Esquire Includes Tamworth Distilling’s Saison de Frai

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2023 was another big year for spirits releases. Tequila didn’t stop exploding in popularity, and it seemed like a few new brands launched every month. Some were celebrity-backed money grabs, while others were made with traditional methods and additive-free, something that consumers are becoming more aware of. In American whiskey, Maker’s Mark released its oldest bourbon to date, and both large and craft distilleries continued to experiment with cask finishes (although there’s at least one barrel type that should be left alone). Irish whiskey, single malt and blended scotch, rum, cognac all welcomed exciting new expressions, and there was even an American-made rye whiskey amaro and a barrel-aged limoncello that hit the market.

We’ve put together a list of the best spirits of 2023 in a variety of categories, from whiskey to cognac to mezcal. We selected these spirits based first and foremost on flavor, but took into consideration their availability and pricing as well. That being said, if an expensive limited-edition whiskey stood out, it made the list; and if a bottom-shelf budget bottle blew us away, it secured a spot as well. Try a few of these (or all of them), and raise a glass to another banner year of good spirits.


green river wheated bourbon

Green River

Green River Wheated Bourbon

Expensive, limited-edition whiskeys get a lot of attention, but this new bourbon from Kentucky’s Green River Distilling Co. is an affordable and easy to find bottle that is worth a spot on your shelf. Green River has a long history, but has only been around for a few years in its current iteration (it was acquired by Bardstown Bourbon Company in 2022). This wheated bourbon joined the high-rye expression in the lineup this year, offering a softer, sweeter take with more than 20 percent wheat in the mashbill. It’s bottled at 90 proof, which dials up the flavor to reveal notes of caramel, vanilla, and stone fruit. If you’re looking for something new to compare to other classic wheaters like Maker’s Mark (or even Pappy Van Winkle), this bourbon is for you.

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old forester 117 series bourbon

Old Forester

Old Forester 117 Series: Bottled in Bond

Old Forester is known for its affordable, no-frills bourbon, but it also releases some special bottles from time to time. We’re not talking about Birthday Bourbon, an annual release that is up there with Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or Pappy as far as its collectibility. The 117 Series launched a few years back, and while these bottles are initially priced affordably you’ll likely find this one for well above its $60 SRP. Still, it’s an impressive bottled-in-bond bourbon (that designation means it’s at least four years old, exactly 100 proof, and the product of one distillery and one distillation season). This is classic Old Forester bourbon with an extra boost of ABV and age, with notes of vanilla, maple, and brown sugar.

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maker's mark cellar aged

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged

Another wheated bourbon on the list this year is a unique and truly remarkable expression from Maker’s Mark. Typically, the distillery’s bourbon is about six to seven years old, but the barrels used for this release were moved to a climate-controlled cellar for another five to six years, making this 11-year-old bourbon the oldest to date from Maker’s Mark. Specifically, this release is a blend of 87 percent 12-year-old whiskey and 13 percent 11-year-old whiskey bottled at cask strength of 115.7 proof, and the result is one of the best whiskeys we tried this year. Cellar Aged is another whiskey for which you should be prepared to pay a few hundred dollars on the secondary market, but if you’ve got some cash to spare you will not be disappointed.

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pinhook collaboration series 2


Pinhook Collaboration Series 2

This whiskey was an unexpected surprise, a collaboration between Pinhook Bourbon and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver. Pinhook Collaboration Series 2 is a blend of 20 barrels produced at Still Austin in Austin, Texas that were aged for four years. This bourbon is proof of just how good the whiskey coming out of that small Texas distillery is, not to mention Oliver’s and Pinhook master blender Sean Josephs’ skill at coming up with a high-quality release. Pinhook sources and contract distills all of its bourbon and rye, with some interesting vertical and vintage releases in the mix, but this whiskey stands out above the rest.

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Cask Finished Whiskey

bardstown bourbon co amaro nonino collaboration series

Bardstown Bourbon Co.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Amaro Nonino Collaboration Series

Bringing together Amaro Nonino and bourbon makes perfect sense–the two are core ingredients of the Paper Plane cocktail, after all. This release is a blend of 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon and six- and seven-year-old rye whiskey distilled in Indiana (just three barrels total) that was finished in Amaro Nonino Riserva casks for an additional 17 months. This whiskey is unlike anything you’ve tried before, with that unique finish adding floral botanical notes to the bourbon’s intrinsic sweetness and the baking spice of the rye.

