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 12 bottle picks and unique trends of the month, ideal for the holidays, gifts or all year ‘round:

Barrel aged gins are ideal for the winter, given their spiced, warm, woody profile, complimenting (if done right) the botanical layers of gin. Here are two:

Gin Farallon Holy Wood & Cask
gets balance right, and their Holy Wood & Cask barrel aged gin is a prime example. Conditioned for two months in new American oak barrels, then infused with Peruvian Palo Santo, aka “Holy Wood” (a first for any gin), it is, thankfully, a barrel aged standout with its warm spice and woody notes. It’s bold, memorable and beautiful in cocktails.
Taste rating: 4.5

Durham Distillery Conniption Barrel Aged Series
Aged 10 months in 7 year bourbon barrels from High West, Conniption Gin from Durham Distillery is more subtle and light than the Farallon but also balanced, with gin botanicals blessedly coming through.
Taste rating: 4

Insolito Tequila
A new tequila brand out in 2020, Insolito (“unusual” in Spanish) is distilled by Octavio and Alberto Herrera at high elevation Premium de Jalisco (7,200 feet above sea level). With modern, clean, color-coded labels, the reposado is my favorite of the line. The blanco runs nicely green and earthy though finishes a bit hot, while the anejo (aged between 18-24 months in American and French white oak barrels) is nutty, buttery, spiced yet the agave is still present. However, it’s the reposado (aged up to 10 months in American white oak) that ideally balances the youthful blanco with some of the warm layers of the anejo.
Taste rating blanco: 3.5; Taste rating reposado: 4.5; Taste rating anejo: 4

Cutwater Anejo Tequila
Popular Cutwater Spirits produces a robust yet crushable anejo that goes down easy with its nutty, caramel, oak kick and a whisper of agave. It’s open fermentation and double distillation in alambique stainless and copper stills confirms its bold flavor profile, which shines in cocktails.
Taste rating: 4

Kozuba & Sons Distillery Cranberry Cordial
Based in Saint Petersburg, Kozuba & Sons Distillery is a Polish father-sons distillery with roots in Poland, relaunched in Florida as they immigrated to the States. They recently released boxed cocktails, Bar Box RTD Craft Cocktails, and produce a bracing Polish-style vodka. Their fruit liqueurs strike that fine balance, not being too sweet and tasting freshly natural, in flavors from quince to a classic ratafia berry liqueur. While I was most interested in the rare ratafia, the cranberry cordial surprised me with its tart balance, hints of white pepper and herbaceous finish. It makes lovely holiday cocktails — and the cordials are only $19.99 per 375 ml bottle.
Taste rating: 4

Westward Whiskey Pinot Noir Cask
The uniquely shaped, striking bottle makes Westward Whiskey’s new Pinot Noir Cask whiskey an ideal gift, as does its Oregon wine connection. As a tribute to the Willamette Valley’s legendary Pinot Noir grapes, this Pinot cask-finished American Single Malt exhibits that bold, bracing elegance common in Westward Whiskies with the tannins and subtle fruit from being finished up to two years in French Oak wine barrels from local winemakers.
Taste rating: 4.5

6 O’Clock Gin
Distilled in a copper still in Bristol, England, and sold in deep blue bottles, 6 O’Clock Gin offers a Classic London Dry version and juniper-forward Brunel version (at 50% ABV). The first includes classic botanicals (orris root, juniper, elderflower, coriander seed, orange peel, angelic root), while the Brunel adds green cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cassia bark, cubeb pepper and lemon. I was certain the Brunel would be my pick, preferring higher proof and juniper-forward gins, but I found its harsh, hot finish threw off its balance and the nuance of those additional 6 botanicals compared to the more elegant, silky Classic.
Taste rating Brunel: 3.5
Taste rating London Dry Classic: 4

Bozal Cenizo
From 3 Badge Mixology, Bozal mezcals are beauties down to their striking, rustic ceramic copitas (bottles). Their Espadin-Barril (in a golden copita) is a blend of the most common mezcal agave —espadin— and wild agave barril, resulting in bold, beautiful notes of banana, green pepper and citrus, with floral hints. The Cenizo (in a sky blue copita) is a single variety wild maguey/agave typically harvested from the hillsides of Durango, thriving in high altitude. Orange peel, dark chocolate and floral notes mingle with a subtle mesquite from roasting agaves. It is produced in the Old World way I was privileged to witness around the state of Oaxaca 7 years ago: the agave crushed by tahona wheels turned by horses.
Taste rating Cenzio: 5; Taste rating Espadin-Barril: 4.5

Recuerdo Mezcal
As the top-selling duty-free airport mezcal (imported to the US by sherry great, González Byass USA), Recuerdo Mezcal has a rough quality, not the rusticity I adore in mezcal (ancestral styles, especially). It’s more of a thin, smoky flavor that tastes flat and watered down compared to the greats. It’s ok for cocktails and is admirably made from sustainably harvested agave, certified wood and is animal-cruelty free. But even the gusano (agave worm) version seems to confirm it’s more “for tourists” vs. real mezcal fans, despite the recent partnership with UFC champion Jorge Masvidal, their new brand ambassador and spokesperson.
Taste rating Joven: 2.5; Taste rating with Gusano: 3

Teeling Whiskey Blackpitts
As Irish Whiskey continues to diversify since the country opened up to craft distillers, peated Irish whiskies were a given. No surprise: Teeling, turning out quality whiskeys since it launched, just released a standout. No color added, no chill filtration, triple distilled and matured in bourbon and Sauternes French wine casks. Teeling Blackpitts uses smoke from peat to dry the barley during the malting process, resulting in a bracing yet balanced (and thankfully not medicinal) smoke married with smoothness achieved from triple distillation. It exudes clove, orange peel, allspice and grilled pineapple, alive with applewood smoke.
Taste rating: 4.5

Barrel Craft Spirits 025 Bourbon
Batch 025 is Barrell Craft Spirits’ (a Louisville, KY, based independent blender and bottler) first blend of straight bourbon whiskeys aged in wheated barrels. Matured for 5 to 15 years, the blend is a mix of sourced whiskeys distilled in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, in widespread release October 2020, at a bracing but balanced 104.9 proof (52.45% ABV). At a whopping $250, I’m not convinced it’s worth the price tag compared to other whiskies in that range, but confirmed by its many awards, it will please many cask strength bourbon fans with its woody, sweet, almost Madeira-like flavor profile.
Taste rating: 4

The Gold Bar Spirits Company’s Rickhouse Cask Strength Bourbon
Gold Bar’s Cask Strength Bourbon (103 Proof) is a blend of 80% corn and 20% rye, thrice distilled in a copper pot still. The result is bracing as one would expect from the proof, and not as smooth as many triple distilled whiskies, yet still round and integrated. I find the intense wood notes almost tasting like additive wood, but as I lead regular tastings with neighbors and friends, this one was a hit, especially among those who typically don’t drink whiskies. On the strong side, it makes for toasty, warm cocktails but for me, the cereal, rum raisin, brown sugar, tobacco and vanilla notes are overwhelmed by that intense, almost fake wood hit.
Taste rating: 3