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 picks of the month:


La Marielita 18 Year Rum 


Screenwriter and director Janet Diaz-Bonilla created a rum named after her screenplay, La Marielita, hailing her entrepreneurial spirit inspired by her grandfather. As the first Cuban-American woman founder of a rum brand, La Marielita 18 Year Rum is created in Panama where she met and connected with Cuban master blender Francisco José “Don Pancho” Fernández Pérez. Cuban American artist Humberto Benitez created the artistic label expressing their Cuban heritage. I value this story and the artwork, though I wish I could be more excited about the rum. There are some golden, vanilla, caramelized notes but mostly it runs sweet with a saccharine finish I struggle with. However, there are mid-palate notes that will please those who like sweeter rums. Taste Rating: 3


González Byass NV Viña AB 12 Años Amontillado Seco Palomino


Historic sherry producer from Jerez, Spain, González Byass’ Viña AB 12 years aged Amontillado sherry ($34.99) is not a new release. Using 100% Palomino grapes, it’s got that lovely warm nuttiness and oxidation I adore in the Amontillado style of sherry aged under flor. But my favorite style of sherry — if forced to choose — may be Fino sherry, due to its uber-dry, seafood friendly, daytime drinking qualities. This Amontillado feels like it has a kinship with Fino sherries. It’s more dry and light than many Amontillados, ideal with cheese, meats and, yes, seafood. It exude salty minerality and acidity, while limestone and stone fruit give this dry beauty bright life. Taste Rating: 4.5


Glendalough Rose Gin


Rose gins have been trending globally and Irish brand, Glendalough Rose Gin, just released their rose-petal gin in honor of their head distiller’s mother Rose, who recently passed away. They vapor distill wild roses from Rose’s garden and plants from mountains surrounding the distillery. Yes, it’s floral and robustly pink, but though very rose-forward, it’s balanced, delicate, fresh and the juniper (thankfully) comes through with a bright citrus note on the finish. It’s a strong entrant in the rose gin category. Taste Rating: 4


Torani Puremade Toasted Black Sesame Syrup


Normally, one wouldn’t think of longtime Italian-style syrup brand, Torani, as a cocktail source. While it’s most popular in cafés and coffees, the brand launched from a Lucca, Italy, immigrant family in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in 1925, now headquartered in nearby San Leandro. Lately, they have been releasing more interesting, creative flavors like salted egg yolk, but the latest, Torani Puremade Toasted Black Sesame Syrup, is their 2023 “Flavor of the Year.” I’ve long worked on making my own black sesame syrup at home from black sesame paste I find in SF’s Japantown. My syrup tastes great but clumps easily and is tough to get to syrup consistency for mixing and blending. While numerous bars nail housemade black sesame syrup, Torani just made home bartending with this beloved flavor much easier. I would appreciate a slightly earthier, nuttier tone to the syrup, but they do mostly keep the sweetness reigned in and most importantly, it tastes fully of black sesame and mixes seamlessly in cocktails. Taste Rating: 4.5


NON Everyday Non-Alcoholic Wines


Melbourne, Australia’s, NON non-alcoholic wines launched in the U.S. at the end of 2022 with three expressions in their “Everyday Set”: NON1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile; NON3 Toasted Cinnamon & Yuzu; and NON7 Stewed Cherry & Coffee, with more released since. Founder Aaron Trotman’s NA wines are already making waves on NA lists in fine dining restaurants like San Francisco’s Anomaly SF. While I continue to weary of caffeine in NA wines as a lifelong insomniac who can’t possibly drink such wines at night, NON7 is the only one of the three with coffee complimenting its cherry, dark chocolate, spice notes. Pink-hued NON1 exhibits chamomile’s tannins with subtle raspberry. NON3 is citrus-y and spiced with a welcome savory note. I’m curious to try more in the line and appreciate their fine-dining technique and ingredient approach with food pairings being a central component in honing their flavor profiles. Taste Rating: 4 to 4.5  


Morris Whisky Australian Single Malt Signature & Muscat Barrel Whiskies


Australia’s Morris Whisky was imported to the States by Hotaling & Co. in fall 2022 as the third Australian Whisky brand available in the U.S. They kicked off with two expressions: Australian Single Malt Signature Whisky and Australian Single Malt Muscat Barrel Whisky. Produced in Victoria, head distiller Darren Peck (who earned his chops under the tutelage of John McDougall of Springbank, Laphroig, Balvenie, etc.) uses 100% Australian malted barley, finished in fortified wine barrels, using filtered water from the Snowy Mountains. Both whiskies surprised me in their complexity, depth and gratifying finish. They’re aged a minimum of three years in Morris’ own cooperage wine barrels, since Morris started as — and still is — a family winery in 1859 in Rutherglen. Australian Single Malt Signature Whisky (44% ABV) is rich and dark without feeling heavy. It exudes dark berry, stone fruit, orange, bready notes with chocolate and brown sugar warming the finish. Australian Single Malt Muscat Barrel Whisky (48% ABV) evokes a different kind of sweetness (think dried figs, vanillans) with warm spices and a subtle earthiness. Both won gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards (where I am a judge) the past two years. While I prefer the signature whisky, both are welcome imports in the happily expanding Australian whisky category. Taste Rating: 4.5


Fort Point Beer Company’s Super Dry & Super Natural Rosé Ciders


Fort Point Beer Company is a popular San Francisco craft brewery that continues to grow and experiment with special releases. They started 2023 with a unique new release of Super Dry and Super Natural Rosé ciders, both made with 100% West Coast apples. While many breweries make ciders, these are wine-like ciders, the Super Dry being a lovely hit of acid and fruit, while the Super Natural will please rosé lovers with its fruit meets floral notes, balanced by dry, crisp acidity. In a sea of mediocre ciders, both of these truly stand out as food friendly ciders I’d be happy drink anytime. Taste Rating: 5


Khee “38” Premium Korean Soju


Khee Soju produces premium sojos in Korea with two different ABV levels. I prefer Khee “38” Premium Korean Soju to their soft, lower proof 22 soju. Though clean and elegant still, it’s more robust, bold and with a silkier texture. Rice comes through as the main flavor component, with a strong minerality due to mineral water drawn from 500 feet underground. The soju is rested for three months in Onggi earthenware before bottling with zero additives. Khee is female-owned from founder Eva Chow who collaborated with master soju maker Hwayo to create a pre-prohibition style of soju that is more nuanced than many industrial, mass produced sojus. It is one of the better I’ve ever tasted. Taste Rating: 4.5


Westward Whiskey Sauternes Cask


Westward Whiskey Sauternes Cask ($99.95, 45% ABV) is the latest from the Portland-based distillery, which has grown and honed over the years to become one of our more exemplary American whiskey distilleries. This latest release marries French winemaking with American Northwest whiskey, another Westward winner with a 14-month-finish in Bordeaux’s acclaimed late harvest Sauternes casks, unexpectedly dry and subtly earthy given the dessert wine cask factor. Floral, peach and tropical fruits hit, balanced by ginger spice, gentle whispers of tobacco, wood and nuts. I can continue to expect the Westward releases to stand out from a dearth of mediocre American whiskeys. Taste Rating: 4.5


Woody Creek Distillers Colorado 100% Potato Vodka


I’ve certainly tried Woody Creek Distillers‘ whiskies and vodkas since they first launched in 2013, including at drink events in Colorado. With sleeker bottling and evolution since the early days, I recently revisited the line and noted the textural quality of the vodka made from 100% Rio Grande Colorado-grown potatoes. Though bracing, it goes down silky with a clean, round body that will appeal to those seeking a quality craft, small batch vodka. 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.