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 10 bottle reviews of the month:

VERMOUTH

Five new vermouth expressions ñ†two by Silvio Carta and†three by†Mazzini by Silvio Carta ñ are on display†at the Silvio Carta U.S. launch event on Monday, April 29, 2024 in Brooklyn, NY. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Silvio Carta)

Silvio Carta Vermouths

www.silviocarta.it/en/products/wines

I was taken immediately with the entire line of just-arrived-in-the-U.S. Silvio Carta vermouths ($29.99 to $39.99 SRP) from Sardinian winemakers and distiller Elio Carta, whose father Silvio started the winery in the 1950s. Nationally acclaimed bar greats like True Laurel in San Francisco are already making cocktails with the vermouths. My top two are the Martini-ready, rosemary-and-orange-peel Vermouth Dry and the myrtle-sage-thyme-fennel-forward Vermouth Servito. But all five vermouths I tasted were winners, using 100% solar-powered production and completely hand-foraged Sardinian herbs from the family garden.
Taste Rating: 4 to 5

LIQUEURS

Chinola Mango , courtesy photot

Chinola Mango

https://chinola.com

Chinola Fresh Fruits Liqueur just launched Chinola Mango from 100% pure mango juice with a touch of passion fruit. The liqueur strikes rather perfect balance: it’s fleshy and ripe, yet not overly sweet. Its natural sweetness is what you’d hope for from a mango liqueur and tough to achieve. And though thicker than a typical liqueur, the body is still light with a welcome tartness, transporting you to the Dominican Republic where it is made.
Taste Rating: 4.5

GIN

• St. George Valley Gin

https://stgeorgespirits.com/spirits/valley-gin

Ever since St. George Spirits released their first three gins in 2011, it’s clear they are gin masters, on top of all the other spirits categories they’ve mastered since 1982 on the SF Bay Area island of Alameda (my 2015 Food Republic interview with St. George’s Lance Winters and Dave Smith). Just released June 2024, their new Valley Gin showcases California’s Central Valley citrus groves, like family-run Lindcove Ranch. The beauty of this layered gin is that it’s a gin first with herbaceous elements still present in the background, but the star is citrus in its fresh and blossom forms. For me, it’s hard to top the only-gin-of-its-kind in the world: St. George Terroir Gin, which I’d dub iconic. But this newcomer is up there. In fact, it smells and tastes like breezing through orange orchards in blossom season. Like Terroir, it’s a true California experience… a gin with a sense of (excuse the wordplay) terroir and soul. So very St. George.
Taste Rating: 5

Kapriol gin, courtesy photo

• Kapriol Gins

www.dallaterra.com/producer/kapriol-gin

Just arriving in the States for the first time in May 2024, Kapriol Gin Artigianiale Italiano is distilled at Distilleria dell’Alpe in Italy’s Veneto. The entire Kapriol Gin line ($35 each) — a Dry, Old Tom, Grapefruit & Hibiscus, Sloe Gin — is immediately impressive. The distillery was started in 1948 by Fernuccio di Bernard in an alpine hillside village, then purchased by the grappa and prosecco-producing Maschio family in 2002. The gins were launched in Italy in 2016 from master distiller Alessandro Maschio, now run with his son Francesco. The Sloe Gin is unexpectedly dry, fresh, lean. Up there in the world of sloe gins. The Old Tom is the best Old Tom I’ve had in years: original, balanced and showcasing the botanicals. In a way, it’s my favorite of the whole line. But the grapefruit hibiscus gin is another surprise: fresh, acidic, bright. It’s killer in G&Ts and other cocktails. In a way, the mainstay Dry gin or London Dry style is the least best. It’s still very good, but it has endless competitors in the world. The other three do not at this high quality level.
Taste Rating: 4 to 4.5

TEQUILA

• Cambio Blanco and Reposado Tequila

https://cambiotequila.com

Additive-free Cambio Tequila was just released June 2024 in partnership with ZB Distillery (Mexico’s NOM 1605). Trying their Blanco ($49.99) and Reposado ($59.99) Highlands  tequilas, founder/CEO John des Rosiers’ 30 years as a chef and sommelier experience clearly drive the barrel finishing and 10-step “Método Refinado” refined method. Steps include extremely low temperatures for cooking the agave to bring out more delicate aromatics and double distillation in copper pot stills at Distillery Empresa Ejidal Tequilers de Amatitá. The Blanco is my preference, less the kind of bright, green tequila I love most, but still pleasing. With a fermentation process that includes a unique process of tanks lined with American white oak and Mexican pine, wood peeks out with butterscotch alongside tropical and stone fruit notes. The Reposado is a bit too woody for me, with not enough agave coming through compared to barrel notes of caramel and spices. But Cambio is a different take on tequila for those who lean to the woodier side.
Taste Rating: 3-4

