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:


Veso Bitter Citrus and Alpine Aperitif


In 2021, I wrote about a high quality new vermouth/aperitif line coming out of my home city of San Francisco, Veso. Founder Chris Beyer is back for the first time since the initial two aperitifs with new limited releases, again made with locally-sourced ingredients: organic fruits, California wine and spirits from Napa. These are ready-to-drink and perfect on the rocks but can be mixed, although you wouldn’t want to mask the goodness here. Bitter Citrus is the most versatile, its grapefruit and bitter orange peel, gentian root bitterness undergirded by smooth 2021 Gruner Veltliner from Edna Valley, CA. You’ll find the bitter, citrus-y elements you love in Campari, but naturally and lower proof. Alpine, with the same Gruner wine base, is what I hoped for. This aperitif wins in a Negroni or a low proof Daiquiri with its herbaceous botanical blend of juniper, rosemary, grapefruit peel, black pepper, cardamom and fennel.  Taste Rating: 4.5 each


Ology Distilling Co. Single Barrel Golden Rum


I must admit, between the too-sweet-sounding bottle description to zero info on their website (more on their Facebook page), I was not expecting much from Ology Distilling Co. Single Barrel Golden Rum (51% ABV), which showed up on my “desk” this month from a small Florida distillery. Listed as fermented, distilled and bottled in Tallahassee, using single origin Grade A Fancy Molasses from Guatemala, I was pleased to find this a bold, not-too-sweet molasses rum with nice funk and hogo, exuding overripe pineapple and banana notes that just sing in cocktails. I found a little more on their team here in a local paper, curious if this rum signifies the taste balance in their other spirits.   Taste Rating: 4


• Alma Del Jaguar Tequila Blanco


Alma Del Jaguar Tequila ($49.99 SRP) was released May 2023 by Morningside Brands, Inc., a 100% blue weber agave tequila sustainably produced, down to the bottling and packaging, certified additive free. It was developed in part to protect wild jaguars by master distiller Sergio Cruz, tequila expert Adam Fodor, fifth generation Arandas tequila family, the Vivancos, and spirits entrepreneur McCauley Williams, tributing his wildlife photographer uncle Rick Williams’ commitment to wild jaguar conservation in northern Mexico. The agaves are grown on the tequila highlands Vivanco estate (approximately 6,800 feet in Los Altos de Jalisco), known for its iron-rich soil. The tequila is green, nutty, earthy and rustic, with 80% of the blend being tequila fermented from natural wild yeast, the remaining 20% fermented from champagne yeast from France. The latter adds a subtle elegance and balance to the welcome rusticity and peppery minerality of this blanco, which tastes fabulous on its own as it does in cocktails. I was surprised how much I fell for this tequila. Admirably, the company donated roughly $15k worth of trail cameras, computer hardware and work gear to support the biologists and team of uncle Rick’s Northern Jaguar Project and Reserve. I’ve only tried the blanco but they have a reposado and an anejo on the way.  Taste Rating: 4.5

• Maverick Distilling Agave Blanco & Agave Reposado


Any tequila made outside of Mexico can’t bear the name tequila, hence the slew of agave spirits from the U.S. and beyond, sometimes distilled from actual agave plants, often from agave syrup or “nectar.” San Antonio-based Maverick Distilling — also a brewery and tasting room bar — distills 100% Blue Agave nectar for their Maverick Agave Blanco ($40) and Agave Reposado ($75). Founder Dr. Kenneth Maverick was part of early Federal discussions to define American-style agave, leading Maverick to be the first U.S. distillery approved for producing agave spirits. As I consult in tequila in Mexico, and have long judged all agave spirits, including American agave, in countless spirits judging competitions, I can strongly taste the difference when distilled from nectar or syrup. The “juice” is thinner, with less depth, often lacking those herbaceous, green layers I adore in a blanco or added subtle nuttiness in reposado. There is vanilla and green fruit in both Mavericks, with a little wood on the reposado. Though I appreciate their packaging design, I also find the spirits lacking in complexity so they dissipate quickly in cocktails. I want to support agave spirits being made outside Mexico, but given the intense agave plant shortage, I would hope for them to be exceptional, but did not experience that here.  Taste Rating: 2.5


Ryukyu Awamori Zanpa White


Indigenous to Okinawa, Japan, awamori is often distilled from rice. But in the case of Ryukyu Awamori Zanpa White (24% ABV), it’s distilled from grain. Produced by Higa Brewery, founded in 1948, the nose is warm with grain, but the palate is silky, bright, light with ripe but subtle fruit— and almost a bubble gum sweetness. It’s fun, lilting and easy to drink.  Taste Rating: 3.5


