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. Being the holidays, these spirits might also make ideal gifts. My 12 bottle picks of the month:


Tattersall Coconut Aquavit


I’ve been writing about Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis since they launched in 2015, namely for their winning aquavit (though I appreciate other spirits like their fernet). In December 2021 they opened their second distillery (restaurant, cocktail room, amphitheater, etc.) in River Falls, Wisconsin. Their brand new Tattersall Coconut Aquavit ($27.99) out November 2022 is just the kind of thing I wish for more of. The dry-yet-anise-sweet body of beautifully spiced, caraway-forward aquavit mingles happily with a subtle coconut backbone. The coconut is present but not heavy hitting, an ideal twist for cocktails and with flavors like pineapple and lime. Only available in five states (MN, WI, NE, MI, GA), this was a small batch experiment for years in their cocktail room, and the type of broadening I long to see for my beloved category of aquavit. Taste Rating: 4.5


Fast Penny Spirits Amaricano Amari


Seattle-based, woman-owned Fast Penny Spirits distills amaro in classic Italian-style but with Pacific Northwest grapes and over 45 organic botanicals. Amaricano Bianca won big in the New Orleans Spirits Competition presented by Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, which I blind judged in this summer, winning gold medal and best-in-category Liqueur of the Year. Both the Amaricano and the Bianca ($51.60 each) won gold medals, both sustainably-produced amari. They’re a little gentle, rounded out for us bitter hounds and longtime amaro fans, but this means they’re ideal intros to the category and more approachable crowd pleasers, without sacrificing taste. Amaricano Blanco runs sweet but not cloyingly so, exuding candied citrus, herbaceous notes, even saffron and chamomile. Americano offers more dark fruit, cocoa, cherry and subtle bitterness. Their Pretty Penny program contributes 3% of bottle revenues to elevate women locally and in the broader hospitality industry. Taste Rating Bianco: 4.5, Taste Rating Amaricano: 4 


Kopke 50 Year White & Tawny Port


I have fond memories traveling through wineries in Portugal’s Douro wine region with a longheld love of port, particularly aged white port, which we get so little of outside Portugal. Kopke is the oldest port wine house in Porto with a history that goes back to the 1600s. A new aged port category was established by the IDVP (Port and Douro Wines Institute) in 2021 and Kopke is the first house to release both a white and tawny 50-year-old, on retail shelves October 2022. Kopke 50-Year-Old Tawny Port ($290) is as gorgeous as you’d expect. It’s got all those nutty, woody notes, rolling out with figs, spice, even a hint of tobacco, and those rich, musty-deep layers this many decades gives. I adore the 50-Year-Old White Port ($190). In the city of Porto, I reveled in drinking 20-40 year aged white port in flights, and this elegant white port is in that vein: nutty as it is aromatic with stone fruit, whispers of spice, vanilla, citrus, salt. These are ideal holiday gifts and sips. Taste Rating: 5


Tanteo Tequila Navidad


Tanteo Tequila is the only business of its kind in tequila, a co-op owned by its agave farmers and community. From fair pay to zero waste, their policies are admirable and a model for all. Their regular blanco tequila is decent, while their jalapeno tequila — more fresh skins than heat — is their signature, stronger offering they started out with and more what they’re about alongside newer flavored tequilas. However, it’s their limited-edition, seasonal Tanteo Navidad ($59.99) that is the most unique. Navidad is an añejo tequila aged 18 months in American oak barrels, then infused with pequin peppers, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and cocoa beans. It’s a vibrant melange of spice and peppers with some heat and a long, lingering hit of cinnamon. It borders on too tannic and dry (and I live for dry). Though it could benefit from just a bit of rounding out, the flavor profile is a winner and they continue to sell out of each year. Another win: 10% of all Navidad profits benefit Un Salto Con Destino, providing essential medical services to Tanteo’s community in Mexico. Taste Rating: 4


Humboldt Distillery Organic Apple Brandy


Each bottle of Humboldt Distillery’s new Organic Apple Brandy ($29.99) is made from over 20 pounds of organic apples, making it an extremely limited (only 110 cases) release from this distillery near California’s Redwood Coast. Out late October 2022, the rare apple brandy is nevertheless approachable: dry, aromatic and apple-fresh. They source apples from local orchards like the College of the Redwoods’ Sustainable Agriculture Farm. A blend of brandies from barrels of different ages (2-5 years) uses mostly former bourbon barrels from Sonoma Distilling Company. Kudos for being certified organic and non-GMO with zero artificial colors or flavors. Would love to see this cocktail-friendly brandy part of their regular lineup, although the seasonal element is understandable.  Taste Rating: 4.5


Glenmorangie: A Tale of the Forest


Glenmorangie: A Tale of the Forest is a new limited edition release from the legendary Scotch brand. A Tale of the Forest launched October 24 as the first whisky crafted from barley kilned with woodland botanicals. Think juniper berries, birch bark, heather flowers, and, yes, a touch of peat. Their famed director of whisky creation, Dr. Bill Lumsden, was inspired by walks in the woods near his home, while Thai illustrator Pomme Chan created a striking, artful package and label, vivid with color. I’m a longtime Glenmorangie devotee, but must admit this isn’t my favorite. I’m also a gin fanatic and crazy about botanicals, so was eager to try this. The Scotch’s dry, mushroom-umami notes intrigue, but it’s almost too tannic, a balance issue I never experience with Glenmorangie. It’s intriguing as an experiment and unexplored frontier for Scotch, but I can’t say the botanicals are actually a big win with the whisky. However, it’s a fascinating exploration with gorgeous packaging.  Taste Rating: 3.5


