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 10 bottle picks of the month. Happy new year to all!:


Boulard Grand Solage V.S.O.P. Pays d’Auge Calvados


Boulard Grand Solage V.S.O.P. Pays d’Auge Calvados ($49.99) is that ideal in French apple brandy: affordable Calvados, reasonably priced for cocktails but still complex and beautiful to sip on its own. Made from roughly 120 different apple varieties, it’s a blend of 4- and 10-year-old brandies, giving you all the layers of a more expensive Calvados,. It glows with warm baked apple notes, light wood and a touch of toasted nuttiness.  Taste Rating: 4.5




Rinquinquin ($19.99; pronounced ran-can-can) is produced at Distilleries et Domaine de Provence in France, using different regional varieties of peaches: orange-red skinned, yellow fleshed Cardinale peaches; sweet Coronet peaches; orange-yellow, aromatic Junegold peaches. This peachy aperitif sings well beyond summer given its subtlety and wine acidity. The peaches and peach tree leaves (the leaves are picked late October) are macerated separately in combinations of alcohol, white wine, citrus and sugar essential oils between 6 and 12 months. The aperitif is both juicy and fruity, dry and acidic, with a subtle grassiness. Traditionally drunk on the rocks, it also is lovely in cocktails. In the U.S., it is only distributed in California, Texas and New York.  Taste Rating: 4


Carta de Amor Mezcal


Distilled in 2019 from wild Tobalá agave sourced from high elevations by third generation master mezcalero Erasto Martinez, Carta de Amor Tobalá Silvestre comes in a striking black, rectangular bottle. Distilled in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca, Martinez and his team use earthen pit ovens to cook the agaves, open-air pinewood fermentation vats and a copper still for distillation. This “love letter from Oaxaca” is an herbaceous, mineral mezcal with tropical fruit notes and very balanced smoke, ideal as an intro to mezcal as it is a pleasing sip for longtime mezcal lovers like myself. Taste Rating: 4


Loco Tequila


I know a thing or two about high-end, sipping tequila, having helped make one — essentially the palate of the tequila — for Avion the last two years in Jalisco, Mexico (a recent interview Edible LA magazine on this tequila). Loco Tequila is the fastest growing premium tequila brand in Mexico and the first and only established as a Terruño Tequila from Jalisco’s El Arenal region. Launched in Mexico in 2019, Loco Tequila recently came to the U.S. in three forms: Loco Blanco, Loco Ambar (Reposado) and Loco Puro Corazon. Funny enough, one of my tequila ideas as I consulted was a “corazon” or pure hearts tequila (no heads and tails cuts from the still). This is exactly what founders Gabriel Roqueñí and Pedro Padilla are doing, working with agave expert José Antonio Sánchez and maestro tequilero Alberto Navarro. In addition, they utilize a double jima shaving of their seven-to-nine-year agaves (most undergo a single shaving), getting even closer to the pure heart of the agave. The roasted agave are crushed via tahona wheel, the juice fermented in wooden pipones with native yeasts, then double distilled in small copper stills. The result is a pricey, elegant line of tequilas, the wood on the Ambar making it my least favorite, though still quite good. Loco blanco is my favorite with a more robust, agave-first, mineral flavor profile than the silky-smooth Puro Corazon.  Taste Rating: 4 to 4.5


Honkaku Spirits’ Shochu

As Japan’s best-selling spirit, shochu, continues to rise in popularity globally (my 2019 The Bold Italic article on its rise). This koji yeast (koji fermentation is behind sake, soy sauce, miso, mirin, etc.) spirit can be made from from rice, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, brown sugar, even carrots, chestnuts, sesame seeds, or shiso leaves (again, read my article to learn more on the spirit). I received a flush of newly-imported-to-the-States shochu from Honkaku Spirits — and a funky Yokka Koji awamori ($44.99) from Chuko Distillery. Tasting through 9 shochu on Honkaku’s site, but each from different distilleries and different prefectures around Japan, I found these 3 very good: Kana Kokuto sugar shochu ($67.99), Jikuya Black Sweet potato shochu ($45.59), Selephant Kokuto sugar shochu ($59.99). But my top 3 at 4.5 star ratings were: bright, spiced Jikuya White Sweet potato shochu ($45.59) from Jikuya Distillery in the Kagoshima Prefecture; umami-laden Mahoko Sweet potato shochu ($64.99) from Furusawa Distillery in the Miyazaki Prefecture; and floral, vegetal Colorful Sweet potato shochu ($54.99) from Shoro Distillery in Miyazaki Prefecture. Taste Rating: 3.5 to 4.5 



