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:

Lot 20 of St. George Single Malt Whiskey
Released in October, this year’s Lot 20 release of St. George Single Malt Whiskey sells out swiftly every year (check their spirits locator if you’re outside CA as it rolls out nationally soon). This 20th anniversary release of their pioneering whiskey (long ahead of the current trend of American single malts) is another stunner from the incomparable Lance Winters and Dave Smith. Smith’s masterful blend of casks from their whiskey library ranges from 4.5 year old whiskey to a solera-blended 21 year old cask, aged in a range of casks: used Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, American and French oak apple brandy, port and California Sauternes-style. Nuance and vibrancy meet in notes of hazelnut, stone fruit, cacao, cola, cherry and marmalade.
Taste rating: 5

Ojo de Tigre Mezcal
A mix of sustainable espadin agave from Oaxaca and tobala agave from Pubela, Ojo de Tigre Mezcal is part of the Casa Lumbre portfolio (known for brands like Montelobos and Ancho Reyes) and part of Pernod Ricard’s portfolio since this July. Helmed by master distiller Iván Saldaña, Ojo de Tigre (Eye of the Tiger) is pleasantly rough-and-tumble, punchy, bold, smoky and earthy but affordable, cocktail-ready and evocative of Mexico.
Taste rating: 4

Amass Gin
With their popular Copenhagen-distilled vodka, Amass launched a new gin this year, distilled and bottled in downtown Los Angeles. With no less than 29 botanicals, including California grapefruit, hibiscus, mushrooms, sarsaparilla, grains of paradise and makrut (kaffir) lime. It sounds like a lot, but the result is both complex and focused, with botanicals like cubeb pepper, coriander, fennel and lemon peel shining through boldly. The texture is silky and clean, the finish unfolding with a savory whisper from those mushrooms. It’s dreamy in a classic martini with lemon peel. With their modern Danish design, Amass also focuses on wellness with elegant candles and hand sanitizer also utilizing their botanicals.
Taste rating: 4.5

Plantation Isle of Fiji Rum and Plantation Fiji 2005 Vintage Limited Edition Rum:
Another Plantation Rum delight from Alexandre Gabriel (master blender and creator) with master distiller Liam F. Costello, this year’s Isle of Fiji Rum is affordable ($25), full-bodied, vibrantly nutty with banana and allspice from molasses extracted from Fiijian sugarcane. Also released, the lush 2005 Fiji Vintage is aged 14 years in bourbon casks plus one year in Pierre Ferrand Cognac casks. It exudes pears, spice, pear, licorice, ginger and cacao.
Fiji Rum Taste rating: 4
2005 Fiji Rum Taste rating: 4.5

As numerous Scotch brands rebrand or release new bottlings, a few worth mentioning:
—The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage
The GlenDronach, a Scotch legend dating back to 1826, released the rare (only 3,052 bottles), high-end The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage ($1,299!) late summer, representing a potential trend in whisky as a collaboration and celebration of “The King’s Man” film, created with director Matthew Vaughn and master blender Rachel Barrie. The whisky is matured in Oloroso sherry and finished in Pedro Ximénez casks, inspired by their oldest bottle at the distillery, bottled in 1913. It’s a stunner of leather, walnut, plum, truffles, berries and tobacco notes. On the more approachable side, their line is full of more affordable gems, from the sweet, pear-and-sherry-forward 12 year to the elegant 18 year.
Taste rating: 5
Aberfeldy 18 and 20 year Scotch
Blended by Dewars’ malt master Stephanie MacLeod, Aberfeldy (opened in 1898 by John Dewar & Sons) just released Aberfeldy 18 and 20 year “exceptional casks” to the US market. The exceptional cask series is standout single cask, double-cask and small batch releases handpicked by Stephanie. Both are beauties, the $120 18 year imbued with red wine elements from finishing in first-fill Pauilliac, Bordeaux, wine casks. The $200 20 year is bright, fruit-forward and perfumed from its finish in Sauternes wine casks.
Taste rating: 4.5
Benriach The Original & Smoky Ten, The Original & Smoky Twelve
I’ve long been a fan of Benriach Distillery, a Speyside classic that nails both unpeated and peated Scotch. They just relaunched their core range in October — The Original Ten, The Original Twelve, The Smoky Ten and The Smoky Twelve — from master blender Rachel Barrie, with clean, modern packaging and new blends that hearken back to historic bottlings. All four are lovely, while the new recipe for the sherry-forward 12 year-old whisky stands out, also aged in port and bourbon casks. The smoky version is a bit sweeter but also has a campfire richness; the unpeated evokes hazelnut, raisins and espresso. At $53.99–64.99, it’s a well-priced, high-quality Scotch line.
Taste rating: 4.5

Callisto Botanical Rum
A pioneering, unique new California rum distilled in Petaluma (Sonoma County), Callisto is the “world’s first botanical rum,” infused with California botanicals. For rum fans or botanical spirits fans (gin, aquavit, genever), it’s going to be important to get the norms of either out of the way to appreciate this stand-alone spirit. Callisto’s founder, Giles Templeman, left his native Bermuda and the island’s rum roots for the Bay Area. He and his team select a base rum blend from the Caribbean, aged and charcoal filtered, so it is clear and silky. The profile is dry and shockingly floral, with a hit of lavender. The challenge for this product will be getting past that “rum” expectation and the right cocktails to highlight its unique floral garden profile (they do have a helpful catalogue of bartender-created recipes on their site).
Taste rating: 4

Still Austin Whiskey
Still Austin Whiskey’s new straight 2-year bourbon is a quality whiskey in that younger range: balanced, robust (49.2% ABV), cocktail friendly and approachable for those new to whiskey. Created by industry greats Mike Delevante and Nancy Fraley, a slow-water reduction technique gives the young whiskey an older feel, with vanilla-caramel hitting first from 70% white corn, followed by subtle spice from 25% rye and 5% malted barley.
Taste rating: 3.5

Rootstock Cider & Spirits 5-Year Bourbon-Barrel Aged Applejack
Rootstock Cider & Spirits 5-Year Bourbon-Barrel Aged Applejack hails from upstate New York, in the town of Williamson near the shores of Lake Ontario. Founder/owner David DeFisher is a hard cider producer using only locally sourced ingredients, from plums to apples. He also distills 2 year aged applejack, brandies and vodkas. This 5 year release is aged for a minimum of 5 years, exuding notes of vanilla, toffee, caramel, with subtle smokiness from a hard cider base. Bright, fresh apple comes through but a hot, tannic force of wood threatens to overwhelm the orchard subtleties.
Taste rating: 3.5

Humboldt Distillery Organic Vodka
With their intriguing hemp vodka and rums, Humboldt Distillery’s certified organic spirits are produced in California’s Humboldt County, a good 5–6 hours drive north of San Francisco. With an organic sugarcane base, their vodka is clean yet bracing, with an almost briny hint calling on the ancient redwoods and dramatic rocky coasts of NorCal. With subtle vanilla and white pepper notes, it’s bold but neutral enough to be cocktail friendly.
Taste rating: 4

Wonderland Blend of Straight Whiskeys
Wonderland Distilling Co.’s blend of straight whiskeys ($43.99; 42% ABV) is a blended whiskey from Muskegon, MI, featuring 100% Michigan rye and wheat whiskeys combined with corn whiskey, but done in Canadian style, meaning grains are distilled separately, aged, then blended. While not overly distinctive, it is balanced and thus cocktail friendly, roving from fruit, honey and caramel to an intriguing hint of fresh mint.
Taste rating: 3