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wild turkey master’s keep voyage

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Voyage

Wild Turkey isn’t really known for cask-finished whiskey–it’s famous for its affordable 101-proof bourbon, a cultural as well as liquid icon. But the Master’s Keep lineup is where master distiller Eddie Russell gets to spread his whiskey wings and try out different concepts, and this year’s Voyage was one of the best in the series to date. The liquid itself sounds pretty simple–ten-year-old bourbon finished in rum casks from Jamaican distillery Appleton Estate (both are owned by Campari). But this bourbon sings with flavor, an amazing example of a well-balanced and smartly-timed cask finish that all begins with high-quality ingredients.

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2xo gem of kentucky


2XO Gem of Kentucky

Dixon Dedman made his name by reviving his family’s Kentucky Owl whiskey brand, releasing limited-edition batches of bourbon and rye whiskey that commanded high prices and acclaim. He left after the brand was acquired by Stoli Group a few years ago, but has returned with the new 2XO. That name refers to the fact that the whiskeys are given a secondary maturation, and Gem of Kentucky is the best release so far. This high-rye bourbon spent up to an additional year in new charred oak barrels before bottling–that can often overpower a whiskey, but in this case it works. Expect a big, bold bourbon filled with notes of smoky oak, black pepper, and baking spice, inside a sleek black bottle that will look great on your home bar.

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high n’ wicked "the jury"

High N’ Wicked

High N’ Wicked “The Jury”

When it comes to American whiskey, madeira is not a cask finish you often come across. But High N’ Wicked is a brand that likes to explore the uncommon, and The Jury is a stellar example of how an unconventional cask finish can yield great results. This is a 14-year-old low-rye Tennessee whiskey that was finished for a year in ex-Tinta Negra Madeira barrels, a sweet Portuguese fortified wine. The whiskey is a dark ruby color, and the palate explodes with dried and fresh fruits, an array of baking spices, and deep oak and vanilla flavors. The Jury is bottled at cask strength of 104 proof and is non-chill filtered.

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Barrel Proof Whiskey

elijah craig barrel proof c923

Elijah Craig

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C923

This year was a good year for barrel-proof whiskey from major distilleries. Barrel proof means whiskey that has not been diluted before bottling to lower the ABV, and it’s often said that it’s the closest thing to drinking whiskey right out of the cask (unless you’re in an actual warehouse). Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, from Kentucky’s Heaven Hill, comes out three times per year, and the third batch released this September was a winner. Heaven Hill announced that it was removing the 12-year-old age statement from this whiskey earlier this year, with each release now fluctuating from batch to batch. C923 clocked in at 13 years and seven months old and 133 proof, a powerful but very flavorful whiskey.

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booker’s batch


Booker’s Batch 2023-03, “Mighty Fine Batch”

This barrel-proof bourbon comes from the James B. Beam Distilling Co., and is part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection along with Baker’s, Basil Hayden, and Knob Creek. Booker’s also comes out in batches, three to four times per year, each one with minor differences in age, proof, and flavor–but pretty consistently of very high quality. Mighty Fine Batch was named after praise that the late master distiller Booker Noe would give to a whiskey sample he liked, and this 126.6 proof bourbon aged for just over seven years was one of the best to come from this label in a long time.

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Aspirational Bottles

russell’s reserve single rickhouse camp nelson f

Russell’s Reserve

Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F

Russell’s Reserve is the smaller batch label from Wild Turkey, and happens to be one of the great values in bourbon and rye whiskey with its affordable age statement and single barrel expressions. Over the past few years, Russell’s has gotten into the aspirational whiskey game, releasing high-priced bourbons that, while delicious, sell out immediately for well beyond their asking prices. This year’s Single Rickhouse release was one of these, a fantastic bourbon batched from barrels aged in one single rickhouse on the Wild Turkey campus. Good luck finding a bottle, but you will be extremely happy if you do.

