The explosion of craft distillers has resulted in creative excellence not seen since Prohibition. Even established brands are getting into the act with new age statements and double oaking. Some old favorites in sake return, too.
It's getting closer to the holidays and winter weather, so our suppliers have recently amped up their spirits releases. After visiting three massive tasting events, I uncovered several impressive craft-distilled beauties and several more classic spirits that perform well above the mark.
Bunnahabhain 12 Year Islay Scotch Whisky
Bunnahabhain, which means "mouth of the river" in Gaelic, is situated where the Margadale Spring flows into the Sound of Islay. Founded in 1883, and modernizing in recent years, Bunnahabhain combines Islay peatiness with a sense of the sea. Bottled at a higher alcohol strength (46.3%), it's a good scotch, with aggressive, but not overbearing flavors.
$57.99 per bottle
Bowmore Darkest 15 year Islay Scotch Whisky
Bowmore is the oldest of the eight functioning distilleries in Islay, founded in 1779. This is a multi-gold medal winning scotch whisky, celebrated for its classic style and smooth texture. It is aged in used bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso casks to add richness, although the scotch is not dominated by these "Highland" influences. With a warm color of dark amber, the nose and aroma offer the smoke and sweetness one expects from Islay scotch. Rich, complex flavors that include subtle peach and butterscotch notes combined with a luxurious viscosity make for a satisfying experience. There is a green olive note toward the middle and a lightly ashy finish.
$89.99 per bottle
Jura 10 Year Old Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The Isle of Jura, only reachable by ferry from the neighboring Islay, has just one road, one hotel, one restaurant and little else to service the 180 people who live on the island. New life came to the Jura distillery in 1963, having been built on the bones of a shuttered old distillery (1810-1898). The barreling regimen of this subtle-styled distillery is 1/2 heavily peated whisky blended with 1/2 unpeated whisky aged in American oak and finished in Oloroso sherry casks to make a drink less aggressive than its Islay neighbors. The newly released 10 year old has vanilla and light peat in the nose which grows with aeration. The impression is one of more delicacy and subtlety than most popular Highland scotches. 80 proof.
$49.99 per bottle
Jura 18 Year Old Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Aged in American oak and finished in used Chateau Latour barrels, the complex 18 year old has delicate, nearly floral chestnut aromas and flavors with some cocoa notes in the finish. 44 proof.
$129.99 per bottle
Dalmore 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
With continuous production since 1839, Dalmore's house style is rich, warm and complex largely due to its ambitious barreling program. The 12 year has a soft texture and a generous, full bodied mouthfeel, with sweet vanilla notes from its sherry casks. It gives you the "Highland Hug." Made in a popular, likable style.
$59.99 per bottle
Dalmore 18 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
After resting 14 years in American oak barrels and finished 4 years in a 30 year old sherry cask, this rich, brilliant scotch is effortlessly enjoyable. All heart.
$219.99 per bottle
Old Elk Bourbon Whiskey, Ft. Collins, Colorado
88 proof. 51% corn, 34% malted barley, 15% rye. Smooth and elegant, this is a great flavored Bourbon with caramel notes that has proven to be an instant hit with our Bourbon customers.
$49.99 per bottle
Bib & Tucker Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey Aged 6 Years
The classic-looking bottle immediately grabs your attention on the shelf. Owned by the same company responsible for Redemption bourbon, this whiskey was acquired from an undisclosed Tennessee distillery, then aged 6 years in barrel. Vanilla takes the lead in the aroma, and the flavor has a spicy and almost nutty note. Attractive oak flavors in the finish. 92 proof.
$56.99 per bottle
Westward American Single Malt Whiskey, Portland, Oregon
This award-winning barley whiskey is produced by Portland's outstanding downtown Portland craft distillery House Spirits, which also produce the tasty Magaelena Rum and the remarkably authentic Krogstad Aquavit. . I found this single-malt both round and spicy. Quite impressive
$77.99 per bottle
Eastside Distilling Redneck Riviera Whiskey, Portland, Oregon
Made in a partnership with a country music star, this is a very appealing whiskey, not unlike a soft Bourbon. Smooth, sweet, round, and way too easy to drink.
$24.99 per bottle
Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey, Baltimore
Made in Port Covington, Baltimore, this very accessible 4 year old rye uses naturally filtered spring water fed from a limestone aquifer 22 miles away at Sagamore Farm, famous for breeding thoroughbreds.. With a smooth texture and notes of caramel and spice, it is an easy-drinking rye whiskey you can enjoy neat, on the rocks or in mixed cocktails. 83 proof.
$44.99 per bottle
Amass Gin, The Spirit Guild Distillery, Los Angeles
Like most cities in America, Los Angeles has been experiencing a downtown renewal, with old buildings being turned into lofts, trendy restaurants and new watering holes sprouting up weekly, and craft businesses, including distilling and brewmaking, giving proof of life from the roots up. Such is the case of Amass gin, made at The Spirit Guild Distillery in the Arts District of LA. (Did you even know there was an Arts District in downtown LA?) Distiller Morgan McLachlan has created a terrific new 90 proof gin which has been well received in leading restaurants all over LA County. Using 29 botanicals, several of which are indigenous to California, Amass gin offers terrific florals in its perfume. Yes, juniper is there, but it is integrated, with notes of orange and bay leaf included. The round texture is luxurious, and the flavor suggests a hint of anise. Only about 1,600 cases are made currently, but the production is expected to go up.