Nikka Yoichi & Miyagikyo Aromatic Yeast 2022 Discovery Series Whiskies


The new Nikka Yoichi & Miyagikyo Aromatic Yeast whiskies are both from Nikka’s 2022 Discovery Series ($275 each, 48% ABV), the second release in the series, with each year highlighting various aspects of the whisky-making process at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries in Japan (next year will be their last in the series leading up to Nikka’s 90th Anniversary in 2024). 2021 focused on peat, while 2022 is yeast strains. The two they landed on are first the Yoichi Single Malt Aromatic Yeast 2022, evoking ginjo-style sake, aged in different casks. Its elegant umami is understated with lush melon notes (akin to sake), a prime example of Japanese whisky’s understated beauty. Miyagikyo Single Malt Aromatic Yeast 2022 hits a bit bolder (yet still refined) with stone fruit (peach bomb!), subtle citrus and well-rounded umami. Both confirm why I’ve long loved Nikka, both are at only 2,640 bottles in the U.S.  Taste Rating: 4.5 Yoichi, 5 Miyagkiyo


• ARC Archipelago Botanical Gin & Barrel Reserve Gin


Full Circle Craft Distillers is the first craft, small batch distillery with a welcome focus on gin (plus their Lava Rock Vodka) in the Philippines, the country that is statistically the world’s largest gin market, responsible for over 40 percent of the world’s total gin consumption. Based in Calamba City since 2018 and co-founded by husband-wife Matthew and Laurie Westfall, Matthew’s road to distilling in the Philippines has roots in his grandfather who worked in Manila in 1918 at a brewery. Matthew has lived in the Philippines for nearly 40 years, while Laurie is native to the Philippine archipelago. Their award-winning ARC (Archipelago) Botanical Gin and oak-aged ARC Barrel Reserve Gin are named for the Philippines 7,100 islands archipelago. While I found the reserve gin a bit over-tannic, it carried cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper notes with its gin body. Their flagship gin with 28 botanicals (22 foraged across the Philippines) is a bright melange of calamansi, pomelo, dalandan, dayap, mango, Benguet pine, sampaguita, ylang-ylang and kamia flowers, dry, redolent of lemongrass and cinnamon, a welcome representation of its home country and the Westfall’s labor of love.  Taste Rating: 4 Botanical Gin, 3 Barrel Reserve

• ATIAN Rose Gin, South Africa


ATIAN Rose Gin’s (43% ABV, $49.99) packaging is a winner. The elegant bottle and pink-and-white-striped box it comes in are chic and striking. Made in South Africa with locally foraged botanicals — like juniper, rooibos tea, licorice, buchu, juniper, cubeb, cardamom, lemon, grapefruit, African ginger, almond, coriander, rose hips, rose geranium — this vapor-distilled gin exudes floral rose garden aromas, touched by pine and citrus. It’s dry, while floral notes heavily dominate when neat, but soften in cocktails or gin and tonics. I would love to taste more of the licorice, cubeb pepper and ginger to balance it out, but for rose and floral fans, this will appeal. Taste Rating: 3.5


Lili Non-Alcoholic Sparklers


Collaborating with sommeliers, chefs and scientists, the Lili team sought to create complex, crushable non-alcoholic wines for wine lovers everywhere. Their Golden, Rosé and Ruby Sparklers are sold in both bottles and cans, with festive, bold packaging. The dry Golden imparts citrus, jasmine, mint and apple, a Champagne stand-in. Rosé covers the Brut Rosé side of things with notes of strawberry and melon (naturally colored by hibiscus). Ruby is kin to a chilled, sparkling red with a hit of cherry, tart cranberries, toasted oak and acidic verjus. The whole line is a delight and makes a fun display at parties. Taste Rating: 4 to 4.5


District Made Spirits Bourbon and Rye Whiskies


Founders Sandy Wood and Alex Laufer left full time careers to open the D.C.-based District Made Spirits. Producing a bracing vodka and gin and a barrel aged gin, whiskies using grains grown nearby evoke their local, “Heart of Rye” ethos, producing only rye-forward spirits. District Made Straight Bourbon Whiskey showcases Hickory King corn, grown in the Virginia hollows since the 1880s. Made with wheated and high-rye mashbills (aged individually, married together), it’s quite tannic and dry with notes of orange, rye spice and vanilla. District Made Straight Rye Whiskey is Maryland-style rye of heirloom malted rye, my preference with its still hard-hitting oak/tannic dryness, but also generous spice and fig notes.  Taste Rating: 3 Bourbon, 4 Rye 

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.