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four roses 2023 limited edition small batch bourbon

Four Roses

Four Roses 2023 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon

Four Roses is unique among Kentucky distilleries in that it uses two mashbills and five yeast strains to create ten different recipes that it blends together for its bourbons. Once a year, LE Small Batch is released, and this year’s bourbon, created by master distiller Brent Elliott, was superb. Whiskey up to 25 years old was included in this blend of just three of the Four Roses recipes, revealing deep notes of vanilla, butterscotch, cooked apple, and black pepper. You’re gonna need a lot of cash and time for whiskey hunting to find this bottle, so happy hunting.

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Rye Whiskey

jack daniels bonded rye

Jack Daniel’s

Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye

Jack Daniel’s doesn’t really need to make anything other than its classic Old No. 7, but over the past few years the distillery has come up with a bunch of new whiskeys to add to its portfolio–and that’s a very good thing. A few years ago a rye whiskey joined the family, the first new mashbill to be made at the distillery. That is being retired and replaced by this bigger, better, bottled-in-bond rye–100 proof, a minimum of four years old, and spicy while still retaining those signature Jack Daniel’s banana and fruit notes.

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hard truth high road sweet mash rye

Hard Truth

Hard Truth High Road Sweet Mash Rye

MGP makes the most rye in Indiana by a wide margin, as that factory-like distillery produces whiskey for a bunch of other brands including Bulleit and Dickel. But craft distillery Hard Truth is a force to be reckoned with, putting out a slew of rye whiskeys that can compete with the best out there (including some recent cask-finished expressions). The Sweet Mash was the distillery’s first release, made from a mashbill of 94 percent rye and six percent malted barley. It’s a relatively young whiskey, but doesn’t skimp on flavor with bold notes of fruit, spice, vanilla.

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old overholt extra aged cask strength kentucky rye

Old Overholt

Regular Old Overholt is a bartender’s best friend, a cheap and dependable rye whiskey that can be found on so many back bars and used in a million Manhattans. The whiskey, which is made at the James B. Beam Distilling Co., was originally a Pennsylvania rye, but now is a Kentucky rye whiskey made with just around the legally required 51 percent rye grain. The brand-new Extra Aged Cask Strength is a decade old and bottled at a strong 121 proof and is a beast. Sure, use this in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned if you want, but maybe save this one for sipping with friends.

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American Whiskey

bernheim barrel proof


Bernheim Barrel Proof

Earlier this year, Heaven Hill gave its wheat whiskey brand, Bernheim, the same treatment it gives its Elijah Craig Bourbon and started releasing it in barrel-proof batches three times per year. Wheat whiskey means at least 51 percent of the mashbill is wheat, as opposed to the same proportion of corn used in bourbon. Bernheim Barrel Proof is released at seven to nine years old and bottled at various proofs depending on the batch. It’s sweet, it’s fruity, and it’s a little bit hot from that high ABV, but it’s a wheat whiskey you’ll want to drink all year long.

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woodford reserve toasted oak four grain

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve Toasted Oak Four Grain

Toasted oak finished whiskeys are not always great, because that secondary maturation can overpower the whiskey’s true character if not done properly. This interesting new whiskey from Woodford Reserve solves that problem by blending four different styles–bourbon, rye, wheat, and malt–and then finishing the whiskey in toasted oak barrels for one to two years. Something about that blend of flavors just works well with this particular cask finish. This whiskey is a tough one to find, but fans of Woodford, or unique American whiskeys in general, should seek it out.

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virginia distillery company double cask reserve

Virginia Distillery Company

Virginia Distillery Company Double Cask Reserve

This distillery is making some of the best American single malt whiskey you can find, a category that is growing every year and is very close to getting its own legal definition. Double Cask Reserve came out last summer as part of the Courage and Conviction lineup, a blend of whiskeys aged separately for at least five years in ex-bourbon barrels and STR (shaved, toasted, recharred) European red wine cuvee casks. It was bottled at 96 proof with no chill filtration, allowing notes of vanilla, red berry, spice, chocolate, and orange zest to shine through. If you haven’t tried American single malt before, this would be a great introduction.
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Irish Whiskey

powers irish rye whiskey

Powers Irish Whiskey

Powers Irish Rye Whiskey

When you think of Irish whiskey, you probably think of a blend like Jameson, or maybe even a single malt. You certainly don’t think of rye whiskey, but Powers released a very good one early this year. Powers is made at Midleton, the same distillery where Jameson and Redbreast are made, but it is a very different whiskey, and the rye is even further afield. The mashbill is 100 percent Irish rye and it’s matured in used barrels, making this whiskey spicy enough to use in a cocktail but soft enough to sip on its own.

