Looking for a new flavor? Need a little help making your next choice at your local bar or bottle shop? Dining and drinks writer and judge Virginia Miller combs through new craft spirits releases to taste, review, and recommend. Here are her top 12 picks of the month, rated on a scale of one to five. 

My bottle review column (last month’s edition here) is about what is unique, standout, new and/or trending in spirits with my review ratings on a 1-5 rating scale. My 12 bottle picks of the month:

Rượu Dế

Rượu Dế SuTi Lion 45 Vietnamese Spirit 


Rượu đế is a Vietnamese spirit distilled from glutinous or non-glutinous rice, a moonshine typical around southwest Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. But Rượu Dế SuTi Lion 45 Vietnamese Spirit hails from Kennedale, Texas, near Fort Worth. Opened November 2020 by Suy Dinh (distiller) and Tien Ngo (design, branding), they’re longtime friends who got inspired to distill this spirit talking to older Vietnamese-Americans longing for rượu đế since immigrating from Vietnam. They source rice from South Texas and Louisiana, then distill it once to maintain maximum flavor. The first to make it in the U.S., they’ve created two versions: the more classic, smooth, creamy Rượu Đế Ông Già (“old man rice liquor”) and my favorite, Rượu Đế SuTi Lion 45, with a drier, grassier, robust profile that still exudes a creamy rice finish.  Taste Rating: 4.5 


Camikara Rum 12 Year Aged


Northern India’s Piccadilly Distilleries just launched Camikara Rum (meaning “liquid gold”) in the U.S. this July, a pure cane rum aged 12 years in American oak barrels. There is a golden hue to this robust rum (50% ABV; $90 SPR) in color and in honeyed sweetness. With India’s long history of growing sugarcane and making rum, it has been good to see it slowly come back, this one revived from thousands of years of rum history in the Punjab region. It’s a bit heavy on vanilla for me as an agricole and funk lover first when it comes to rum. But it’s bold with layers of ginger, leather, dark chocolate and intense vanillans. As a sipping rum or a decadent cocktail, it should win fans of this sort of flavor profile in rum.  Taste Rating: 4


Yoichi Single Malt 10-Year-Old Whisky


In April 2023 Nikka Whisky brought back their traditional age statement whiskies with the return of their Yoichi Single Malt 10-Year-Old (45% ABV, $175 SRP). Given the shortage of Japanese whisky for years, major brands like Nikka and Suntory released less age statement whiskies. So it’s good to see the return of this balanced beauty from Nikka’s first distillery, Yoichi, on the coast of Hokkaido. Those briny, cool, of-the-sea notes are still here, and on the verge of their 90th anniversary in 2024, the 10 year’s consummate balance is a reminder of why this OG Japanese whisky distillery, founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, still turns out some of the world’s best whisky.  Taste Rating: 4.5


Watershed Distillery Four Peel Strawberry Flavored Gin


Columbus, Ohio’s, Watershed Distillery is typically known for its whiskies. Their limited release Four Peel Strawberry Gin is a base of their original citrus-forward Four Peel Gin, infused with sun-ripened Ohio red strawberries harvested at peak freshness. It’s unexpectedly fresh, bright, tart, yet dry and blessedly not sweet. They’ve managed to truly capture summer strawberries in a gin, with a spirit that turns out lovely cocktails as I experimented with a range at home.  Taste Rating: 4.5


Storywood Tequila Speyside 14 Year Anejo and 7 Year Reposado Single Malts


The background behind Storywood Tequila is fascinating: Storywood founder Michael Ballantyne was born in Scotland, raised in Texas, has been a chef, including in Mexico, where he visited his mother in San Miguel De Allende and fell in love with sipping tequila. Meeting master distiller Luis Trejo at La Cofradia distillery launched his journey to create unique barrel aged tequilas. Combined with his longtime love of whiskies, this is a whiskey drinker’s tequila. The 7 year reposado is aged in Speyside single malt casks with light caramel, vanilla and honey notes, while the 14 year anejo is aged longer in the same, with more roasted, nutty, toffee. For me, the tequila is somewhat lost. Agave is present but very much in the background compared to the wood. But these are not those woody bourbon whiskey-like anejos. Rather, they’re lighter, Highlands Scotch-esque tequilas where the wood still dominates over all agave.  Taste Rating: 3 


Old Pulteney Pineau des Charentes Coastal Series


Old Pulteney’s The Coastal Series is a new collection of four whiskies matured in seaside casks, with the first in the limited series launched summer 2023, aged in Pineau des Charentes fortified wine French oak casks ($79.99 SRP). While aging whisky in wine casks, even dessert/aperitif fortified wine casks, is highly common, aging specifically in Pineau des Charentes casks is less so. Earthy tobacco notes are present but with a light, almost breezy hand, a rare quality Old Pulteney has long mastered. That maritime brininess I have long adored in Old Pulteney Scotch still shines — they are a stones’ throw from the sea, after all. The fortified wine rounds it out with sweet, spiced, candied orange and nutty vanilla.  Taste Rating: 4.5


