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:

Nixta Licor de Elote
This standout corncob bottle is just the beginning of the delights of Nixta Licor de Elote, an ancestral corn liqueur from Jilotepec, Mexico. It has been out for years but remains under-the-radar when it comes to unusual spirits and liqueurs. Though subtly sweet, it is balanced, letting the earthy, charred, nixtamalization notes (an ancient process of soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution/limewater) illuminate sweet, fresh corn. It tastes not only of the essence of corn but of Mexico itself — and begs for food pairings.
Taste rating: 4.5

Banhez Mezcal Tobala
I’ve yet to try every agave expression in the Banhez line but having tried a few, with the earthy, green, wild Cuishe a standout. Recently tasting the Tobala, that ever pricier (due to the tobala agave’s longer growing time, smaller size and rarity) mezcal, I welcomed the aromatic flow of fresh, green herbs, earth and rich minerality. This is the kind of mezcal I could sip all day, exemplifying what I love most about this beloved spirit category.
Taste rating: 4.5

Laws Whiskey House Four Grain Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon
With a team of distillers and a history tracing back to 2011 when they started aging whiskey, Denver’s Laws Whiskey House released their first whiskey and opened to the public in 2014. They’re now at the point where their whiskies are reaching greater maturity and complexity with this fall’s 6 year releases. The epitome of grain-to-glass, their grains are grown by family-owned Colorado farms, with corn from Whiskey Sisters Supply Homestead. Featuring a bourbon, rye and limited release whiskies, likely a lovely wheat whiskey, they also have bonded and cask versions of bourbon and rye. I truly appreciate their balanced oak/tannins (hard to come by in countless American small batch whiskies), including a warm 6 year Bottled-In-Bond rye. Their latest Four Grain Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon (corn, heirloom wheat, heirloom rye, heirloom malted barley) is a unique, layered expression where mashbill shines, corn sweetness and wood remain in balance.
Taste rating: 4.5

Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit
I’d like to try the rest of the aquavits from Mike McCarron’s Minneapolis micro-distillery, Gamle Ode, but glad I could try their dill aquavit. It leans Danish style, which is often dill-forward and grain based. Gamle Ode’s corn base is distilled by 45th Parallel Distillery in Wisconsin, which buys corn from a single family farm near the distillery on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. McCarron then sources dill locally from two farms — Big River Farms in Marine on St. Croix (MN) and Deer Lake Gardens in St. Croix Falls (WI). Fresh dill-forward aromatics sing with other aquavit botanical standards, from caraway to juniper. Pairs beautifully with everything from seafood to reuben sandwiches. 
Taste rating: 4.5

Cotswolds Distillery 2019 Founders Choice Single Malt Whisky
England’s picturesque Cotswolds Distillery produces some pretty damn stellar whiskies. They were first known for their gin, another exceptional product. Their whiskies equal top notch Scotch in balance, elegance and subtlety. I adore their original 2014 Single Malt Odyssey Barley whisky, while their Peated is a shining example of smoky balance. Their cask strength 2019 Founder’s Choice whisky is a robust cask strength delight aged in re-charred American red wine casks. It’s both earthy and spiced, sweet, bready and bright with a tropical hit.
Taste rating: 4.5

Chairman’s Reserve 1931 Rum
Chairman’s Reserve 1931 rum is a prime example of how beautiful and balanced an aged 6-11 year rum can be, distilled in Coffey and pot stills. This is a sipping rum that appeals to longtime agricole fanatics like myself and those who love a rich molasses-based rum, as it is a blend of both, tributing St. Lucia Distillers founder Denis Barnard and the distillery’s founding year: 1931. Where that blessed sugarcane grassiness shines, so does a lush flow of cocoa, raisins, oak and brown sugar. 
Taste rating: 5

Mulassano Extra Dry Vermouth
Bottled exclusively for Mulassano Café, which opened in Turin, Italy, in 1879 — and produced by Piedmont’s Bordiga distilleryMulassano Extra Dry Vermouth is one of Italy’s countless pleasing sipping vermouths that walks a line of light, easy, midday refresher with complex-yet-subtle bitterness and vegetal freshness. Newer to the U.S. market, this old recipe (alongside a red vermouth and a white I have not tried), the extra dry swings between sweet and bitter, herbal and piney, showing off its botanicals of wormwood, lemon, coriander, marjoram, fennel, quinine, cardamom and vanilla.
Taste rating: 4

The Legendary Dark Silkie Irish Whiskey
Produced in County Donegal and just imported to the States via Preiss Imports, The Silkie is an Irish Whiskey (inspired by the tales of the mythical Silkie seals of the Donegal coast) that will appeal to Scotch lovers with its peated dark and subtly peated golden standard whiskey with plenty of fruit and caramel. The Dark version is smoky and layered with notes of leather, pear, tobacco, caramel and dark chocolate. A lovely sipping whiskey. 
Taste rating: 4.5

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
As Irish gins continue to proliferate, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, distilled in copper pot stills at The Shed Distillery and PJ Rigney, is an example of standout packaging first — and and a meeting of East and West next. Eight botanicals include classics (juniper, cardamom, coriander, angelica root, orris root, caraway, etc.), followed by an Asian mix of gunpowder tea and vapor infusions of makrut (kaffir) lime, grapefruit, Chinese lemon and a strong floral kick. The tea especially takes it a different direction, leading yet another trend in the endless possibilities of the contemporary gin category.
Taste rating: 3.5

FloraLuna Apothecary’s Blackberry Banana Coconut Syrup
Right off the bat, FloraLuna Apothecary’s Blackberry Banana Coconut Syrup may sound exactly like something you don’t want: cloying, sweet, too much. But this tart-fresh cocktail mixer (also for food and non-alcoholic mocktails) exemplifies the balance typical in Phaedra Achor’s line of Petaluma-produced bitters (try spicy pineapple bitters), syrups and elixir. From her Sonoma County business, she has just launched a new Tastemaker club subscription with themes like “Taste of the Islands” infusion kit, including a tiki mug, bitters, syrup and recipes. Balance isn’t easy in mixers (I want to try her pistachio cherry syrup), but these are prime examples of how to do it: with restraint and less sugar yet maintaining the freshness of the base ingredients.
Taste rating: 4.5

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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,, 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.