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bushmills 25 year old


Bushmills 25 Year Old

Bushmills is best known for its classic blended whiskey, but the fact of the matter is that only single malt is produced at the distillery. The core lineup of these whiskeys expanded this year with the addition of pricey but very refined 25 and 30-year-old expressions. The younger one is arguably the better of the two, initially aged in bourbon and sherry casks before being put into a port pipe for a full 21 years. It’s a luscious whiskey, full of dark berry notes, molasses, baking spice, and dark chocolate.

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redbreast tawny port cask edition


Redbreast Tawny Port Cask Edition

Redbreast is the pinnacle of single pot still whiskey, a uniquely Irish style made from a mashbill of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled in pot stills at one distillery. This new expression takes the whiskey, initially matured in bourbon and sherry casks, and finishes it in tawny port barrels for a few years. There’s a nice tannic hit on the palate, but berries, spice, and vanilla pudding round out the flavor profile. If you’ve only been drinking single malt scotch, give this Irish whiskey a try instead.

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Single Malt Scotch

glenglassaugh 12 years old


Glenglassaugh 12 Years Old

Glenglassaugh is a small coastal distillery in Scotland that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but that could be changing with the launch of a new core range of whiskies. All three are triple cask matured, with the 12-year-old being the standout expression. It’s aged in bourbon, sherry, and red wine casks, before being married together by master blender Rachel Barrie (who also is in charge of Benriach and The Glendronach). Look for notes of fruit, spice, and citrus on the palate, a tasty new addition to the wide world of single malt scotch whisky.

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ardbeg anthology the harpys tale

Ardbeg Anthology

Ardbeg Anthology: The Harpy’s Tale

Ardbeg is an Islay distillery known for its heavily peated single malts, and one of the latest to join the lineup is the first whisky in the new Anthology Collection. The Harpy’s Tale is a 13-year-old single malt aged in bourbon and Sauternes wine barrels, the latter of which has not been used before at the distillery. The result combines notes of sweet and smoke, a new and singular take on Ardbeg’s tried and true (and consistently great) whisky. There will be further Anthology releases, but this is a great start.

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aberfeldy 25


Aberfeldy 25

Aberfeldy has long been a core component of the popular Dewar’s Blended Scotch, but the distillery has released some excellent single malts as well over the past 20 years or so. The latest is a 25-year-old launched to commemorate 125 years of whisky making. It was finished in Oloroso sherry casks to add some spice and dried fruit notes to the whisky’s signature honey character, and is a really fine example of an older single malt that hasn’t become overly oaky or tannic.

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torabhaig allt gleann batch strength


Torabhaig Allt Gleann Batch Strength

There are just a few distilleries located on the Isle of Skye, with Talisker being the largest and best known. Torabhaig is much newer, having opened in 2017, but already seems to be making a name for itself. The latest release, Allt Gleann Batch Strength, is the last in the distillery’s Legacy Series, and is a high-proof, flavorful single malt scotch. It’s smoky but not aggressively so, aged in used whiskey barrels for more than five years with no color added. At 61.1 percent ABV, a little water does a lot of work here, so whisky drinkers interested in trying something new and unfamiliar should give this bottle a try.

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Blended Scotch

chivas xv

Chivas Regal

Chivas Regal XV

Chivas Regal is a stalwart of the blended scotch category, combining malt and grain whiskies from various distilleries to create expressions that people have enjoyed for more than 200 years. The newest release is XV, a 15-year-old blend that was finished in French cognac casks. That brings a delicate fruit and spice character to the signature vanilla, malt, and caramel notes of the blend, making this a great whisky to use in a Highball or to just sip on its own.

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compass box art and decadence

Compass Box

Compass Box Art & Decadence

Compass Box is a whisky blender that tries to be as transparent as possible, providing detailed information about the whiskies that go into each expression (at least as much as they are legally allowed to). This fall, Art & Decadence was released in a run of less than 10,000 bottles. The foundation of the blend was a malt whisky from the Balmenach distillery that was finished individually in sauternes, madeira, and marsala casks. That was combined with Linkwood whisky finished in palo cortado sherry barrels, Oloroso-sherry cask finished whisky from Glen Moray, and grain whisky from the shuttered Port Dundas distillery. All of that amounts to a complex and rich blended scotch that you can savor like a single malt.

