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. More than ever, small-batch distillers and drink producers need our aid. Please, support small business and quality. My 14 bottle picks of the month:


Heirloom Liqueurs Pineapple Amaro

Heirloom Liqueurs Genepy
I recently reviewed Heirloom Brand’s unique Pineapple Amaro, in a line of four spirits (also a floral Creme de Flora and spiced Alchermes) from Bittercube’s Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz with R&D partner Brandon Reyes, distilled at Lawless Distilling in Minneapolis. As a longtime genepy/genepi lover, it’s rare to see any made outside Italy, Switzerland or France. In fact, this is the only American-made version of the Swiss/French-style genepy, and would appeal to absinthe and Chartreuse fans with its herbal, green body and intriguing, complex layers from 26 botanicals, including safflower and fennel. It’s gorgeous in cocktails (like a simple Genepy Sour with lemon juice) and a big win for American-produced herbal spirits. Taste rating: 5


Sagaponack Farm Distillery Aquavit
Sagaponack Farm Distillery Aquavit
is the best new aquavit I’ve tasted in years. I’ve raved about the likes of Long Road Distillers and Tattersall when I first wrote this article a few years back (reposted in 2020), but it has been a few years since an aquavit stood out to me as this one did immediately — and I judge aquavits in multiple awards each year. Sagaponack is a “seed to glass” distillery and at 47.2% ABV, the aquavit evokes just the right body and heft. The flavors are a joyous mix of the best aquavits from different Scandinavian countries, heavy on caraway, dill and even a unique add of cilantro from their farm. It makes me crave a Reuben sandwich and shines beautifully in an array of cocktails. Taste rating: 5


Avallen Spirits Calvados
, self-proclaimed as “the climate positive Calvados brand,” just added Canada to its distribution list (in addition to the UK and France) and is working towards U.S. expansion for 2022. Co-founders Stephanie Jordan and Tim Etherington-Judge came from Diageo, launching Avallen in 2019 with an environmental focus, removing 2.73kg of CO2e from the atmosphere with every bottle produced. I love that they have committed to planting 10,000 wildflowers during their first three years and commit 1% of their revenue to conservation and education partners via 1% for the Planet. Distilled from apples and water with no additives or sugar, their Calvados is aged in French oak barrels for two years, resulting in a light-bodied but apple-forward flavor profile that almost recalls a Pommeau (apple juice mixed with apple brandy) in its light freshness, but hits a little hard on the tannins, lacking a roundness and elegance found in the best Calvados. Taste rating: 3.5


Holmes Cay Fiji Rum
Holmes Cay Rums
released their First Single Origin Edition of Fiji Rum this summer, a limited edition rum at just 2,260 bottles, a blend made in partnership with the Rumcast podcast. Holmes Cay founder Eric Kaye pursues rare,  small-batch, limited-edition single cask rums, launching his inaugural release two-years ago. This Single Origin Edition is a beauty, blending rums from a few South Pacific Distilleries in Lautoka, Fiji. It exudes all that grassiness I’m crazy about in rhum agricole, contrasted by vivid notes of citrus, clove spice, honey and white pepper. Taste rating: 5



Tyku Sake Junmai Ginjo
Having only tasted the black bottle junmai ginjo, TYKU Sake is a sleek entrant in the premium sake category. Made at Umenoyado Brewery in Nara, Japan (known as the “birthplace of sake”), the brewery has been run by the Yoshida Family for over 124 years and five generations, currently by Kayo Yoshida, the first female brewery owner in Nara. She employs a “female-to-male ratio of over 40%” and the majority of her employees are under age 35. That youthfulness comes through in the packaging and unique feel of the bottle, as it does in “flavored” options like cucumber or coconut. As for the sake, made from only four ingredients (premium non-GMO rice, soft water, yeast, koji) the Junmai Ginjo is silky in texture, evoking peach/stone fruit. It pairs elegantly with a range of foods, which I find it’s strongest point. Even spicy foods bring out lush vanilla tones in the sake. Taste rating: 4.5


