Booze | December 30, 2020 6:10 am

Our Favorite Non-Whiskey Spirits of 2020 Each Had a Story to Tell

One rum broke barriers, mezcal got its due and we've never seen a vodka like this

Best non whiskies of 2020
Photo illustration by Mike Falco

The booze world likes to tell a tale. It’s part of the charm of a good tipple.

(Whether that story is accurate, well, that’s another matter.)

Our favorite non-whiskey spirits from 2020 all had an interesting (or even an important) story to tell … along with being standouts in their respective fields. Our picks include a rum that shines a light on an abolitionist, an unusual vodka ode to Siberian oil, a female-owned mezcal brand, a gin collaboration between an award-winning whiskey and a local forager, and a tequila that brought some heat to the traditional world of agave spirits.

Equiano rum

This Rum Honors the Work of an Abolitionist

Equiano is part of a broader movement to shine a light on rum’s history, as well as provide an interesting (and, yes, delicious) path forward. The first collaboration of African and Caribbean rum distilleries, the drink is named after 18th-century writer, entrepreneur and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. The blend of the rum and its production purposely follows the journey of the Nigerian-born Olaudah, who was enslaved as a child, taken to the Caribbean and sold to a Royal Navy officer. He eventually purchased his freedom with earnings he made by selling rum; later, he settled in London, where his work with abolitionist groups helped pave the way for the British Slave Trade Act 1807. It’s an exceptionally balanced rum (and a rare direct-to-consumer product, which is very 2020). Our full review is here.


This Irish Gin Is Our New Go-To Tipple for St. Patrick’s Day

Glendalough’s Wild Botanical Gin arrives via an award-winning Irish whiskey brand, but it’s a different creature altogether. Collaborating with a local forager led to the creation of a line of unusual botanical gins. There are seasonal variations, but this year-round release harnesses the flavors of juniper as well as wild plants around the distillery. A good recipe is here.

Kirk Miller

Tanteo Tequila Is Shaking Up an Industry Built on Tradition

A cooperatively run, bartender-friendly, infused agave spirit? Surprisingly, tequila geeks have been pretty fine with Tanteo, which this year released a very well-received blanco … but is most famous for a line of 100% agave tequila infused with natural flavors (for now that’s jalapenos, habaneros and chipotles). A full recap of our trip down to Mexico to see the fairly recent (and recently legalized) process can be found here (yes, this was before lockdown).

Photo illustration by Mike Falco

There’s a Right Way to Drink Mezcal

We tried plenty of worthy mezcals this year, but we’re still novices in this corner of the agave world. So we asked an expert to guide us not only on taste, but literally how to drink the extremely diverse agave spirit. Turns out it’s a three-part process. As for what to drink? We dug the just-launched, female-owned and run Doña Vega, but there are plenty of options.


This Vodka Arrives Via a Unique Type of Barrel

From the Alps in Austria, NEFT Vodka combines four different types of non-GMO rye grains — Rapidly, Amato, Pollino, and Askari — and is distilled three times in a copper-pot still. You might notice the black or white barrel (which supposedly keeps the spirit cold for up to six hours and was inspired by the Siberian oil pioneers). What we noticed was a flavorful, rich vodka that works just fine on its own or in a martini.