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dewar’s double double 37 year


Dewar’s Double Double 37-Year-Old Scotch Whisky

Yes, this whisky is a splurge, but it’s worth it. This new blended scotch is the oldest age statement to date from Dewar’s, a brand better known for its affordable white label bottles. It was aged for nearly four decades and finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and is one of the best blends we tried all year. That $1,800 price tag doesn’t just get you the bottle, however–it comes with a set of Baccarat tumblers you can use to enjoy this special whisky. After all, a special dram deserves a special drinking vessel.

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World Whiskey

starward ginger beer cask 7


Starward Ginger Beer Cask #7

Australia has been making whisky for decades, but up until recently there was very little available here in the U.S. Starward has left an imprint stateside with its single malts aged in various types of red wine barrels, but the best release from the distillery so far was one that is highly unusual–a ginger beer cask-finished single malt. Apparently this was a hit in Australia so the distillery decided to release it here too, and it’s fantastic with a strong base of ginger flavor complementing the whisky’s notes of dried fruit, citrus, and vanilla custard.

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fuji japanese whisky

FUJI Japanese Whisky

FUJI Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky continues to be expensive and hard to find across the board, but there are some newer distilleries and brands that are more affordable and available. Fuji is one, and its new blended whisky is as good as any non-age statement Hibiki you’ve tried. The brand refers to this as a “single site blend,” because all of the whiskies are made at the same distillery–bourbon style, Canadian style, Scottish style, and malt whisky. This is a great whisky to mix with, but it sips quite nicely on its own as well.


alfred giraud horizon

Alfred Giraud

Alfred Giraud Horizon

Have you tried French whisky before? If the answer is no, you’re probably not alone. But there is some seriously good juice coming out of this country better known for its cognac and wine. Alfred Giraud has released some excellent malt whiskies before, but Horizon is the first single malt release. A total of 14 different cask types were used to age two different distillates, including French oak, American oak, cognac, and pineau. These all then go into ex-cognac casks, culminating in a flavorful whisky from an unexpected source.

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This new cognac brand was founded by two Frenchmen, each with a long family history in the industry (one formerly worked for Pernod Ricard). Martingale is positioned as a fresh take on an old spirit, and a cognac that whiskey drinkers will flock to. The grapes come from four crus in the Cognac region, and there is no age indicator that you’d find on most bottles (VS, VSOP, XO). That’s done on purpose so you’ll focus more on the spirit itself, which is worth doing. Try this neat or use it in a cocktail–if you’re new to cognac, this is a very good entry point.

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storywood reposado speyside 7


Storywood Reposado Speyside 7

Tequila continues to grow in popularity, with new brands popping up seemingly every month (too many of them backed by celebrities). One that arrived earlier this year was Storywood, with two expressions that are aged in whisky barrels. The reposado is the standout, spending seven months in barrels sourced from Speyside, the capital of Scottish whisky. The tequila retains its agave character, with the addition of notes of vanilla, oak, honey, and toast on the palate.

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suerte still strength


Suerte Still Strength

If you’re looking for a higher-proof tequila to amp up your cocktail game, or just sip neat, check out this new bottle from Suerte. The Still Strength expression clocks in at 104 proof, far above the 80 of the blanco. That higher ABV isn’t about knocking you back on your heels, however, because it unleashes a range of flavors that are muted when the spirit is diluted. And you can always proof it down to your desired degree, which is part of the fun of drinking a stronger spirit.

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el tequileño extra añejo

El Tequileño

El Tequileño Extra Añejo

This luxury tequila is very expensive, but it’s one of the best spirits overall that we tried this year. El Tequileño is a well-regarded tequila brand that has been around since 1959, and this is the first extra añejo to join the lineup. It’s a blend of just three barrels, one of which was formerly used to age Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey. At $800 per bottle, this tequila better be good, and it delivers with rich notes of cooked agave, vanilla, butterscotch, and a dash of herbal flavor on the finish.

