Even for a professional booze writer, keeping up with all the new spirits coming out can be a challenge. The stream of limited editions, new flavors, product-line extensions and more never seems to end. But that’s a good thing when it yields tasty new bottlings for you to enjoy! Here are 15 spirits, either brand-new or new to the U.S. this year, that I think will stand the test of time.
RAGTIME RYE WHISKEY ($44)
Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company has been putting out some very good gin ever since it opened in 2011, but the mixological world has been salivating over the distillery’s rye, speaking in hushed tones about a fabled liquid that nobody would be able to taste until it was aged and ready. Well, the time has finally come, and this spicy, fruity tipple doesn’t disappoint. There’s a fair bit of corn in the mashbill, which adds a nice sweetness behind the rye bite.
LA CARAVEDO PURO QUEBRANTA PISCO ($25)
Love Pisco Portón but find it a little pricey? Here’s your answer. La Caravedo comes from the same distillery as the excellent Portón, but where Portón is a mosto verde pisco, meaning it’s distilled from only partially fermented grapes, this one is a puro, distilled from one varietal of grape that’s allowed to ferment completely. The difference is that La Caravedo has a cleaner mouthfeel and more crisp flavor but with the same lovely floral notes of its big brother, making it ideal for Pisco Sours and other cocktails.
PLANTATION STIGGINS’ FANCY PINEAPPLE RUM ($35)
This isn’t just any flavored rum: It’s a flavored rum based on recipes from 19th-century England that’s created by booze historian extraordinaire David Wondrich and the owner of the highly regarded Pierre Ferrand Cognac. It’s a mix of dark rum infused for three months with pineapple flesh and white rum infused with pineapple rind and redistilled. The result is a revelation, rich and flavorful but only lightly sweet. If you like tropical and tiki drinks, you need a bottle, right now.
TEELING SINGLE MALT IRISH WHISKEY ($65)
With only a handful of operating distilleries and a dedicated fanbase around the world, the Irish whiskey category doesn’t get shaken up very often. But Jack Teeling is doing just that with the innovative whiskies he bottles. The new single malt is the third offering from his fledgling brand, and it bridges the gap between the boldness of a Scotch and the approachability of a traditional Irish whiskey. The juice was aged in five different types of wine casks, including both sherry and port, giving it an amazingly complex fruitiness.
CYNAR 70 PROOF ($35)
Bitter is big. And now that amaro cocktails are starting to hit the mainstream, the producers of these bitter liqueurs are starting to respond with new bottlings like this one. The artichoke-based Cynar has long been a cult favorite among craft bartenders, but its low proof—just 16.5 percent alcohol—made it difficult to incorporate effectively into complex cocktails. This new version more than doubles the strength, enabling the complex and unusual aperitif to shine through when mixed with gin, whiskey, tequila or really anything else.
THE GLENROTHES SHERRY CASK RESERVE SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY ($60)
Scotch aged in former sherry barrels is incredibly hot right now, thanks to the deep nutty, fruity and spicy character the wood supplies. Unfortunately, sherry casks are very expensive, and so most sherry-aged Scotch is merely finished in those barrels for a few months or years after spending a decade or more in American oak ex-bourbon casks. This new release is The Glenrothes’ first all-sherry bottlings, so those flavors are right at the forefront, with a nice citrusy sweetness behind them.
RUTTE OLD SIMON GENEVER ($40)
Dutch distillery Rutte has been making fine gins and genevers since 1872, but they were never sold in the States until late this year. The distillery makes a really interesting Celery Gin, but for me the highlight of its portfolio is this old-school genever. It’s made in the authentic 19th-century style, distilled from grain and infused with roasted hazelnuts and walnuts for a rich and sweet-savory flavor that’s very much unlike most modern gins.
KIKORI RICE WHISKEY ($50)
Typically, Japanese whiskey pretty closely emulates Scotch in both flavor and production methods. But the brand-new Kikori breaks the mold. It’s distilled from rice on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s large islands, which gives is a very delicate texture and clean finish compared to most whiskies. It then ages for three years in American and French oak, as well as sherry casks, which adds on subtle notes of apple, raisin and brown sugar.
