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:


Luxardo Antico Sour Cherry Aperitif


Legendary Luxardo is one of Italy’s great liqueur producers since 1821, remarkably still family-owned and managed by sixth generation Luxardos. Their latest release is Luxardo Antico, officially an aperitif, akin to a vermouth with cherry juice added (16.5% ABV). They harvest Luxardo marasca cherries every summer, let the juice naturally ferment, add neutral alcohol, age in oak, then infuse with herbs and spices. The result is just what I’d hope: tart and cherry-forward, drinking like a vermouth with gently bitter and floral notes. You get all the cherry of a great liqueur without the cloying sweetness or heaviness. A winning new release. Taste Rating: 4.5


Pierre’s Texas Rum


Let’s be real: Pierre’s Texas Rum is one of the saddest labels — with cheesy moonshine jug bottling to boot. But since tasting it in 2015 blind judging in ADI’s International Craft Distilling awards (as is typical at all judging, we see bottles only after all judging is completed), it has won numerous awards. The rum is distilled in Tyler, Texas, with three different types of molasses, aged in neutral Syrah and Port barrels from nearby Winery at Kiepersol. It’s not elegant: a touch sweet, even a bit hot, it offers a welcome rum funk and robust body. With its affordability (usually around $26 a bottle), it works well in cocktails where it’s easy to balance the rum, its bold funk shining nicely in classic Daiquiris and other rum cocktails. Taste Rating: 3.5


• Farmer’s Organic Botanical Gin


Hailing from Idaho, “Farm to Glass​” Farmer’s Botanical Gin ($34.99) plays elegant and classic London dry on the palate, but its distillate from wheat grown on 1,000 Springs Mill Farm, an organic and non-gmo farm, makes it a standout in sustainable spirits. The grain is distilled at Idaho’s Distilled Resources Inc., earning the hard-to-come-by organic certification by the USDA. Botanicals of elderflower, lemongrass, rosebud, orange and lime add floral and citrus notes, while the most unique botanical is hemp seed, imparting subtle nuttiness. Kudos for a bracing but not harsh 46.7% ABV, which ensures the gin holds up nicely in cocktails. Taste Rating: 4

• Conniption Kinship Gin


Released November 2022 from North Carolina’s Durham Distillery, known for its Conniption Gin (they first launched an American Dry and Navy Strength gins), their third Conniption Kinship gin ($34.95) hits the purple and rosé gin craze with a richly purple-hued gin that tastes like classic London dry with a natural infusion of butterfly pea flowers. The color shifts from purple to blue as the pea flower luges with water, tonic or other cocktail mixers. Their vapor-distilled botanical base of juniper, Indian coriander, angelica root, licorice root and dried bitter orange still forms the backbone, with the addition of cucumbers, orange and lemon peels and honeysuckle flowers. This is a passion project for co-founder/CEO Melissa Katrincic — alongside co-founder/head distiller, Lee Katrincic. She hand blended and tested flavors with bartenders/cocktails in mind (they also run a distillery-adjacent cocktail bar), ensuring a gin that unfolds with flavor layers as it does with color. It’s a playful, balanced gin in the ever-growing butterfly pea flower style. Taste Rating: 4


Mortlach 16 Year “Distiller’s Dram” Single Malt Scotch Whisky


Mortlach 16 Year “Distiller’s Dram” Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($114.99 SRP) is part of the newer core range of Mortlach announced in 2018. To be fair, I was such a massive fan of the meaty, sherry-cask goodness of the original Mortlach 16 year Scotch for over a decade (first released in 1992), that none can match that version, including this newer 16 year (thank goodness, I still have a few spare bottles left of the OG whisky that was under £50 a bottle when I used to drink it regularly). But this newer Mortlach 16 year is still a worthy Scotch, maintaining their signature meaty flavors, distilled a randomly specific 2.81 times, aged in refill and first-fill American and European sherry casks. This Speyside beauty isn’t the Mortlach I was so crazy about back then, but it is a joy of robust spice, leather, apricot and meaty sweetness. Taste Rating: 4.5