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alma del jaguar reposado

Alma del Jaguar

Alma del Jaguar Reposado

This is the second U.S. release from this new tequila brand, a reposado aged using a double barrel process–two months in American oak ex-bourbon barrels from Tennessee and Kentucky, and then another month in European oak red wine casks from Santa Barbara, California. In addition to being an additive-free tequila (made at NOM 1414 where other brands like ArteNOM are made), the brand has donated money and equipment to the support organizations dedicated to protecting its namesake jaguar. This is a reposado that is worth sipping, but would also be a fantastic cocktail component with notes of vanilla, grass, roasted agave, spice, and red berry.

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catedral mezcal

Catedral Mezcal

Catedral Mezcal

This new brand was founded by a father-daughter team, and has released a variety of expressions made from different types of agave including espadin, tobala, and a couple of ensambles (combinations of two different types of agave). Check out the website to find more information about each expression, including where it was made, the production process, and the men and women responsible for them.

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palomo mezcal

Palomo Mezcal

Palomo Mezcal

Palomo actually arrived in the U.S. just before the start of the new year, but it still deserves a place here. If you’ve only tried very smoky mezcal, it’s worth realizing that there are different levels of intensity, something will appeal to everyone. Palomo is a lighter style, with nice citrus, grass, and vanilla notes that make it equally suitable for sipping and using in a cocktail. The core expression is an espadin mezcal.

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mala mia

Mala Mia

Mala Mia

This is another new mezcal brand that stands out visually, given the solid colored bottles it comes in. There are a few different expressions available, but we loved the cuishe–a less common type of agave that veers toward the drier side of the flavor spectrum, with notes of stone fruit and botanicals. Try a few of these bottles side by side to see how they compare and contrast depending on the type of agave used.

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monkey 47 gin

Monkey 47

Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut Edition 13

Monkey 47 is made at a distillery in Germany’s Black Forest region, and as indicated by the name 47 different botanicals are used to create its complex flavor profile. Every year, Distiller’s Cut is released with the addition of one extra ingredient. This year that ingredient is maple syrup, which provides a nice hint of sweetness without overpowering the core herbaceousness that defines this gin.

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shiner gin


Shiner Gin

Shiner Bock is an iconic Texas beer, and now the folks behind the brewery are making craft spirits as well. They opened the K. Spoetzl Distillery last spring, with three inaugural spirits–vodka, moonshine, and gin. The latter is the best of the trio, a gin made from a corn and barley base spirit. The mouthfeel is creamy like a whiskey, but the flavor is all gin with local botanicals like Ashe juniper, grapefruit, and others. Try using this in your next Martini.

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guilder’s gin


Guilder’s Gin

This new trio of gins was inspired by the world of tea, not unheard of but definitely less common in this spirits category. All of them are quite good and can be used in many different ways. The Canton Dry Gin uses goji berries as one of its core botanicals, the Green Tea Gin is made with Taiwanese tea leaves, and the Red Oolong is a dark-colored sipping spirit. Try them on their own to see what they are all about first, but go ahead and experiment with these in any cocktail you can think of.

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belvedere 10


Belvedere 10

How do you make vodka interesting? It’s a tough task, but the key seems to be to just make it really good, and that is the case with the new Belvedere 10. Is it worth it to pay $150 for a vodka? That’s entirely subjective, but this organic Diamond rye vodka from Poland, said to be based on a recipe from 1910, comes in a sculpted white bottle that looks the part. It’s rested for ten months after distillation to allow the flavors to marry together, and indeed this is a silky, creamy, vanilla-laden vodka that is not devoid of flavor.

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appleton estate 17yo

Appleton Estate

Appleton Estate 17 Year Old

This is a rare bottle from this esteemed Jamaican rum distillery. Master blender Joy Spence created this as an homage to a 1940s rum of the same age from J. Wray & Nephew, which was said to be the inspiration for the classic Mai Tai cocktail. It’s a rich and complex rum that sits in the sweet spot of maturation, with no sugar added to enhance the vibrant tropical fruit, molasses, burnt brown sugar, and vanilla notes. Go ahead and make a cocktail with this if you’re lucky enough to snag a bottle, but try sipping it first.