$47.99 per bottle
Dry Town Gin-Four Grains, Ft. Collins, Colorado
From 1896 until 1969, Ft. Collins Colorado, an hour north of Denver, was a dry city. After their self-imposed prohibition ended, 44 years later, the Old Elk distillery was created, producing a terrific Bourbon and an impressive gin and vodka under the Dry Town label. Botanicals include juniper and Colorado-grown sage, lemongrass, sliced organges, lime peel, ginger, orris root and angelica root. Head distiller Kate Douglas has created a sassy gin, not overpowering at all. 92 proof.
$29.99 per bottle
Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s one of the boldest, most interesting Gins out there.”
—The Wall Street Journal
In 2012, the first Greenhook gin was released. Since then the Brooklyn distillery has received a lot of rave reviews in the local and national press. Distilled from organically-grown wheat and infused with elderflower cinnamon, chamomile and a melange of other botanicals, the gin offers a bold, citrusy flavor combined with classic juniper character. There is an obvious elegance in its complex aftertaste. 94 proof.
$29.99 per bottle
Purity Ultra 34 Premium Vodka, Sweden
This is a wonderful super-premium vodka we've been carrying for many years. Distilled an astonishing 34 times, it is immensely smooth and pleasurable--a standout super-premium vodka for many years at The Wine Country.
$29.99 per bottle
Fair Quinoa Vodka, Cognac, France
If you are a lover of premium spirits, this is a very good vodka, smooth, with a lovely viscosity. Using fair-trade quinoa from the Andes, the French distillers have created a socially-conscious product that is lovingly delicious.
$32.99 per bottle
Revel Blanco Triple Distilled Agave Spirit, Morelos, Mexico
From an area south of Mexico City. Made from Weber blue agave, it's not quite tequila, not quite Mezcal. 50/50 smoke and non-smoke. Warm finish. In very classy bottles.
$64.99 per bottle
Revel Reposado Triple Distilled Agave Spirit, Morelos, Mexico
Made from Weber blue agave, this magnificent reposado spent one year in barrel. Very nice. A sipping spirit.
$79.99 per bottle
Amaro di Angostura, Trinidad & Tobago
Nose like cola, clove is the dominant flavor in this delicious, not-too-bitter digestif. The distillery suggests it can be enjoyed over ice, is splendid on its own and offers delicious harmony in a cocktail.
$26.99 per bottle
Amaro Pellegrino, Trapani, Sicily
Pellegrino Amaro is produced from a carefully selected blend of Sicilian herbs and then blended with distilled wine sourced exclusively grapes grown in the island’s Marsala DOC. The resulting Amaro is aged more than five years in Slovenian oak casks Sweet, licorice-y flavor, not too bitter. Very tasty.
$27.99 per bottle
Plantation Rum Xaymaca Special Dry, Jamaica
Cognac's Ferrand company began importing special plantation rums in 1997, and each year they seem to get better and better. Xaymaca is the local dialect for "Jamaica". Despite the name "special dry" on the label, I found this satisfying rum to be on the sweet-ish side. You can blend it, sure, but I suggest sipping it with one giant ice cube in the glass.
$24.99 per bottle
Fukucho Junmai Ginjo Moon on the Water
Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
This is a superb beverage, with a round texture and excellent balance. A very floral aroma suggesting white jasmine. The floral character carries on to the clean taste. Founded in 1868. 16.5% alcohol.
$37.99 per 720 ml bottle
Chiyonoso Junmai Ginjo Sacred Power
Kumamoto Perfecture, Japan
Fruity, attractive and appealing sake. Full flavored and fruity. Mellow. Brewery founded in 1896. Alcohol 15.9%.
$38.99 per 720 ml bottle
Rhiaku Tolubetsu Junmai Nigori Dreamy Clouds
Shimane Prefecture, Japan
Dreamy Clouds is quite special because its milling rate of 41% technically qualifies it as Junmai Ginjo grade--a rare quality level for a nigori (cloudy) sake. Bright and lean in the mouth, unlike many Nigori, and the impact is chewy with sweet rice flavors intermingling with the nutty and slightly fruity characteristics of the sake. Pair with spicy noodle dishes, risotto, or white fish. 15.6% alcohol.
$30.99 per 720 ml bottle
Ginga Shizuku Junmai Daiginjo Divine Droplets
Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
This sake is aptly named. There is a lovely perfume to this delicate, fine sake. Pleasant to drink from beginning to end. Bright flavor like a fine wine. Very clean. The brewery was established in 1899. Called “The Rolls Royce of sake.” 15.6% alcohol.
$64.99 per 720 ml bottle