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 14 bottle picks of the month:


New Alchemy Distilling Fylleangst Aquavit
I’ve made no bones about being an aquavit fanatic the past 15+ years, from my original version of this article at years ago to my travels tasting aquavit around Scandinavia. So I’m thrilled whenever a new American aquavit hits the market, especially if it’s good — and produced not far from me, no less. From El Dorado Hills, just outside Sacramento, New Alchemy Distilling produces a few spirits, but their Fylleangst Aquavit (42.5% ABV; $34.99) is my favorite, distilled from a base of wheat and malted rice. Botanicals include anise, cumin, toasted caraway, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, lemongrass, giving it that rye bread quality — and reuben, pastrami, smørrebrød or bagel and lox cravings — I adore so with aquavit. Though I’ve tasted more elegant aquavits, this is vibrant, clean yet mixable, making cocktails shine at the right price point.
Taste Rating: 4.5

BRANDY — Cognac

Sazerac de Forge & Fils “Finest Original” Cognac
Sazerac de Forge & Fils “Finest Original” Cognac
($129.99) is the latest release from the venerable Cognac house dating back to 1782 (acquired by The Sazerac Company). This blend contains old (between 7-50 years) and rare native Cognac grape varieties, attempting a pre-Phylloxera epidemic flavor profile from over 150 years ago. Though this Cognac was launched in 2019 in New Orleans, it’s only just available in major new markets including California, New York and Illinois, continuing to expand throughout 2022. This classic beauty is perfumed, fruity, with delicate spice, honeysuckle sweetness and a youthfulness despite its age and complexity.
Taste Rating: 4.5


El Pintor Blanco
The world’s second certified maestro tequilero, Guillermo Barroso Arnaud, is behind El Pintor tequilas. I’ve only tried the blanco (there is also a tequila joven and mezcal ensemble), but with clean, modern new labeling, this is standout single estate agave from the Lowlands of Jalisco. Arnaud’s more traditional methods (tahona wheels crushing the agave piñas, natural fermentation) is admirable in Tequila. That rusticity comes through strongly though it’s a clean tequila. Bright cucumber, citrus, white pepper and green agave all hit, tempered by minerality and an earthy note. Though it makes beautiful cocktails, it’s a blanco worth sipping on its own, too.
Taste Rating: 4.5


Ortolan Rosolio
Growing up in Berkeley, Robert Collier’s childhood is rich with the aromas of his mother’s rose bushes. With a background in dining and WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) education, over the past decade, he began playing with roses in cocktails, then distillates, experimenting with single varieties and how they vary, inspired by apertif/aperitivo and the rosolio liqueurs of Torino, Italy. But don’t expect a rose bomb from Collier and Amy Navor’s Ortolan Rosolio. It is, indeed, floral, but also subtly bitter-sweet, dry and layered, showcasing roughly 30 varieties of heirloom garden roses sourced from farms around Santa Barbara and Sonoma. It’s delicate yet bold, ideal on the rocks, with sparkling water (and lime!), Champagne or mixable with a range of spirits from mezcal to gin. It’s one of, if not the, best rose liqueurs I’ve ever tasted.
Taste Rating: 5 


• Mulholland Spirit of Los Angeles
Mulholland Distilling
was launched by longtime friends, cinematographer Matthew Alper and Emmy-nominated actor Walton Goggins, in 2016. With New World Gin and Mulholland Vodka distilled in Missouri and Mulholland American Whiskey in Indiana (likely MGP) and blended in KY, these are contract spirits  (proofed down in Downey, CA) with clean, crisp labeling, though there is an LA tasting room. The price is right ($19.99) on the neutral, a bit bland vodka. While gin botanicals aren’t listed, the 96 proof New World Gin ($29.99) hits most with Japanese cucumber, like a silky Hendricks sans rose. Juniper, coriander and notes of lavender, mint and lime come through, making it a floral, cucumber gin ideal for a range of cocktails (it won Double Gold Medal in 2018 at SF World Spirits Competition, where I judge blind each year).
Taste Rating Gin: 4
Taste Rating Vodka: 3.5

• Bluecoat Gin for Seltzer
Philadelphia Distilling’s Bluecoat Gin was craft distilling pioneer in Pennsylvania since 2006, but they’ve just launched their Bluecoat Gin for Seltzer ($30.99) in summer 2021, capitalizing on the 600% increase in sales of hard seltzer the past two years. With initial distribution in the East, I am pleased to say it’s a gin worth drinking on its own merit, seltzer or no. Botanicals stand out but don’t overwhelm — from organic, dried tropical yuzu to whole black limes. The gin also blessedly exudes its juniper base and stands up in cocktails. At this price point, it’s bar friendly.
Taste Rating: 4.5


Martini & Rossi Non-Alcoholic L’Aperitivo
As the non-alcoholic movement barrels on, big brands like Martini & Rossi are jumping on the trend. The 1863 brand goes dealcoholized with two vermouths — Floreale, featuring Roman chamomile, and Vibrante, featuring Italian bergamot — recommending them with the likes of tonic, soda and prosecco/sparkling wine (tried each and all work). Unlike some of the small, craft brands featuring local botanicals or organic grapes, this is mass-produced with additives like caramel. But both are balanced, crushable and affordable, whether the orange and botanical-forward Vibrante or the floral, dry Floreale. The brand also launched a Spritz Mindfully cocktail kit in collaboration with Cocktail Courier featuring both vermouths.
Taste Rating: 4