Sincere Cider


In 2021, I wrote about Bex Pezzullo’s Sincere Cider, produced near me in the Bay Area, first in an Oakland garage, produced and canned in Napa with organic apples from Washington’s Yakima Valley and French wine yeast. I love her dry, crisp, flagship cider and a past seasonal pomegranate cider. There are new ciders out: Granada Pomegranate, Pine-apple (seasonal) and Ginger Agave (limited). Each maintains that elegant restraint I loved since the first cider, subtle but present notes of pineapple, ginger or other ingredients complement but never overpower the purity of the apple base. But they certainly add intrigue and variety to the line. This is one of the best cider lines out there.  Taste rating: 4.5 to 5


• Old Potrero Single Barrel Port Cask


San Francisco’s pioneering small batch distillery since the 1990s, Hotaling & Co. (formerly Anchor Distilling Co.), relaunched their Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey (my review here) last year. In May 2023 they released three new limited edition single barrels from Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey: 100% Straight Rye Whiskey, 100% Straight Rye Sherry Cask Finish, 100% Straight Rye Port Cask Finish (totaling only 6,400 bottles; $89.99 SRP). Each barrel was hand selected by master distiller since the 1990s, Bruce Joseph. I only tried the Old Potrero Port Cask Finish, aged in extra fine grain American oak, finished in French Oak Port casks a total of 7 years 3 months. From a mashbill of 100% malted rye at a whopping 65.6% ABV, it’s not for the faint of heart. But despite its bracing, tannic notes, heavy hits of rye spice and stewed fruit shine, with subtle herbs and charred oak rounding out what is a surprisingly drinkable whiskey for 131.2 proof.  Taste Rating: 4

• Grand Teton Distillery Private Stock American Single Malt Whiskey


Founded in 2011 in Teton Valley, Idaho, family-owned and operated Grand Teton Distillery just announced the release of its Private Stock American Single Malt Whiskey ($79.95 SRP; 50% ABV), aged 7 years in used bourbon barrels this July 2023. As the third bottle in the Private Stock collection sold in an embossed gift box, it’s one of the older American Single Malts out there. Head distiller John Boczar crafts grain-to-glass whiskies from 100% Idaho single-grain malted barley — all milled, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled in-house. Besides aging at 6500 feet in the Grand Teton mountains, they use mineral-rich glacial snowmelt water. It’s a nicely rounded whiskey with a gentle spice, mint, chocolate, ginger and sourdough notes. Though it borders on heavy tannins, they are thankfully restrained enough to keep it woody but in balance. Taste Rating: 4

• Bespoken Spirits Uncle Chicken’s Sippin’ Whiskey & Lynyrd Skynrd’s Hell House American Whiskey


San Francisco’s Bespoken Spirits is releasing a series of musical collaboration whiskies under their Artists Partnerships, with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Hell House American Whiskey ($49.99 SRP) just released July 27, 2023, and Uncle Chicken’s Sippin’ Whiskey ($59.99 SRP) from the band Whiskey Myers out just before. Hell House’s finish with oak staves shows as this is an over-oaked, wood-heavy whiskey where nuance is covered up by those staves. For fans of the band, the whiskey tributes the 50th anniversary of their debut album and is named after the cabin where they crafted many of their songs. Beloved Texas-based band Whiskey MyersUncle Chicken’s Sippin’ Whiskey is a straight bourbon whiskey that fares a bit better with “tailored wood finishing” and a warm body that exudes caramel oak balanced by grain.  Uncle Chicken Taste Rating: 3.5 / Hell House Taste Rating: 2.5


Ocean Organic Vodka


Distilled from over 30 varieties of organic sugar cane grown on an 80 acre farm in Kula, Maui, Ocean Organic Vodka ($30 SRP) is admirably distilled with solar power-assisted production, deep-sea mineral water and supports the Pacific Whale Foundation, protecting our oceans. Founder and Hawaiʻi native Shay Smith launched the vodka in 2006, working with distiller Bill Scott to gain USDA organic certification. It’s not an easy feat and for all these reasons, I wish I was more into the taste. It’s mineral and neutral, but otherwise a bit forgettable, not exactly showcasing sugarcane in its slightly hot neutrality. Still, it’s got a bracing backbone for cocktails and the brand’s values make it more worth supporting than most, even if the round, ball-shaped bottle is highly impractical for most backbars. Taste Rating: 3


Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength


You wouldn’t guess just-released Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength was 59% ABV ($49.99 SRP). It’s hot and robust, to be sure, but not as much as its scorching proof would suggest. Like its standard release last year, this blend of Irish whiskey and 76% corn bourbon is triple-distilled in a pot still, both whiskies aged over four years  and blended by Brian Nation, former master distiller at iconic New Midleton distillery of brands like Redbreast, Jameson, Redbreast and Midleton. The flavor profile unfolds with layers of black pepper, tobacco, stone fruit, caramel and vanilla.  Taste Rating: 4

Ready for another round? Visit Virginia’s website http://www.theperfectspotsf.com/wp02/for last month’s edition, plus personal recommendations on the best spots in cities around the world.