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 14 bottle picks of the month:

SLOE GIN

Fords Sloe Gin

www.fordsgin.com
There are only a handful of sloe gins in the world I find not too sweet or cloying, with the best being Spirit Works ultra-fresh version. As of April 2022, Fords Gin ($34.99) has released their first Sloe Gin, the classic liqueur made from sloe berries, native to England, exuding a tart, blackcurrant-esque taste. Fords’ sloe berries are hand-picked in England and France, distilled in collaboration with 11th generation master distiller (and gin legend) Charles Maxwell of London’s Thames Distillers. Made with nine-botanicals, added sugar is thankfully light but necessary to balance the sloe fruit’s natural bitterness, then cut down to 29% ABV, which is actually higher than most sloe gins. This keeps it robust and cocktail-ready (a classic Sloe Gin Fizz being a great go-to). The dry-yet-fresh spirit tastes of tart berries, stewed plums, raisin, fig, juniper and subtle citrus. Taste Rating: 4.5

SOTOL

Quechol Sotol

www.QuecholSotol.com
A new sotol imported by Sonoma négociant 3 Badge Beverage Corporation April 2022, Quechol Sotol is distilled from indigenous Dasylirion plants (aka Desert Spoon) in the Chihuahuan desert of Durango, Mexico. Though Desert Spoon plants have much in common with agave in taste, they’re not agave. Dasylirion piñas are cooked in a volcanic rock pit, shredded prior to undergoing natural fermentation (no cultivated yeast). The liquid is then twice-distilled twice in copper pot stills. Quechol Wheeleri Sotol ($60; 45.5% ABV) is 100% wheeleri, a flowering sotol in the asparagus family, thus exuding bright vegetal notes, citrus, spice and a savory finish. Quechol Texanum Sotol ($60; 46.3% ABV) is 100% texanum sotol, often mistaken for yucca. It tastes ripe, juicy with whispers of mint, spice, toasted nuts and caramel. The bottles are tall, sleek, curved, inspired by the shape of a spoonbill’s bill, as Quechol means “precious feather” in the Nahuatl Aztec language, referencing a divine bird with colorful plumage. Aztec art labels tribute Mexican and sotol roots. Taste Rating Wheeleri: 4.5 | Taste Rating Texanum: 4 

RUM 

Tattersall Spiced Rum

www.tattersalldistilling.com/products/spiced-rum
Tattersall Distilling has been a standout Midwest craft distiller since 2015. May 2022 saw the launch of their Spiced Rum ($27.99-29.99), a blackstrap rum aged for two years, mixed with neutral molasses rum, then infused with spices and rested in oak barrels. Spiced rum can be a hard sell for spirits lovers, but this balanced rum is not too sweet, hits with balanced vanilla, allspice and cassia, tempered by a bit of citrus acidity. While it’s not going to make waves as a sipping rum, as intended, it’s a quality cocktail rum/mixer.  Taste Rating: 4

Mackinac Island Rum

https://gypsyvodka.com/spirits
Mackinac Island Rum Company (the first distillery tasting room on Mackinac Island, MI) is a brand of High Five Spirits & Gypsy Vodka from twin brothers Michael and Adam Kazanowski. In April 2022, they released two flavored rums: Banana Rum and Vanilla Cinnamon Rum, alongside their 8-year bourbon barrel aged Michigan rum. While they run sweet, the banana is unexpectedly fresh and natural-tasting in its sweetness, aged for 2 years in bourbon barrels, the vanilla cinnamon aged for 5 years. Neither will change the rum game, but the banana particularly works in cocktails that call for rum and banana liqueur, the ripe banana coming through boldly. Taste Rating Vanilla Cinnamon: 3  |  Taste Rating Banana: 3.5

APERITIF/APERITIVO

Le Moné

https://drinklemone.com
Le Moné is a breezy new line of aperitifs ($35 each) created by a beverage industry team, including a brewmaster and distiller in a family of citrus farmers and a sommelier from NY restaurants. Organic agave, wines from grapes grown in NY’s Finger Lakes, California brandy and California-grown citrus shine in their Meyer Lemon & Blue Weber Agave flagship aperitif. It’s light, less tart, more a subtly sweet wine, lightly floral and herbaceous. Le Moné meyer lemon-raspberry-lavender is a little more tart (which I appreciate), with lavender showing up on the finish. Both are breezy and easy to drink. Taste Rating: 4 

GIN

Song Cai Vietnam Floral and Dry Gins

www.songcaidistillery.com
It’s exciting to see more Vietnamese spirits enter the U.S. and in global competitions. Sông Cái has already won gold medals at a few, including some I judge in. Vietnamese American founder Daniel Nguyen sources botanicals exclusively from long-standing farming and foraging H’mong, Red Dzao and Kinh families in Vietnam, investing in these rural communities by paying fair pricing, providing educational aid, funding reforestation, investing in heirloom botanical preservation and propagation, sharing farming equipment and processing facilities. It warms my heart to see such commitments — and these are standout gins. Việt Nam Dry Gin features 16 heirloom Vietnamese botanicals, including green turmeric, jungle pepper, black cardamom, heirloom pomelo. It can run a touch “soapy” on the nose but opens up with intriguing, silky boldness on the palate. The floral gin hits with aromatic lemon cream, shining in cocktails or with tonic.  Taste Rating Floral Gin: 4.5  |  Taste Rating Dry Gin: 4 

