My bottle review column (last month’s edition here) is less about tasting notes and more about what is unique, new or trending in spirits alongside my ratings (on a 1–5 rating scale). Now more than ever, small-batch distillers and drink producers need our aid. Please, support small business and quality! My 10 bottle picks and unique trends of the month:

ARMAGNAC Brandy
BHAKTA 50 Armagnac
https://bhaktabrandy.com
Attention, spirits/brandy lovers. There is a rare Armagnac blend of eight vintages from 1868 to 1970, finished in Islay whisky casks. Yes, I was eager to try it, too. Just released BHAKTA 50 Armagnac is blended from the private cellar of Raj Peter Bhakta, with the youngest brandy in the blend 50 years old, the oldest 152 years. Out of a total of 38 barrels, barrel 2 is currently available at $250 www.zachys.com/bhakta-brandy-50-year-armagnac-blend-finished-in-islay-casks-barrel-2, with barrel 3 being released now. I tasted barrel 3, exuding a rich, robust hit of brown sugar, oak and leather, rolling out with fig, caramel, honey and a subtle whisper of smoke from Islay peat. This is a unique line in a category that doesn’t see a lot of “new” releases. As I’ve had the privilege of tasting many spirits and fortified wines back to the 1840s, nothing (certainly not whisk(e)y!) ages like brandy. As this beauty of a bottling shows, brandy of this age is still alive, complex, gorgeous.
Taste rating: 5

MEZCAL
Vamonos Riendo Mezcal

www.vamonosriendomezcal.com
Just released in the States this month, Vamonos Riendo Mezcal is a small batch mezcal distilled in Oaxaca’s Sierra Madre mountains at 6,500 feet elevation from eight-year-old Espadin (the most common mezcal agave) and more rare Tobala agave, a maguey that typically takes 14 years to grow to maturity. This mezcal is a prime, balanced example of less smoky mezcals, subtle enough (in smoke) to win over the non-converted, complex and unique enough to win over mezcal lovers. The bright hit of melon, tropical fruit, herbs, honey and citrus hits boldly on the nose and tongue, finishing silky with an earthy whisper of cocoa and fresh fruit sweetness, undergirded by that gentle smoke.
Taste rating: 4.5

WHISKY
The Cotswolds Distillery
www.cotswoldsdistillery.com
Founded by Dan Szor, Cotswolds is a young English distillery releasing gin and whiskies in league with neighboring Scotland. They were first put on the craft distilling map with their standout gin, while they were aging their whiskies. Having tried four of their whiskies, I’m smitten with each: the cask strength Founder’s Choice Single Malt Whisky, gaining depth from aging in red wine casks, or the gorgeous fruit-peat balance of their Peated Cask Single Malt. But I’m especially hooked on the lighter (in color and body) 2014 Odyssey barley (sourcing local grains and water), flowing with fresh cut barley, bright orange, honey, almond and dried fruit notes.
Taste rating: 4.5

TEQUILA
La Adelita Single Estate Tequila Blanco
www.laadelitatequila.com
Single estate tequilas have been on the rise ever since Tequila Ocho first designated a tequila by vintage and exact field in which the agaves were grown. La Adelita blanco is a beautiful expression (of five they produce) of single estate tequila, recently available in the U.S. and named to honor Adelita, a woman who led female fighters in the Mexican Revolution. Grown in the highlands of Jalisco, the green lime, subtle vegetal, slate and silky vanilla-chocolate notes make it a balanced steal of a tequila at $39.99, ideal for cocktails or sipping neat.
Taste rating: 4.5

VERMOUTH
Bespoke Distillery Vermut Sospeso

www.bespokedistillery.it
Another example of the creative possibilities still out there for vermouth, Bespoke Distillery in Milan (makers of a lovely trio of gins) released a coffee vermouth. Vermut Sospeso drinks as light and easy as any quality dry or white vermouth. Delicate bitterness plays with vanilla, dried fruit and citrus notes, but it’s that surprise espresso hit on the nose and finish that makes this something truly different. Best on the rocks, my only complaint is I can’t drink caffeine after lunch so that makes this a brunch-only imbibement.
Taste rating: 4