COPPER & KINGS ABSINTHE BLANCHE ($55)
It takes some serious balls to open a distillery in downtown Louisville, the very heart of Kentucky’s bourbon country, and then distill apple brandy. The iconoclastic Copper & Kings American Brandy Company is worth paying attention to for that reason alone, but thankfully its products are delicious as well. It’s currently selling only unaged brandy distilled in-house along with aged brandy sourced from another distillery, as well as this beautiful absinthe. It has a creamy mouthfeel and lovely floral notes, with the anise toned down to a background flavor.
LEOPOLD BROS. APERITIVO ($33)
Denver’s Leopold Bros. is a massively creative distillery, but for this new release, it turned to tradition, modeling its bitter aperitif liqueur after the classic Italian Campari. The all-natural spirit is flavored with bitter ingredients including gentian root, as well as grapefruit peels and a long list of other spices, roots and flowers. It’s a bit less intensely bitter than its forbear, with more floral and spicy notes, but it still makes a mean Negroni.
JAMESON CASKMATES IRISH WHISKEY ($30)
Who says big liquor companies don’t care about the little guy? Irish whiskey behemoth Jameson teamed up with Franciscan Well, a small craft brewery in County Cork, to make this special tipple. Franciscan Well aged its stout in used Jameson barrels, then sent the casks back to the distillery to be refilled with whiskey. The resulting bottling has Jameson’s signature smooth mellowness, along with some nice roasty, chocolate-and-coffee notes lingering from the beer. IF there’s an Irish whiskey lover in your life, keep an eye out for the brand’s Trilogy gift set, which includes 200-mL bottles of Caskmates, the original Jameson and Jameson Black Barrel. (Sadly, the Franciscan Well stout itself is only available in Ireland.)
BACARDI GRAN RESERVA MAESTRO DE RON ($25)
Can’t choose between an aged and unaged rum for your next cocktail? This bottling is the answer. A tribute to Bacardi’s master blenders, it’s a mix of one-year-old rums blended together and aged another three months. The color is then filtered out, leaving a crystal-clear liquid that nonetheless retains much of the oaky smoothness that comes from the barrel.
JACK DANIEL’S SINATRA CENTURY TENNESSEE WHISKEY ($500 FOR 1 L)
Old Blue Eyes was a notable fan of Jack Daniel’s, and the distillery released its Sinatra Select whiskey two years ago in his honor. It’s aged in special barrels that have grooves cut into the staves, which creates more surface area for contact between whiskey and wood. This year, in honor of what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, this extra-special edition is bottled at 100 proof and limited to just 100 barrels. Plus, it comes with a set of previously unreleased tracks recorded live at the Sands in 1966. Perfect for the whiskey lover or any Rat Pack fan.
LUSTAU BRANDY DE JEREZ SOLERA GRAN RESERVA ($46)
Lustau is best known as an excellent producer of sherry, one of this year’s “it” cocktail ingredients. Now, the company is adding its brandy to the U.S. portfolio as well. This is brandy de Jerez, made in the same region and from the same kind of grapes as sherry, and aged in used sherry casks. You’ll find lots of the same nutty and dry fruit tones as sherry itself, as well as the floral richness of other aged brandies like cognac.
WOODY CREEK COLORADO GIN ($36)
Evidently, indie distillers in Colorado had a good year in 2015. Woody Creek is best known for a vodka it makes from estate-grown potatoes, and this year it added a lovely gin to its stable. Its base is that same potato spirit, which has a nice creamy mouthfeel, and it’s flavored with classic ingredients like juniper, coriander and citrus, in addition to lemongrass, cranberries, hibiscus and cinnamon. The final product is traditional enough to work in any standard gin cocktail but with an intriguing tart fruitiness.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM SOME BARTENDERS