Amazzoni Gin
Imported by East Brazil Company, Amázzoni is an awarded gin in Latin America, showcasing 11 botanicals, from the standard gin botanicals (juniper, coriander), to more unique and regionally specific, including cocoa, Brazil nut, maxixe, Victoria regia and cipò cravo from the Amazonian rainforest. The taste profile doesn’t exactly showcase the more unusual botanicals, like the cocoa, but instead veers bright and citrus-forward with a bit of a rough edge. Fine tuning of some of these more exciting botanicals — and the slightly harsher notes on the palate — could elevate the gin. Kudos for their waste-free and regenerative production procedures — and Amázzoni donates $2 of every bottle sold to Amazon rainforest conservation — a winning model for any distillery/brand. Taste rating: 3.5

WHISKEY — Bourbon

Watershed Bourbon & Apple Barrel-Finished Bourbon
Based in Columbus, OH, Watershed Distillery has been a locals favorite for their Straight Bourbon and Bottled In Bond Bourbon (I have not tried their nocino-finished bourbon), with their latest bourbon whiskey blend finished in apple brandy barrels. As you might expect, this imparts a honeyed sweetness but also layers of oak, vanilla, black tea, orange, baking spices and cherry. It’s rich and bold, aged four years, and though tannic, not overpoweringly so, as many small batch whiskies can be. Taste rating: 4

WHISKEY — Scotch

Dewar’s Japanese Smooth blended Scotch whisky

Dewar’s Japanese Smooth
Yet another example of how the big brands are differentiating, Dewar’s Japanese Smooth is the latest release in the historic Scotch brand’s cask-finished series, out this July ($24.99). Finishing their 8 year old, double aged blend whisky in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, the result is honeyed, floral and woody with a hint of smoke and leather yet a light, smooth body. Dewar’s master blender Stephanie Macleod keeps it easy drinking in step with the brand in general, while adding something new and subtly complex to the line. It works nicely in Highballs and is the right price point for cocktails/bars. Taste rating: 4.5


American Liquor Co. Vodka

American Liquor Co. Vodka
Chris Montana is a pioneer, opening the U.S.’ first black-owned microdistillery in 2013, burned down in the Minneapolis riots in 2020, then rebuilt. I recently reviewed his RTDs/canned cocktails — and now, his new American Liquor Co. Vodka, the first 4-crop blend made from locally-grown Midwest winter wheat, light rye, Rio Grande potato and white corn, all sourced from Midwest distillers, then blended by Montana. This summer, ALC Vodka became available nationally via DTC shipping. While the vodka maintains a smooth and textured mouthfeel, it’s thankfully less neutral and more grain-forward so holds up in cocktails or neat. Chris’ work in pandemic has been important for the industry and underrepresented communities, from testifying in front of the House Small Business Committee on behalf of distillers for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, to his Du Nord Foundation, aiding in rebuilding communities in need. Taste rating: 4.5

WHISKEY — Japanese

Honkaku Spirits Takamine 8 year Koji Whiskey
Distilled from barley and barley koji at Shinozaki Distillery in Fukuoka, Japan, Honkaku Spirits Takamine 8 year Koji Whiskey tributes Jokichi Takamine, a U.S.-based Japanese scientist from the turn of the 20th century. Renowned for his breakthroughs in creating kojibased whisky, his technique is dubbed the “Takamine Process.” Naming the whiskey after him, Takamine is redolent with vanillas, brown sugar and butterscotch from the oak, but offers unique fruit notes from the koji fermentation. The woody, maple notes dominate a touch too much for my tastes but it’s still overall an interesting and drinkable entry in the Japanese koji whiskies category. Taste rating: 4