Cenote Blanco Tequila


I only tried Cenote Tequila’s blanco (SRP $42.99), made from 100% Agave Azul Tequilana Weber Tequila (they also have a reposado and anejo). Natural volcanic spring water and “resting” (vs. aging) for three weeks in American oak barrels pre-bottling are Cenote’s unique claims for their blanco. A little heat on the palate then reveals sweet, cooked agave, white pepper, green vegetal notes and just a whisper of citrus and wood. It’s a nice, easy sipper that should appeal to the mainstream but not upset the agave lover. Taste Rating: 4


Rampur Indian Single Malt


Rampur Single Malts just re-released its beloved Rampur Select (SRP $140) in January 2023 from New Delhi, India, an Indian whisky made from 100% Indian barley, malted and distilled in copper pot stills by one of India’s most environmentally-focused distilleries. It’s aged in first fill bourbon casks (no age statement) in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, with its quickly shifting climate. First released in 2016 and winning numerous international awards, including a double gold at SF World Spirits Competition (where I regularly judge), it has been 7 years since it was last released. This U.S.-only release, like the earlier release (or others I’ve reviewed in the past), exudes bright stone fruit and apples, different from but not unlike greatly aged Irish whiskies. It gives gentle spice and rich honeyed notes. The proof (43%) and mashbill is the same but the 2023 edition has rested or aged longer. It’s a beauty. Taste Rating: 5


Dominique x Proxies’ Pétanque Non-Alcoholic Wine


In my The Bold Italic column, I reviewed Proxies Vinta non-alcoholic orange wine last year. Launched mid-January 2023 is Proxies collaboration with 3 Michelin-starred San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn. A key example of the kind of artful, foodie-meets-drink collaborations happening not just in drink, but in the ever-exploding non-alcoholic realm, this wine alternative, Dominique x Proxies’ Pétanque, took inspiration from Crenn’s French and Californian roots. The base is a Riesling grape and three teas, unfolding with herbal and floral notes, balanced with acid from verjus and yuzu. It pairs nicely with seafood and vegetable dishes, in keeping with the meatless focus at Crenn’s Atelier Crenn and beyond. Taste Rating: 4.5


Hercules Mulligan Eyr & Rye (bottle Irish-American Manhattan) 

Hercules Mulligan’s new Eyr & Rye (SRP $45) bottled Irish-American Manhattan was released January 2023. Decidedly less sweet than their Hercules Mulligan Rum & Rye, which I reviewed last year, this limited-edition (merely 2,000 coveted bottles via Flaviar) is drier, woodier, a blend of four spirits: three American rye whiskies and one Irish whiskey with cherry bitters and sweet and a touch of sour cherry juice instead of vermouth. The juice is subtle though the cherry notes hit hard, confirming it’s a Manhattan first and foremost. But it drinks like a bottle of whiskey with cherry accents, so should please those looking for an easy RTD/ready-made whiskey cocktail without veering too far from whiskey. Hercules Mulligan seeks consumer feedback to help shape their RTDs, potentially launching this product more broadly next year based on feedback. Taste Rating: 3.5


Tattersall American Single Malt 


Minneapolis’ (with a newer, second distillery in River Falls, WI) Tattersall Distilling just launched Interstate Whiskey (SRP $45), their first American Single Malt, currently only available in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Inspired by the U.S.’ first interstate park, all grains were sourced from Wisconsin, while aging took place in both distilleries, making it a truly interstate whiskey. Aged four years in virgin oak barrels, the single malt is 100% malted barley — including Wisconsin cherrywood smoked and dark roasted malts — meeting the new American Single Malt Whiskey Commission requirements. It exudes chocolate, wood and cherry first, unfolding with espresso earthiness. It borders on too tannic at first sip but then unfolds nicely with cacao and coffee. It won’t change the game, but it’s a good American single malt for the price point.  Taste Rating: 4

Ready for another round? Visit Virginia’s website http://www.theperfectspotsf.com/wp02/ for last month’s edition, plus personal recommendations on the best spots in cities around the world.