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brugal colección visionaria edicion 1


Brugal Colección Visionaria Edición 1

This is another spirit that isn’t just the best in its category, but arguably one of the best we tried throughout the year. This Dominican rum was aged in barrels that were toasted with cacao beans to infuse them with flavor, and that has definitely transferred into this lovely sipping rum. Toasted caramel and chocolate notes intermingle with banana, vanilla, and caramel flavors, making this a luxurious spirit that you will want to revisit.

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holmes cay trinidad 2012

Holmes Cay

Holmes Cay Trinidad 2012

Holmes Cay sources rums from around the world and bottles them with no color or flavors added. This fall saw the release of this 2012 vintage from Trinidad, an 11-year-old rum that is part of an ongoing vertical release. It was bottled at a hefty cask strength of 59 percent ABV, so add a little water if you want to really unlock the floral, fruity, and oaky flavors of this single cask rum that was aged in three different countries.

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nonino amaro riserva

Amaro Nonino

Nonino Amaro Riserva

Nonio Amaro is an Italian liqueur that is a key component of the Paper Plane cocktail, as mentioned earlier. The brand launched this barrel-aged version earlier this year, aging the amaro in barriques and small casks for 24 months in the distillery’s cellar. It retains the sweetness and herbaceousness of the original, with a creamy mouthfeel and sweet vanilla notes that transform this into a true sipping spirit.

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sagamore spirit amaro

Sagamore Spirit

Sagamore Spirit Amaro

American distilleries are making some amaro of note as well. Case in point–Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit, best known for the rye whiskey it sources and distills, released its first amaro this fall. The difference between this and most others is that rye whiskey is used as the base (95 percent rye grain distillate), which is flavored with various botanicals making this the perfect component for a Black Manhattan cocktail (swap out the sweet vermouth for amaro).

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Other Spirits

a bottle of alcohol

Chattanooga Whiskey

Chattanooga Whiskey Bourbon Barreled Limoncello

Limoncello is not something Americans think about all that much, but that’s because most of us haven’t tried this barrel-aged version from Chattanooga Whiskey. The base spirit (corn and malted barley) was infused with lemon, orange, and vanilla bean before being put into charred barrels for three months. The effects of the time spent in wood are subtle but effective, softening this sweet spirit and adding notes of oak and spice.

Shop Chattanooga Whiskey (Limoncello Sold Out)

ancho reyes barrica

Ancho Reyes

Ancho Reyes Barrica

Ancho Reyes is an ancho chili-infused liqueur that was given a major upgrade this fall with a new barrel-aged version. Apparently everything tastes better when you put it into a barrel for a period of time–in this case, it was a full two years, imbuing this already alluring and spicy liqueur with oak and vanilla notes.

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saison de frai

Saison De Frai

Saison De Frai

This is an odd one, but bear with us—Saison De Frai is an apple brandy flavored with smoked trout that has a little bit of roe at the bottom of every bottle. This should come as no surprise given that it’s made by New Hampshire’s Tamworth Distilling, a distillery founded by Steven Grasse (creator of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum) that also makes whiskey flavored with crab, venison, and oil from beaver glands (all worth trying as well). The smoked trout flavor is present but not dominating here, and the apple brandy provides the perfect fruity, sweet backdrop to complement the earthy, smoky notes of the fish. Sometimes a spirit comes along that really is an unexpected pleasure, and this was one of those.

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starward old fashioned and negroni


Starward Old Fashioned and Negroni

The RTD market continues to explode, but the reality is that most are just not that good–they are either too sweet, too weak, or just don’t taste like what they are intended to be. These two offerings from Australia’s Starward Whisky, however, don’t fall into that trap. Both are whisky-based, and the Negroni combines sweet vermouth and orange liqueur (so really more of a Boulevardier), while the Old Fashioned is made with wheated whisky, cacao syrup, and orange bitters.

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via carota craft cocktails

Via Carota Craft Cocktails

Via Carota Craft Cocktails

Another offering that rose above others in the RTD category came from NYC’s Italian hot spot Via Carota. The team there put together a wide range of bottled cocktails, including a Martini, Espresso Martini, a couple of Negronis, Manhattan, and an Old Fashioned. The Espresso Martini and Negroni are particularly good, and while these are more expensive than your average RTD, the quality is also much higher.

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