• The Better Man Distilling Co.’s Apple-Forward Gin 


Founded by Anthony Gruppuso, grain-to-glass The Better Man Distilling Co. opened as “Long Island’s First Urban Craft Distillery” in 2019 in Patchogue Village. Fresh, hip packaging, a father-daughter family business (with Anothony’s daughter Abby) and tight team of head distiller Peter Cornillie and chemist Giulia Hamacher are the heart of the distillery and tasting room. They distill multiple gins, including Japanese gin-inspired Moonstruck Gin and purplish-blue Elysian Fields Lavender Gin, sourcing lavender from the North Fork of Long Island. I also appreciated Foghorn Yuzu Gin & Ginger Ale, even if I could use more of a hit of ginger and bright yuzu. But it’s their Red Horizon Apple Forward Gin, sourcing apples from upstate NY, that stood out. I’ve tasted (and judged) numerous apple-based gin and spirits well beyond apple brandies over the years and this is one of the better I’ve tasted. Released fall 2020, this seasonal gin showcases the happy pairing of apple and juniper, ideal in an apple martini or creative cocktails letting subtle apple blossom notes shine. Taste Rating: 4

• Long Road Distillers Sovereign Gin


Long Road Distillers has produced a standout gin since 2015, but their Old Aquavit in particular and regular, unaged aquavit, is maybe my top aquavit (a spirit I’ve long been crazy about) not just in the U.S., but the world. This fall they released Sovereign Gin, part of the growing butterfly pea flower or purple-blue gins flooding the market internationally. Naturally colored, it luges beautifully when tonic or other ingredients are added, but more importantly, the flavor profile is quality, as is everything Long Road does, leaning heavy on citrus. A botanical blend of juniper, lime and grapefruit peel, bay leaf, Thai basil and more backs up the tart, citrus-forward palate, while a pure violet hue is a visual treat.  Taste Rating: 4 


Cut Above Zero Proof Gin & Mezcal


I continue to value the growing non-alcoholic (NA) category, even as I struggle with the often thin, flat and watery body of many NA spirits. Unfortunately, I found that description apt for both the mezcal and gin NA spirits from Cut Above, created by artist Andrew Raul. Cut Above Zero Proof Gin ($34.99) is herbaceous with juniper oil, cardamom, Turkish rose, Mexican lime, Californian Lemon, Italian bergamot, angelica root and orange oils, but tastes far from gin with a light-but-herbaceous palate and watery body. The zero proof mezcal fares a bit better with a whisper of smoke and heat from chipotle pepper extract, supplemented by cubeb pepper extract and Persian lime oil, though the oil doesn’t add the body one would hope for. I hope they continue to hone Cut Above as there is promise here, if only these spirits didn’t just disappear when mixed with other ingredients in cocktails.  Taste Rating Gin: 2.5, Taste Rating Mezcal: 3

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

Nio Cocktails


NIO Cocktails refer to ‘Needs Ice Only,’ an Italian brand established in Milan in 2017 and a hit in Italy, UK and Germany. Now in the U.S. (starting with California in August 2022), these RTD cocktails are packaged in paper-thin, square boxes, a unique design with each cocktail in single-serve packets cut out of the top corner, easier to pour than you’d expect. Drinks are straightforward classics: a Ketel One Espresso Martini, Campari and Tanqueray Gin Negroni, Bulleit Bourbon and Cocchi Vermouth Manhattan and a Tommy’s Margarita, tributing SF’s legendary Tommy’s. The Margarita stood out with its vibrant lime and whisper of salt, but each drink suffered from being too sweet. Dialing back the sweetness (the Negroni was especially cloying) would have upped my rating, but I still went high knowing this is crowd-pleaser line with an original look and presentation.  Taste Rating: 3.5


• Bear Fight American Single Malt


Bear Fight American Single Malt Whiskey ($39.99) is bracing whiskey from “brand stakeholder and Chief Storyteller” (plus animator, filmmaker, comedian, voice actor), Seth MacFarlane, of Family Guy and American Dad! fame. It’s produced by Next Century Spirits in Raleigh, NC. I weary of the heavy flow of celebrity-backed spirits rolling out, each seeming more random than the last. But this is bracing, fun whiskey with subtle hoppy notes one sometimes finds in American Single Malt. It was released May 2022 (with McFarlane just announced as stakeholder in October 2022) in over 20 states. Bear Fight’s robust flavor profile, aged for a minimum of three years in first-fill bourbon barrels, then finished in peated-smoked oak and sherry casks, exudes meaty sherry, apples, pecans, wood, subtle peat and the aforementioned hops. MacFarlane quips, “There’s a lot of whiskey out there. So for me to put my name on it, you know it’s either great, or I’m getting paid a ton of money… Well, they’re paying me almost nothing which means Bear Fight is damn good whiskey.”  Taste Rating: 4

• 2022 Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


Angel’s Envy’s 11th 2022 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (59.9% ABV) finished in port wine barrels ($229.99) came out this fall with merely 16,980 bottles, a limited number for a larger brand. Selecting distinctive barrels in their rickhouse, then aging up to 14 additional months in port wine casks, this sought-after release highlights the continued demand for special cask strength American whiskies. I struggle with a bit of the heavy-handed tannins and bracing brown sugar-caramel sweetness, but this is tempered by warm notes of orange, apple, leather, spice, toasted oak and black pepper.  Taste Rating: 4

Ready for another round? Visit Virginia’s website 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.