This month, InsideHook’s resident spirits expert will be naming all his favorite bottles of 2019. In case you missed it, you can read about his favorite tequila, American whiskey, Irish whiskey and Scotch.
First, some clarification: There really is no “best” whiskey or vodka or rum. Obviously, everything is subjective.
And even saying something is my “favorite” is a bit misleading, as my mood and situation will dictate what I like and how I drink.
So this year’s roster of exceptional spirits is not just about taste. I was also looking for a good story and spirits that bring something new to the table … or at least something more than “aged in ex-sherry casks.” Meaning new flavors, new distilling methods and even completely new categories of booze.
But in the end, it’s just alcohol, people. You’re supposed to enjoy it. This is not the time for, ahem, spirited debates. Regardless, here are some bottles we believe you should try if you haven’t already.
Favorite gin: Whitley Neill
Besides boasting the most colorful bottles of the year, Whitley Neill features some bold tasting notes, marrying a traditional English gin (and one vodka) with flavors sourced from around the globe — blood oranges from Italy, quince from Turkey, etc. If you’re not a gin fan, these are smooth, bright and not defined only by the juniper. Looking for something more complex in your gin? Just launched, the LA-based Amass works with 29 different botanicals.
Favorite low-booze alternative: Haus
Ignore the “millennial” tags and “Warby Parker of booze” hype. These direct-to-consumer, Cali-based aperitifs are enjoyable both in cocktails and on the rocks. The Citrus Flower is a nice summer drink, while Bitter Clove works as a whiskey alternative. And at 15% ABV, you can sip on these all day or night in any season.
Favorite rum: The Real McCoy
Kevin Beary of Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash (and the Bamboo Room, our favorite rum bar) turned us onto Foursquare, aka “the Pappy of rum.” When we can’t find their limited-edition releases, we’re perfectly content to work with The Real McCoy, which sources its hooch from the famed Barbados distillery. The 14-year expression is their oldest rum (aged in ex-bourbon barrels) and yet newest release, but maybe start with the 92-proof, three-year bottle if you’re just making cocktails. To quote Beary: “It’s a really nice pot-and-column blend from Barbados, and it makes a hell of a daiquiri. It has sweet candied fruit notes with creamy vanilla and tingly spice for a markedly layered and well-balanced, light option.”
Favorite vodka: Air Co
This Brooklyn-based distillery is turning excess carbon into a really, really nice vodka that’ll do wonders in a martini. You can read about their scientific process here. Sadly, you’ll have to come to New York to try it — part of the company’s eco-friendly standard is that they’re not gonna ship it anywhere away outside of their home base.
Favorite cocktail: The Modern Martini
Available at the Museum of Modern Art’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Modern, this updated take on the martini involves a lot of unexpected flavors: Some Nardini Acqua di Cedro (made from Cedro lemons and dubbed “the noble cousin to limoncello”), an aloe liqueur from California, two different gins and Rockey’s, a clarified milk punch that’s perfectly clear and the first milk punch available commercially in more than a century.
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