RUM
Equiano Rum
https://equianorum.com
New to the UK and the US this year, Equiano Rum is a blend from Gray’s distillery in Mauritius and Barbadian distillery (and rum geek favorite), Foursquare. The Equiano Rum Co. commits to a rarity in the rum industry: no additives (including sugar), no spices, no colorants, all aged in former Cognac and Bourbon casks. As the world’s first African and Caribbean rum combo, it’s smooth and drinkable, not always what I look for in a rum, being the funk/hogo chaser that I am these 15+ years. But it’s balanced, a beauty in cocktails and sips elegantly neat, thanks to its 8-10 year age.
Taste rating: 4

Don Q Reserva 7 Rum
https://donq.com/rums/reserva-7
Don Q is a big brand rum, to be sure, but Destilería Serrallés is one of America’s oldest family-owned businesses spanning 6 generations in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Their new Don Q Reserva 7 is a standout I feel ups the game for the brand, walking the line of elegance partnered with subtle funk, fruit, chocolate, wood, nuttiness. Blended by master blender Jaiker Soto, this is a mix of multi-column distilled light rums and single copper column distilled heavy rums, all aged a minimum of seven years in American white oak. Their new bottle design is an improvement over Don Q’s standard bottlings, achieving more of a classic understatement.
Taste rating: 4.5

GIN
The Vale Fox
Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin 1651
https://thevalefox.com/spirits/tod-and-vixens-dry-gin-1651
While they age their first American Single Malt Whisky, The Vale Fox Distillery — opened by Eral Gokgol-Kline in Poughkeepsie, NY — wins on label art for sure. Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin 1651 sports a whimsical label out of a children’s book (think Fantastic Mr. Fox meets Alice in Wonderland). The gin was created with cocktails in mind, so Gokgol-Kline recruited a team of famed bartenders — like Gary (Gaz) Regan and Jeffery Morganthaler — to consult on the final product. Classic botanicals (juniper, orris and angelica root, orange peel) come through, while the more unusual, red rooibos tea and makrut lime leaves, can feel like a bit of clash, but round out nicely in cocktails.
Taste rating: 3.5

AMERICAN WHISKEY
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 year
https://wildturkeybourbon.com/product/masters-keep
Wild Turkey are among “the biggies” of Kentucky in a historic, legendary family of distillers. Their Masters Keep series has produced some of their best releases, including their last rye (https://distilling.com/distillermagazine/distiller-new-release-roundup) and their special Russell’s Reserve Rye in 2015 (www.theperfectspotsf.com/wp02/2015/11/15/top-5-whiskies-at-whiskyfest-sf-2015). 2015 was the last time they released a Master’s Keep (MK) 17 Year Whiskey, the first in the MK series. Their 5th in the series is 17 year again, but this time, Bottled in Bond, and, per usual, from barrels hand-selected by Eddie Russell. I wish I could return to the original 17 year and do a side-by-side tasting, but this new bottling maintains that signature Wild Turkey balance of grain and oak, fruit and leather. However, there is more earthiness here that gives this release depth and lingering impact.
Taste rating: 4.5

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned Cocktails)
Social Hour Cocktails

www.socialhourcocktails.com
An RTD with direct craft distilling links, Social Hour Cocktails is the result of a partnership with New York Distilling Company, bartending pioneer Julie Reiner and bartender Tom Macy, who she hired at Brooklyn’s Clover Club back in 2009. Social’s Hour recently released Gin & Tonic, Whiskey Mule and Pacific Spritz canned cocktails may not push boundaries in complexity but they do nail that hard-to-get-right ratio of canned cocktail classics. These are balanced, crushable versions of what typically tastes better fresh. Using NY Distilling spirits, of course. Here’s hoping for a broader range and some more experimental cocktails for us geeks and industry. I’d leave it to these experienced hands to do it right.
Taste rating: 4.5