Cana Cachaca
Imported by East Brazil Company (importing a range of Brazilian wines and spirits), Cãna cachaça is a blend of three cachaças from across Brazil. The clear, clean bottle stands out on a shelf. The spirit, however, is a bit of a struggle. It works fine in a Caipirinha or other cachaça cocktail, but on its own, it’s bracing, a little rough and neutral —more like a vodka — and doesn’t showcase that grassy goodness one often gets from cachaça’s sugarcane base. The sugarcane peeks through but then falls off on the finish, making Cãna a solid entrant in a category I love, but I wish we had more imports to choose from. Kudos for their waste-free and regenerative production procedures. @drinkcana Taste rating: 3 

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned)

Drifter RTDs

Drifter Cocktails: Debuting June 2021 from Pete Nevenglosky, Jeff Diego and Nate Whitehouse (also behind Drifter Spirits, which manages Avuá Cachaça and Svöl Aquavit), Drifter Craft Cocktails is a new canned cocktail collection with the admirable vision to highlight bartenders and small-batch distillers — and the striking art/can design inspired by “faraway places” appeals. The initial three canned cocktails are Spicy Margarita, Passion Fruit Caipirinha and Moscow Mule (7% ABV; $19.99 for a 4-pack). While I struggled a bit with the candied-fruity flavors (not lime) of the Spicy Margarita from Nico de Soto (of Mace in NYC and Danico in Paris), Mariena Mercer Boarini’s (of the Wynn Las Vegas) Passion Fruit Caipirinha is, to date, one of the best RTDs I’ve ever tasted after years of judging and tasting hundreds of RTDs. Featuring Avuá Prata Cachaça, lime juice from Guangdong, China, passionfruit juice from the Philippines, vanilla from Vietnam and cardamom extract and lemongrass oil from Oxnard, CA, the drink wins on balance, crushability and playfulness (thankfully an atypical flavor/cocktail for RTDs) — and the cachaça actually comes through. While Neff’s Moscow Mule is an all-too-common canned cocktail, the fresh spiciness of the ginger, grassy sweetness of Griffo Pot Distilled Vodka and whisper of jalapeño with tart lime differentiate it from others.
Taste rating, Passion Fruit Caipirinha: 5; Moscow Mule: 4.5; Spicy Margarita 3.5

Twisted Alchemy Belize farm and juicery

• Twisted Alchemy: Chicago-based Twisted Alchemy does right with what few have mastered: cold-pressed (retaining natural nutrients, probiotics, etc.), unpasteurized, unsweetened juices that aren’t flavored or mixed with other ingredients. This saves bartenders (at home or professionally) excess time squeezing or sourcing fruit. Think pure Persian lime juice, watermelon, pineapple, Eureka lemon, blood orange, etc., hand-chosen by their farm partners and pressed at their Belize-based farm and juicery. The purity is refreshing and trying the juices in various cocktails is impressive, especially compared to any other pure bottled lemon or lime juices, typically marked by preservatives to remain shelf-stable. Post-pandemic labor shortages and shipping to all 50 states are just two reasons this line is a drink industry “win.” Taste rating: 4 to 5

Don Ciccio & Figli Perla bottled cocktails and RTDs

• Don Ciccio & Figli’s La Perla Cocktails: I’ve long been a fan of Don Ciccio e Figli’s standout amari and spirits produced in D.C. (my Distiller Magazine interview with founder Francesco Amodeo here). Like many, they recently got into the RTD “game,” releasing a line of bottled cocktails dubbed La Perla (“pearl” in Italian), lower proof than a standard cocktail but with enough ABV to give body and heft. While some veer a little too sweet (like the Cherry Old Fashioned), the slightly too-sweet Walnut Old Fashioned showcases their Nocino nicely. Standouts (complete with handy “bitterness barometer” on the bottle and website) are the elegant white Negroni Bianco Oro (made with their Cinque Aperitivo) and the one canned drink in the lineup: Ambrosia Spritz, featuring nine botanicals, cantaloupe and blood orange notes from their Ambrosia vermouth. Both are gently bitter and go down easy. Taste rating: 3.5 to 4.5

Previous articleNew Release Roundup for June 2021
Next articleADI 2021 Vendome Tour
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.