WHISKEY — Japanese

Yoichi Non-Peated & Miyagikyo Peated Single Malt Whiskys

How I miss the accessibility of high end Japanese whisky I used to regularly drink a decade plus ago, now rare (and often tripled in price). So it’s a joy to taste Nikka Whisky’s first set of the “Nikka Discovery” series in the U.S.: Single Malt Yoichi Non-Peated and Single Malt Miyagikyo Peated ($274.99; 20,000 bottles each). Released November 2021, there will be three years of limited edition releases in anticipation of Nikka’s 90th Anniversary in 2024, each focused on a different component of whisky-making. Yoichi Non-Peated (47% ABV) is that ideal bright fruitiness married to robust-yet-elegant smokiness from coal-fired distillation. This is the kind of Japanese whisky I crave and cherish, a prime example of Japanese balance and delicacy. Miyagikyo Peated (48% ABV) is all peated malts, yet never overbearing, showing restraint in its smoky-meets-fruit balance.
Taste Rating Yoichi Non-Peated: 5
Taste Rating Miyagikyo Peated: 4.5

WHISKEY — American

  • High Bank Whiskey
    Columbus, Ohio’s, High Bank Distillery Co. — and master distiller Adam Hines — has been winning awards, including the prestigious “Best in Class” American Blended Whiskey at SF World Spirits Competition (where I judge blind each year) for their Whiskey War Barrel Proof. I appreciate both the Barrel Proof and Double Oaked, with their four year age minimum and layers of rye spice, oak and tobacco. Double Oaked is the most balanced and rounded, while the Whiskey War Barrel Proof definitely runs hot yet complex with that 116.5 proof. I personally prefer the Midnight Cask Barrel Proof, aged at least 4 year and 102 proof, though still intense on the finish. Its 90/10 blend of classic whiskey and Australian Tawny Port wine imbues the robust, peppery whiskey with plum and raisin notes, not sweet but intriguingly lush and juicy.
    Taste Rating Barrel Proof and Double Oaked: 4
    Taste Rating Midnight Cask: 4.5
  • Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills Rye & Bourbon Whiskies
    Hailing from California’s Central Coast in San Luis Obispo, Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills focuses on whiskey and excellent RTDs I reviewed last year here. Crafted by CA surfer Rodney “Rod” Cegelski and Aussie jackaroo Hamish “Hammer” Marshall, SLO Stills whiskies are cut and proofed with purified Pacific Ocean water. While the two bourbons — the cask strength is extremely tannic on the finish — are solid, its their award-winning rye whiskey I prefer, with its more rounded notes of cedar, tobacco and caramel.
    Taste Rating Bourbons: 3.5
    Taste Rating Rye: 4 

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned or Bottled Drinks)

• Deko Cocktails: Founded by Ushie Shafran, Dov Friedman, and Dan Rabinowitz in Long Island (LI), Deko Cocktails’ 375-ml glass bottled cocktails are certified kosher, with direct-to-consumer shipping across 30+ states and art deco-influenced packaging in keeping with LI’s Gatsby roots. Sourcing only LI-grown and foraged ingredients, like elderflower, juniper, lemons and lavender, Deko kicks off with two classic cocktails: Bee’s Knees and Gold Rush, the former a lavender gin, distilled from local corn; the latter American oak-aged bourbon. Though both are sweetened with raw wildflower honey, neither are too sweet. They partner with woman-owned, experimental Matchbook Distilling in Greenport, LI, to distill their vodka and gin and age their bourbon.
Taste Rating: 4.5

• Jiant Hard Kombucha Venice Peach: I must admit, Jiant‘s new peach Bellini-inspired Venice Peach hard kombucha didn’t exactly call to me with its Miami-meets-LA sunniness. Despite legit-Italy roots, it’s hard to give any more respect to the Bellini than a basic Mimosa, which is about as simple, inoffensive and boring drink as you can make. I’ve (still) never tried any other of Jiant’s non-GMO (often sourcing organic ingredients) kombuchas, but this refresher surprised me with its dry balance, subtle peach and grain complexity. While it may disappoint those wanting something super stone fruit-forward, it’s a kombucha first and I appreciate the restraint.
Taste Rating: 4.5

• RationAle Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer: In the continued rise of non-alcoholic beers, RationAle Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer is a welcome entrant, nailing the bright, refreshing flavor profiles of both an IPA and lager in their Totally Rational Hazy IPA and Rational Vibes Cerveza Lager sans alcohol. The continued improvement of the N/A beer category is a necessary and welcome trend.
Taste Rating: 4.5


Proclamation Whiskey
Proclamation Blended Irish Whiskey
tributes the Proclamation document establishing the Irish Republic in 1916. A smooth (triple distilled) yet robust blend of Irish grains and a very reasonable $34.99 make it an easy bartender/cocktail win, one that also tastes complex enough to sip neat. Master blender Paul Caris uses whiskey matured in bourbon casks, blended with a touch of sherry-finished malt, adding a toasty finish to its custardy, brioche and yellow fruits notes.
Taste Rating: 4 

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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,, 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.