• StilL 630 Confluence American Gin


As a blind (and lead) judge for 12 years at ADI’s (American Distilling Institute) International Craft Distilling competition, St. Louis-based StilL 360 won the coveted “best in class” of all gold and double gold-awarded gins this year. Last year I interviewed distiller David Weglarz on his Experimental Spirits Program, but tasting Confluence American Gin on my own time and trying it in varying styles of cocktails, I can see why we felt so strongly about it blind. Its savory, herbaceous profile is thanks to standout botanicals like pink peppercorn, galangal root and my beloved horseradish, as their distillery is a short 20 minute drive from Collinsville, IL, the “Horseradish Capital of the World.” Citrus pepper notes come through, while the gin’s subtle savoriness beautifully complements its rounded, herbaceous, texturally silky mouthfeel.  Taste Rating: 4.5

• Dyfi Welsh Gin


Dyfi Distillery (pronounced “dovey”) just launched U.S. importation of their precision-distilled Welsh gin ($69.99 SRP) featuring botanicals hand-foraged from the only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve near the distillery in Wales. Created by brothers Pete and Danny Cameron (Danny is the master blender), the focus is on the ecological significance of the Dyfi Valley using 28 native plant species with a heavy hit of wildflowers, herbs and berries. While grassy, floral, berry notes certainly do come through, there is an oddly dominant toasted puffed grain flavor I can’t escape each time I come back to it. It’s not unpleasant at all, but looking through their helpful botanical list on the website’s “fact sheet,” I can’t figure out where that is coming from. The body is thinner than other gins I was tasting side-by-side next to it, but does mean it’s nicely dry.  Taste Rating: 3.5


Mahala Botanical


Mahala Botanical is a new non-alcoholic, triple distilled spirit made in South Africa by distiller Danielle Schoeman, with a “farm to glass” approach. I tried only the Classic version, not Amber (which features chili, wood and honeybush botanicals), and with such a small sample, only had enough to try it in one cocktail. From custom built stills to nine hand-sourced botanicals to striking packaging, it’s clear this is a thoughtful NA product. Clove, cardamom, pepper notes interplay with floral and citrus aromas. The body is thin and watery, as most NA spirits suffer from, but given its sharper, vibrant flavor profile, it stood up well in the citrus-based cocktail I tried it in.  Taste Rating: 4


Spearhead Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Just launched in the U.S. June 16, 2023 (initially released in 2021 in Europe), Spearhead Single Grain Scotch Whisky ($35 SRP; 43% ABV) is unexpectedly good Scotch at a low price point, with liquid coming from the excellent Loch Lomond Distillery. Distilled on a Coffey still, Spearhead is the only whisky in Scotland made with an infrared toasting process (30% infrared with 70% traditional barrel toast), highlighting different flavor profiles to appeal to both Irish and American whiskey lovers. The finely controlled infrared toasting results in honeyed caramel and toffee notes, dark chocolate and a balanced whisper of smoke. Intended for cocktails, to drink neat or as a “Spear & Beer” (their take on a boilermaker: whisky with beer), it’s surprisingly nuanced and a steal for the price.  Taste Rating: 4


Poli Negroni Cocktail


Poli Distillerie is one of Italy’s all-time greats and can do no wrong in my book. Set in the dreamy village of Bassano del Grappa (my visit there in 2013), Jacopo Poil’s grappas are among the best in history. But I also adore their vermouths, gin and beyond. Their newest RTD/ready-to-drink bottled Poli Negroni is lower proof than the usual (25% ABV) and nicely floral with an approachable bitterness and herbaceous glow from a blend of their gorgeous Gran Bassano Rosso vermouth, Marconi 42 gin with Super Taurus bitter. It’s lovely chilled or over ice with orange peel.  Taste Rating: 4.5


• Benjamin Chapman 7-Year Small Batch Whiskey

Released by Sonoma’s, 3 Badge Beverage Corporation, Benjamin Chapman 7-Year Whiskey ($39) is a budget-friendly whiskey blend of 51% 10-Year Canadian Rye and 49% 7-Year Canadian Prairie Wheat, aged in white oak casks. The distiller is undisclosed, while their Benjamin Chapman 4-Year Corn ($36), which I haven’t tasted, is produced in the U.S. Their Canadian 7 year blend has a roundness as one would expect from column-distilled whiskey, but it’s also robust, borderline hot at first sip, with a heavy hit of cherry, rye spice, caramel and maple syrup. Wood/oak lingers on the finish but isn’t too tannic. While it’s not exactly refined, it’s also not weak and fits in the good value whiskey and whiskey for cocktails category.  Taste Rating: 3

• Westward Whiskey Two Malts Rye 2023


Released May 2023 exclusively via the Westward Whiskey Club from the beloved Portland, OR, distillery, Westward Whiskey Two Malts Rye (2023) is master blender Miles Munroe’s second release in their ‘Two Malts’ innovation series, playing off their 2019 Two Malts Rye with 10% malted rye. Distilled in July 2018, this 2023 Two Malts Rye ups the malted rye to 12% with 88% Pacific Northwest grown and malted barley. Even that small a percentage shifts the whiskey to brighter citrus and candied fruit notes, undergirded by nuttiness and rye spice. The grain really shines, leaving a golden, peppery finish in its wake. Another winner from better-than-ever Westward.  Taste Rating: 4.5

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. 

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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, Liquor.com, 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.