Alma de Jaguar Blanco 101

• Alma del Jaguar 101 Proof Tequila

www.almadeljaguar.com/tequilas

Additive-free Alma del Jaguar has done it again, this time with their 101 Proof Tequila (my review of their blanco here). I loved their blanco and focus on preserving wild jaguars and their habitats in the U.S. and Mexico. NOM 1414’s Sergio Vivanco, master distiller Sergio Cruz and president of the International Tequila Academy, Adam Fodor, have done it again with their first still-strength tequila, Nocturna. 100% wild yeast imparts that nutty rusticity I love so dearly in the best agave spirits, while the 101 proof takes a tequila I already appreciated — green, nutty, earthy — and imparts even more soul and body. A perfect blanco tequila and rare 5 stars for me.
Taste Rating: 5

RUM

Club Kokomo Spirits rum portfolio

Club Kokomo

https://clubkokomospirits.com

I must admit: Club Kokomo Spirits were better than I thought they’d be, as a seemingly kitschy release from Mike Love, co-founder of The Beach Boys, and his son, Brian (I reviewed their RTDs/ready-to-drink canned cocktails here). They also released three new rums, distilled in San Diego and blended by distiller Geoff Longenecker. Artisanal White is the best of the line, a traditional Jamaican pot still-style rum with tropical melon and mango notes but a drier finish. The Barrel Finished rum is my least favorite, not because it’s too sweet, but because I find it indistinct and a bit muddied in flavors for an eight-year-aged rum. Tahitian Vanilla Rum was better than I expected, not being a fan of flavored rums. It’s dry, not sweet and the vanilla is subtle.
Taste Rating: 3 to 4

RTDs (Ready-to-Drink/Canned or Bottled Drinks)

Traverse City Old Fashioned & Cherry Old Fashioned

www.tcwhiskey.com

Traverse City Whiskey Co. launched in 2015 from Chris Frederickson, Jared Rapp and Moti Goldring. With roughly eight servings per 375ml bottle, the popular Michigan distillery just launched their Old Fashioned Cocktail and Cherry Old Fashioned Cocktail RTDs. In a black bottle, the Old Fashioned ($29.99) is their 6-year-old Bourbon, simple syrup, bitters and citrus, heavy on the whiskey with oak, spice and orange notes. In a white bottle, the American Cherry Edition Whiskey ($19.99) is the same whiskey with cherries, simple syrup, bitters and citrus. It’s uber-cherry-forward and sweet without being cloying. These are worthy pre-bottled Old Fashioneds for regular drinkers of the classic cocktail.
Taste Rating: 4

AMERICAN WHISKEY

• HighWire Distilling Co. Jimmy Red Bourbon, Jimmy Straight Bourbon and AbruzziRye Tawny Port Cask Whiskey

https://highwiredistilling.com

I interviewed High Wire Distilling Company husband-and-wife founders Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall from Charleston in 2018, so it’s good to taste their latest whiskies. Featuring unique Jimmy Red corn, their bourbons are vibrant and memorable, especially the bottled-in-bond 100 proof bourbon (4.5 rating) with its dark chocolate, cherry and baking spice notes. More vanilla and maple reduces the straight bourbon to 4 stars for me, though its bold spice and grain notes still make this a quality bourbon. The tawny port cask-finished rye whiskey is my least favorite (3.5), despite being more of a rye lover. But it’s still good, with a drier take on port’s sweetness and gentle white pepper notes.
Taste Rating: 3.5 to 4.5

Penelope Tokaji 8 Year On the Rocks

• Penelope Whiskey

https://shop.penelopebourbon.com/products/architect-series

From Penelope Whiskey founder Michael Paladini and cofounder/master blender Daniel Polise, Penelope Architect Build 10 (52% ABV; $65 SRP), Toasted Bourbon Batch 24-301 and Barrel Strength Batch 18 (51% ABV; $65 SRP) are architecture-inspired whiskies in collaboration with France’s Tonnellerie Radoux, a barrel manufacturer that uses French oak staves and state-of-the-art OakScan® process to build desired flavor profiles. Blended from three bourbon mashbills aged in new American oak barrels, each of these whiskies are uncut and non-chill-filtered. All three are intense and booze-forward. I found the Architect Build 10 the standout, with nuance to contrast its bold profile. While the Toasted Bourbon runs a too hot, the Barrel Strength Batch 18 does, too, yet the finish exudes a pleasing integration of barrel and mashbill. All three are for cask strength bourbon fans.
Taste Rating: 3 to 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.

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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.