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:
• BroVo Uncharted Rhapsody American Forest Liqueur
BroVo Uncharted Rhapsody American Forest Liqueur is a game-changing new liqueur that falls somewhere between herbaceous genepy/genepi and green Chartreuse. Given the Chartreuse shortage these days, this is a big win for bartenders and us decades-long Chartreuse devotees. I’ve been a BroVo fan since they launched in 2011 with a line of liqueurs only featuring grown-in-the-ground, plant ingredients, on to their pioneering American amari they co-created with bartenders in various U.S. cities. They’ve been working some years on alpine liqueurs but recently released BroVo Uncharted Rhapsody American Forest Liqueur. Showcasing their home turf Pacific Northwest terroir, they painstakingly made Uncharted Rhapsody with 50 ingredients and a multi-stage solera process. It’s a silky, herbal winner that shines in classic Chartreuse cocktails, from a Last Word to modern-day Chartreuse Swizzle.
Taste Rating: 5
• Alma Finca Orange Liqueur
Launched September 2023, Alma Finca Orange Liqueur ($34.99 SRP) is a new standout in the orange liqueur/curacao/Cointreau category due to 100% fresh ingredients from the Yucatan Peninsula, considered Mexico’s citrus capital. Harvested by a cooperative of local farmers in the town of Oxkutzcab, Alma Finca is distilled by distiller/co-founder Iván Saldaña. Persian lime leaves, sweet and bitter orange peels, citrus blossoms and local spices give it layers and complexity, the liqueur’s natural sweetness balanced by a hint of bitterness, spice and florality. It’s a shoo-in for a Margarita and many other cocktails besides.
Taste Rating: 4.5
Towari Honkaku Shochu
As Japan’s best-selling spirit, shochu continues to rise in popularity globally (my 2019 The Bold Italic article on the early days of its renaissance in the Western world). This koji yeast (koji fermentation is behind sake, soy sauce, miso, mirin, etc.) spirit can be made from rice, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, brown sugar, even carrots, chestnuts, sesame seeds, or shiso leaves. Towari Honkaku Shochu is one of my favorites I’ve tasted all year — and I regularly judge shochu among all other spirits in global competitions. It’s a unique 100% soba (buckwheat) shochu made with soba koji instead of more common rice or barley koji. The tough exterior of buckwheat kernels make it much harder to work with, thus its rarity. But the result here is, yes, pure buckwheat, nutty, savory, black olive, leather notes and a blast of peanut buttery-black sesame. It’s intriguing with each sip.
Taste Rating: 4.5
Edinburgh Gin Classic
Edinburgh Classic Gin (SRP $30) is classic London Dry gin with whispers of contemporary gin that speaks to terroir. Distilled at The Biscuit Factory Distillery in Leith, Edinburgh, fourteen botanicals range from aromatic pine buds and lavender to fruity mulberries and citrus. It may not be overly memorable or standout among the endless gins of the world, but it’s cocktail friendly and affordable, making it a great value gin.
Taste Rating: 3.5
Creador Agave Spirits
Creador Agave Spirits represents independent family producers who have little or no representation outside of their local markets or villages in the ever-fascinating world of mezcal where, as I learned traveling around the amazing Mexican state of Oaxaca over a decade ago, everyone makes mezcal, from home stills to distilleries. Creador helps producers make the transition to full-time production with fair pricing and distribution. I sampled five mezcals, all produced and bottled in 2021, each small batch, ranging from a mere 129 to 764 bottles each. The Lumbre mezcal is green, vegetal and bright. The Mexicano exudes toasted chipotle pepper, while the Lumbre Espadin is earthy and green. My two favorites are the cigarette ash and slate of the Jabali mezcal and roasted agave and toasted woody notes of the Espadin Capon.
Taste Rating: 4-5
Curious Elixirs canned and bottled NA cocktails
Founder JW Wiseman started Curious Elixirs eight years ago before the NA (non-alcoholic) trend really kicked off. I’m all about the collaboration creation with a team of bartenders, food scientists and herbalists using herbs, juices, spices, roots and botanicals. While some of the eight drinks thus far certainly work better than others, the flavor profile ambition here makes me happy, as they’re inspired by everything from a citrusy spritz (the #4 Sicilian Spritz using blood orange, green mandarin, white grape, Amer, ginseng, rhubarb root, holy basil, turmeric) to classic Tiki cocktail, the Painkiller (#6 Coconut Oatmilk Painkiller with coconut, pineapple, lemon balm, nutmeg, aloe). The drinks contain anti-inflammatory, immunity-booster or antioxidant-rich ingredients, while the minimalist-but-chic packaging stands out.
Taste Rating: 3-4.5
• Laneta Tequila Blanco and Extra Anejo
LANETA Tequila’s dramatic tall bottles with diamond-like agave bottle stopper (that poked through their box tops in shipment) certainly stand out. In fact, Laneta seems to be all about the bottle. I tried both the Blanco ($90 SRP) and Extra Anejo ($125), contract-distilled by Case Maestri. While the double distilled blanco does show some fresh, subtly vegetal, green agave notes I crave in a blanco, the vanilla is, as is too often the case, a little too much, evoking additive. While Extra Anejo thankfully restrains the tannins and wood, it still dominates with caramel, chocolate and vanillans. They’re both certainly drinkable but hard to justify for the price point.
Taste Rating: 3
• La Pulga Tequila Anjeo
La Pulga’s new Añejo Tequila ($74.99 SRP) was released late August 2023. Aged 18 months in ex-bourbon barrels in the Highlands of Jalisco from a Fort Worth-based company, it’s certified additive-free and celebrates Mexico and Texas’ cowboy and Western cultures from design to style. It’s a delightful sip, crazy-rich with apple and earth, almost like a Calvados apple brandy meets an anejo tequila. Clearly, it’s fruity, spiced and toasty, but only some sweet roasted agave notes in the mix let me know it’s even a tequila, otherwise I’d rate it’s unique flavor profile higher.
Taste Rating: 3.5
Glengoyne 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Glengoyne 12 Year Old Scotch (43% ABV) is one of those balanced sherry cask single malt whiskies I always crave. At this price point ($64.99 SRP) it’s a real deal for its classic Highlands profile of contrasting sherry nuttiness and citrus, toffee and apples, ginger spice and subtle oak. A winner all around.
Taste Rating: 4.5
Liquid Alchemist has been a gift in the mixers realm ever since it launched in 2009 from founder Randy Tarlow. Many Tamarindo or Grenadine syrups are imbalanced, Coconut and Passionfruit syrups too sweet, Orgeats (almond rose water syrup) are too saccharine and fake-tasting, Ginger or Prickly Pear syrups aren’t vibrant enough. Recently experimenting in cocktails with these particular syrups in the Liquid Alchemist line, each is exemplary or among the best syrups out there in those flavors, from quality ingredients to shelf life and mixability in cocktails.
Taste Rating: 4 to 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.