Caorunn Gin Highland Strength 

www.caorunngin.com/our-gins/16-highland-strength
Caorunn Gin Highland Strength ($39.99) is the latest from the brand which distills in small batches at Balmenach Distillery in the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands. At 54% ABV, it’s bracing as a higher proof should be, but opens up after a couple sips. While I get some earth and funk on the initial nose, the gin opens up quickly with citrus, mint, pepper and herbaceous earthiness. Caorunn means ‘rowan berry’, which is a key botanical, bringing whispers of bitterness, northern Scotland coul blush apples impart sweetness and acid, dandelion adds herbal notes, bog myrtle offers spice, while Scottish Highlands heather exudes honey floral notes.  Taste Rating: 4

TEQUILA

Lunazul Tequila Blanco

https://lunazultequila.com
For the price point (typically around $18.99 to $23.99), Lunazul Tequila is a good deal as a cocktail tequila. Hand-harvested, estate-bottled from 100% Blue Weber agave in Tequila, Jalisco, this review is only for the blanco. Lunazul president Jorge Beckmann and master distiller Francisco Quijano created this line, founded in 2004 by Francisco Beckmann (7th generation descendent of Jose Antonio de Cuervo), to create an affordable quality line.  Vanilla hits but not too hard, while its peppery, dry, eucalyptus notes work in cocktails. Taste Rating: 3.5 

VODKA

Split Rock Distilling Organic Horseradish Vodka

https://splitrockdistilling.com/collections/spirits/products/horseradish-vodka-80-proof-750-ml
As a longtime horseradish lover, whether as a steak accent or infused in vodka in traditional Russian fashion, I adore horseradish’s vibrant, umami kick. I’m already a fan of Split Rock Distilling’s gin (which I reviewed earlier this year), distilled in Newcastle, Maine. Their organic horseradish vodka starts with a triple-distilled corn mashbill, infused with organic Maine horseradish. It manages the right balance of spicy and savory with drinkability, ideal in Bloody Marys and the like. Taste Rating: 4.5 

AMERICAN WHISKEY

Copperworks Distilling Co. American Single Malt #42 & #43

https://copperworksdistilling.com
Copperworks Distilling is on a roll. In April 2022, I appreciated the balanced peaty-cherry intensity of their Washington Peated Whiskey Release 042, aged a minimum of 63 months 51% ABV. The Seattle distillery sourced an Ardbeg Scotch cask for Peated Cask American Single Malt Whiskey Release 043. This pale malt whiskey matured for three years in a charred new American Oak barrel, then was transferred to the Ardbeg cask for one year, imparting a beautiful ashtray char and smoky Islay Scotch vibes to the bracing cherry-wood palate of the whiskey.  Taste Rating for both: 4.5

Milam & Greene Whiskey 

https://milamandgreenewhiskey.com
I recently virtually tasted Milam & Greene Whiskey’s new The Castle Hill Series Batch 2 Bourbon ($149.99) with master blender and CEO, Heather Greene (her book, Whisk(e)y Distilled, is a great source for whisk(e)y fundamentals, including a subject dear to my heart: whiskey and food). Hand-selected from 26 barrels aged a minimum of 13 years, release one sold out immediately, while this second release follows suit, with only 3,000 bottles released around the U.S. It’s bracing as its 111 proof (55.5 % ABV) would suggest, woody and spiced but warmly sweet with peach, toasted sugar and nutty notes.  Taste Rating for both: 4.5 

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned) 

• Old Know Bev Co.

Verte Absinthe: Released this spring from OldKnow Bev Co. owners Mary Catherine Matheny and Ryan Warner Wood in Clayton, GA, Verte Absinthe Spirited Seltzer is distilled from grapes and mountain water, infused with herbs. While they also produce a vodka and gin seltzer, I can’t imagine liking either as much as this subtle, easy-drinking, anise-forward sipper. Adoring absinthe and anise-based spirits, it’s (literally) refreshing to have a light (5% ABV) seltzer sipper that remains true to absinthe’s flavor profile though a seltzer. Taste Rating: 4.5

• Ysidro Grapefruit Sake Spritz: A winner of a spritz, Ysidro was co-founded by Montecito-based Monica Epstein, partner Seth Epstein and wine importer Alex Dessouky) after a virtual tasting in pandemic. At 6.9% ABV, this sparkling spritz starts with a Junmai Ginjo sake base, then organic California grapefruit and a touch of sea salt. Elegant pink packaging and the right balance of rice, acid, salinity and tart grapefruit make it a worthwhile new RTD.  Taste Rating: 4.5

• Bizzarro Aperitivo: Despite the unfortunate name, Bizzarro Aperitivo hails from Australia, with its solid bottled (lightly bitter) aperitif made by hip natural winemakers Delinquente Wine Co. (I love their “Tuff Nut” Bianco Pet Nat). But it’s their canned aperitivi I especially dig: the Bizzarro Spritz (12.75% ABV) and Bizzarro and Mischief Brew Tonic (5% ABV). Organic and biodynamic Vermentino grapes, organically grown Australian oranges and lemons and sustainable packaging all make this line a winner. In these crushable, low ABV canned cocktail spritzes, the bubbly zips up the profile of the Aperitivo. Taste Rating: 4