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 reviews of the month:


Pelinkovac Antique Herbal Liqueur


I adore bitter and herbal liqueurs and this January 2024 import from a leading Croatian wine and spirit producer, Badel 1862, comes to us via-New York-based T. Edward’s Wine & Spirits. Pelinkovac Antique Herbal Liqueur ($34.99) is already a bartender’s cocktail go-to at beloved NY bars like Amor y Amargo. An herbal liqueur traditional to Croatia, Pelinkovac is centered by wormwood, its namesake. This version is made with over 40 herbs, spices and botanicals. I love that anise dominates although Pelinkovac is more layered and complex than my beloved arak or raki, let’s say, given its herbal profile. Badel cold macerates 40 herbs for 4 weeks, then distills with 30 herbs in small copper pot stills. It’s an ideal digestif that unfolds with subtle sweetness and bitterness, including notes of sage, lemon and anise.
Taste Rating: 4.5


Renegade Rum Cuvees


Last year I wrote about Renegade Rum’s gorgeous, agricole-style Lake Antoine Upper Crater Lake South rum from the Caribbean island of Grenada. Their rum line is a newer favorite as I dig in deeper with the distillery produced with fresh sugar cane from different nearby farms and terroir, all deeply told and traceable from this passionate producer. Digging into their four cuvees ($50-80), or blends, recently, I was particularly drawn to the tropical-aloe-grassy glow of their unaged Renegade Dunfermline Pre-Cask. The high proof (55% ABV) Renegade Cane Rum Micro Origin Swimming Pool is robust and bracing (think cigar-friendly and appealing to American whiskey fans), while the also robust Renegade Nova appeals with its four-cask, whiskey-meets-red-wine tannins that still allow the cane’s funky boldness to shine through.
Taste Rating: 4 to 5


• Lind & Lime Gin Distillery


Distilled in Leith, Edinburgh, at Tower Street Stillhouse, Lind and Lime Gin ($43) is a classic London Dry gin in a striking aqua-green bottle. Juniper is blessedly present as are fresh lime peel and pink peppercorn botanicals. It’s dry and citrusy, ideal for cocktails.
Taste Rating: 4


• Temple Distilling Co-Authored Roasted Coffee Flavored Gin with Visible Coffee


Maybe you don’t want coffee in your gin, but Temple Distilling’s new December 2023 gin ($42.95) — a collaboration with a neighboring coffee roastery, Visible Coffee Roasters, in Lynnwood, WA — is intriguing for gin lovers looking for something different. Single origin Ethiopian coffee beans thankfully play subtly, partnering well with whole black and green cardamom, cloves, orange peel and Italian juniper. For insomniacs like me, coffee spirits are a problem, though they note “only a microdose of caffeine.” Temple shares their Espresso Martini (2 ½ oz. gin, ¼ oz. Lillet Blanc, ¼ oz. rich simple syrup and coffee bean garnish) as a way to let the gin — and its textural coffee oils — shine.
Taste Rating: 4


Kilinga Bacanora Silvestre

Kilinga Bacanora


Sonora, Mexico’s, native agave spirit, bacanora, feels akin to mezcal with its smoky, cooked agave notes. Kilinga Bacanora’s three versions — Silvestre, Blanco and Reposado ($30-70) — are distilled from the Angustifolia Pacifica, a wild green agave that grows around 7-8 years, giving off a lighter floral aromatic. Bacanora Silvestre is floral and herbaceous, if the finish is slightly funky. On the pricier endReposado doesn’t seem to gain much from wood except a nice, silky body. My favorite is right in the middle, the Blanco ($35). A great value with the best balance of smoke, floral, slate and citrus, yet most complex.
Taste Rating: 3.5-4


Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1998

Bottled in 2022, Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1998 is as gorgeous as typically is, finessed with charred virgin wood, finished in oloroso sherry casks, aged 23 years. You get a little more oak given the new charred wood, oomphing up Glenmorangie’s usual elegant chocolate orange-meets-toffee-and-spice. In this case, ginger and almond play nicely with vanilla in another winner from the venerable brand.
Taste Rating: 4.5

Courtesy of Stephen Blackmon

• Fior Blended Scotch Whisky


Retired Marine Major Eric Dominijanni founded Fior Scotch, the only U.S. veteran-owned and only Black-owned Scotch. Dominijanni’s 20-year military career with three tours in Iraq and two in Okinawa led to his passion for good Scotch as he created his own “Infinity Bottle,” eventually perfecting his blend. He’s also a chef who studied in the U.S., Thailand and Singapore, competing on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. His palate and whisky love led him to partner with James Landis, who launched brands like Hpnotiq, releasing Dominijanni’s own personal blend as Fior in 2023. It won double gold medals in competitions I judge in like San Francisco World Spirits. While it runs a bit tannic, it is affordable around $40, with heavy chocolate-orange, almond notes against the malt grain.
Taste Rating: 3.5

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

Club Kokomo Spirits


Co-owned by Mike Love of The Beach Boys, Club Kokomo Spirits canned cocktails (10% ABV) are about as kitschy in name as you’d expect, from a “Kokomojito” canned Mojito to “Excitation,” a gin RTD cocktail with black cherry, passionfruit and citrus. Those are the stronger two in the new line launched November 2022 via San Diego-based rum and gin distillery, Seven Caves Spirits. Rum-based Kokomojito™ is best with its surprisingly subtle sweetness, bright lime, mint and lemongrass. Excitation veers sweet brightened by tropical passionfruit; Mystique runs too sweet but interplays with rum, guava, lychee, jasmine tea; and Afternoon Delight’s tiki-esque rum, ginger, allspice and citrus is pleasant but hits too hard with maple. Mint-forward Kokomojito is best and most balanced, blessedly restrained on the sugar. They also are releasing Club Kokomo rums.
Taste Rating: 2.5-4


• Cedar Ridge Portside American Single Malt Whiskey


Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Portside American Single Malt Whiskey ($99.99) is a new release distilled from 100% 2-row pale malted barley, married with 6 year old American Single Malt aged in Cedar Ridge ex-bourbon barrels, finished in first fill ruby port and amontillado sherry as well as virgin French oak casks. Portside definitely hits with port sweetness and ruby port berries, rolling into nutty and spiced sherry notes. It’s a bracing 58.6% ABV and it hits hard and heavy. The excess tannins and woodiness keep my rating from being higher, but I appreciate layered flavors that will appeal to cask strength American whiskey fans.
Taste Rating: 3.5

Photo Credit Sally Peterson

• Lodestar American Whiskey


Lodestar Whiskey ($45) is a women-owned new whiskey from music industry cousins Anna Axster and Wendelin von Schroder who gained a love for whiskey in their travels and are SoCal/LA-based. This is a combo high-rye Bourbon and American Single Malt whiskey, more on the approachable, smooth side vs. the complex or hardcore. All the spice, malt and caramel notes you’d expect are there, brightened with a touch of citrus. While it could get lost in some cocktails despite its welcome 45% ABV body, it’s essentially a good cocktail whiskey and intro for those on the whiskey fence.
Taste Rating: 3.5

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.

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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, Liquor.com, 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.