Gin ($38) is definitely a “contemporary” or modern citrus-forward gin, although exuding bright orange notes beyond more common lemon-forward gins. The texture is silky and holds up in cocktails. I thought I’d like their Sunday London Dry Gin ($42) more due its herbaceous, spice-forward profile, but it held that slightly dank, musty note that can happen distilling botanicals, overpowering the finish. I tried just one of their RTDs/canned cocktails, Sunday Gin & Tonic, a standout G&T RTD that holds up with juniper, citrus and the quinine bite of tonic. Taste Rating: Sunday Gin (4), Sunday London Dry (3), G&T RTD (4.5)


Photo courtesy of Amass

• Amass

I’ve been a fan of LA’s Amass Gin since day one, and have also written about their non-alcoholic Riverine spirit. Their line of AMASS Hard Seltzer flavors Sun Sign, Faerie Fizz and Surfer Rosso are bubbly, easy drinking and contain the quality of botanicals their spirits to high-end soaps do. While the raspberry starts to feel a bit saccharine on the Faerie Fizz (3 star rating; I wished for more of the green cardamom), Sun Sign is a fun mix of smoky oak and vanilla with mandarin orange. Taste Rating: 3-4.5

• Ola Brew Co. Hard Seltzers

Opened in 2017 in Kailua-Kona, Ola Brew Co. (brewery and taproom) expanded to a Hilo location and mainland distribution of their beers, hard teas and hard seltzers. They’ve got some good beers, but their Ola hard seltzers are more unusual. Hard seltzers are often too watery or soft for me – with saccharine flavorings – and some of these go there. But the ones that work best showcase organic Hawaiian ingredients in fresh, subtle ways, especially the ginger, lemongrass and specials like beet-orange. Taste Rating: 3.5-4.5


Patsch Tequila Blanco

Launched fall 2021 in New York and slowly rolling out further this year, 100% organic Patsch Tequila (their Patsch 7 year Extra Anejo won Double Gold medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition, in which I judge) has such an overblown bottle design, that borders on, if isn’t full-on, ridiculous. I only tried the Blanco. On the pricey ($68+) ultra-premium end, it’s not for everyone. But it tastes much better than the gaudy bottle looks. While there is a heavy hit of vanilla on the nose and palate (keeping it from scoring even higher), it unfolds with vegetal, green notes, citrus, floral, subtle white pepper, and an integrated vanilla and nuttiness. It drinks easy and (my dreaded word that usually means “bland”): smooth. But it’s not bland at all, rather elegant and lush. Taste Rating: 4

Chinaco Tequila 

One of the first 100% agave tequila lines released in the U.S., Chinaco is produced in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas (the only licensed distillery in the state), rather than Jalisco, where the majority of tequila is produced. Grown at 500 to 5000 feet elevation not far from the ocean influences the flavor profiles, while all their agave is organic. Though there is a terroir difference, the reposado and anejo come across a bit tannic and harsh, with the wood overpowering some of the agave notes. However, the blanco in some ways is the most harsh and tough, despite a pleasing vegetal nose. The reposado gives all that fresh agave on the nose but is more wood and vanillans on the palate, with a nice spice finish. Anejo typically isn’t my favorite style, but for Chinaco, it’s my top pick. Though still too tannic (aged 30 months in the reposado barrels and bourbon barrels), its the nutty, earthy whispers on the finish hint at more complexity. Taste Rating: Blanco (3), Reposado (3.5), Anejo (3.5) 


Kimo Sabe Joven Mezcal

Co-founders Jim Walsh and Ashley Walsh Kvamme launched Kimo Sabe Mezcal to help guard the rich (and disappearing) ancient traditions of mezcal. Sustainably farmed, their mezcals showcase 11 varieties of agave. The Joven is their cocktail/budget-friendly mezcal and as such, it’s high quality in terms of rich citrus herbaceousness and that subtly smoky, sweet, peppery finish. The nose is a bit soft, but the palate explodes with balanced flavor. Taste Rating: 4.5


Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Whiskey

Hitting intense yet beautifully powerful, Keeper’s Heart new Irish + Bourbon Whiskey exemplifies the mission of Irish-American cousins who opened The O’Shaughnessy Distilling in Minneapolis with Ireland master distiller Brian Nation and adviser David Perkins to innovate in the category. They’ve done so with this blend of both Irish and Bourbon whiskies, exuding corn bourbon sweetness with single Irish pot still whiskey spices. It should please fans of both, alongside their Irish American blended whiskey. Taste Rating: 4