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:


• Mount Gay Eclipse Navy Strength Rum


Since 1703, Mount Gay is the oldest running rum distillery, located in Barbados. May 1, 2024, they launched a new limited-edition rum, Mount Gay Eclipse Navy Strength ($29.99), from master blender Trudiann Branker. Drawing on rum’s naval history, it’s a mix of rums aged two to four years. Though a bracing 57.1% ABV, the Eclipse is quite balanced, bold with banana, pineapple and chocolate without running cloying or too sweet. It has all the pleasing flavor of the original Eclipse in greater abundance, and holds up even better in cocktails with that higher proof. 
Taste Rating: 4

• Tso’Ok Rum


Tso’Ok Rum ($42 SRP) from  from NorCal’s Craft Distillers is another standout fresh sugarcane Oaxacan rum from the the remote Mixe mountain highlands in Mexico’s Sierra Norte. It has more in common with rhum agricole and cachaca than molasses rums. The flavor profile is grassy, green, fresh, fabulous, double-distilled from cane that is pressed, fermented with crushed stalks and wild yeasts.
Taste Rating: 4.5


Sausalito Liquor Co. Marin Coastal Gin


Sausalito Liquor Co. is a new brand from the idyllic, Mediterranean-esque, waterside town of Sausalito, gazing over San Francisco and the SF Bay. They produce three spirits: Marin Coastal Gin ($34.99), Unsinkable Bourbon, Unsinkable Rye. Founded by part-time local bartender and marketing exec, Scott Jampol, Marin Coastal Gin showcases local California citrus peel and foraged nori (seaweed), angelica seeds from nearby Santa Rosa, and two types of juniper. The citrus and juniper both come through strongly, with a hit of spice and saline worthy of Sausalito’s seaside location.
Taste Rating: 4


Balcones Mirador Eclipse Texas Single Malt Whisky


Since its early founding days formerly under Chip Tate, I haven’t kept up as much with Waco, Texas-based Balcones Distilling. But their latest release is the best I’ve tasted from the distillery since. Mirador Eclipse American Single Malt ($100 SRP; 55% ABV) is crafted by head distiller Jared Himstedt, a layered beauty showcasing two strains of yeast — red wine and rosé yeasts — with the house malt whisky yeast, aged in first, second and third-fill Kentucky bourbon casks. The bright, golden whiskey unfolds with floral, tropical fruit, almond, lemon and green-herbaceous notes.
Taste Rating: 4.5



Not a Celebrity Tequila 


Not A Celebrity Tequila ($40 SRP) is a sassy name and the basic, clean label hides a nicely crushable, additive-free tequila. Just released May 5, 2024, and distilled at Galindo distillery in Los Altos, Mexico, it’s an agave spirit cleanly and purely made from only agave and water. As clean as it is, the palate also has present notes of citrus, cooked agave, white pepper and a subtle but pleasantly present nuttiness. 
Taste Rating: 4


Gracias a Dios Mezcal Tobala and Tepextate


Distilled by maestro mezcalero Oscar Hernández Santiago in Santiago Matatlán, México, Gracias a Dios continues the tradition of distilling Oscar learned from his mother. Though he shreds their Karwinskii agaves mechanically with its tough fibers, their agaves are crushed by horse-drawn tahona, made with soul and rusticity. Gracias a Dios Tepextate is from 25-year-old wild agave, a mineral, citrus and tobacco-forward mezcal with hints of rubber. The 15-year-old wild Tobalá agave is my favorite of the two mezcals I tried from the line. Also funky with rubber, petrol notes and silky texture, the Tobalá exudes robust smoke that sings with lime, bell pepper and vegetal green notes.
Taste Rating: 3.5 (Tepextate) and 4 (Tobala)

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

Casalu Rum Seltzers


Latino-owned Casalú (meaning “welcome to our home”) is a rum-based seltzer that first launched in 2022 in Miami from co-founders Ricardo Sucre, Gabriel Gonzalez and Gustavo Darquea, who all met attending North Carolina State University. Going off the hard seltzer craze, these are rum sodas or sparkling rum seltzers that thankfully aren’t neutral like vodka soda or most flavored seltzers. The Limon tastes like lime and rum and the Maracuya like passionfruit and rum, both using añejo rum with fruit juice, organic agave and carbonated water.
Taste Rating: 4


Waterford Whisky Peated Cuvée “Fumo”


Another lovely release from terroir-and-grain-driven Waterford Whisky, their Peated Cuvée “Fumo” (50% ABV; $99.99 SRP) is part of a three-release whisky lineup that came out fall 2023. There are others in the Waterford line I dig more historically than the “Fumo”, featuring single malt from each of the peated single farms and vintages they’ve released to date. It’s a more subtle whisky that evokes figs, oak, caramel, chocolate and mushroom umami notes. It’s not super peaty, riding gentle on the smoke.
Taste Rating: 4


Jeptha Creed Six-Year Wheated Bourbon


Women-owned, ground-to-glass Jeptha Creed distillery just launched their 6-Year Wheated Bourbon ($59.99 SRP; 46.5% ABV) May 2, 2024. As a 2000-total-acres family farm run by a mother-daughter duo, they grow their own non-GMO heirloom varietal of Bloody Butcher corn, a nutty-sweet corn, blessedly rounded out by wheat. CEO/master distiller Joyce Nethery created a mashbill of 75% Bloody Butcher corn, 20% malted wheat and 5% malted barley, aged for six years. The whiskey exudes buttery, toasty notes, but also cinnamon, tobacco, cherry and cacao bringing layers. The wheat adds honey cereal warmth that rounds it out.
Taste Rating: 4


Aspen Vodka


Aspen Vodka (40% ABV; $29.99 SRP) is distilled, yes, in Aspen, Colorado, with a sustainability focus: renewable energy distillery, regenerative agriculture and non-GMO, pesticide-free, proprietary Colorado-grown red winter wheat. Sourcing from Roaring Fork River’s clean waters, the vodka is pure and as neutral as vodka lovers expect. But since I don’t consider neutrality a flavor, I thankfully get some of that red winter wheat coming through in its gentle grain profile with subtle white and black pepper notes. 
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.

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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.