Note: We already covered our favorites for whisk(e)y and tequila, along with our Distillery of the Year. Below, we’re focusing on vodka, gin, rum and other great spirits and drinking trends from the past year.
We drank a lot in 2021.
And by “we” I mean all of us. Thankfully, as we navigated — in a slightly buzzed state — our way through a pandemic, all of us seemed to embrace more premium tipples and craft spirits.
While my favorite aspect of imbibing involves drinking in good company, I also appreciate discovering something unexpected. Below, some quick thoughts on my favorite (non-tequila and non-whiskey) drinks of the year; each pick here surprised and delighted me, and actually made me want to learn more about the spirit itself as well as the category to which it belongs.
And while I use the word “best,” I’m simply talking about what’s the best in my worldview. Happy to share a drink of your choice if you have differing opinions.
Best vodka: American Liquor Co.
This four-crop vodka (wheat, corn, potato, rye) is blended from multiple American craft distilleries (Middle West, Stump, Yahara Bay, Grand Traverse, Valentine, Proof Artisan, Temperance). The brand’s first release is fruity, buttery, grassy and coats the mouth nicely with a small rye kick at the end. You can read more about vodka’s resurgence and a few thoughts from Chris Montana, Master Blender at American Liquor Co., here.
Best gin: Salcombe Gin
Salcombe has already garnered some of the highest awards in the spirits world. That includes multiple Double Golds and Platinum designations (via the SFWSC, SIP Awards and Beverage Tasting Institute) … and that also includes Double Golds for their pink gin, an increasingly popular category that doesn’t usually win critical accolades.
Best rum: Kasama
This new small-batch rum hails from Alexandra Dorda, the daughter of Tad Dorda (co-founder of Belvedere and Chopin Vodka); she honors both her parents via the rum’s distillation in the Philippines (where her mom grew up) and the bottling at her family’s distillery in Poland. Their core release is beautifully rich in the mouth and full of notes of pineapple, vanilla and even a bit of sea salt.
Best new spirit: Yebiga
Admittedly, Serbian plum brandy isn’t a new thing at all; it’s a staple in households throughout southeastern Europe. That said, it’s not part of my usual drinking routine, but I was really impressed with this just-released rakija, imported here by (surprise) Faith No More bassist Bil Gould. Yebiga’s unaged “Bela” reminds me a lot of grappa, although it’s a nicer ride. Incredibly floral on the nose with a hint of pine, the fruit really shines on the first sip (note: we’ve had it in cocktails, but we suggest drinking it neat and slightly chilled). It pleasantly lingers on the tongue.
Best wine: DAOU Soul of a Lion 2018
I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I fell in love with this release and the winery after visiting in August. Aged for 22 months in custom French oak barrels, this Paso Robles vineyard utilizes both classic wine-making techniques and cutting-edge tech to produce the finest, most balanced California-based, Bordeaux-style red blend.
Best canned drink: Lunar
“Asian Americana in a can,” as they advertise. Utilizing ingredients from (natch) Asia, these refreshing tipples feature plum, lychee and yuku as their center. It’s hard to find something “different” in canned drinks. A refreshing alternative to hard seltzer.
Best booze-free spirits: Optimist Botanicals
These are alcohol-free botanical spirits (crafted by a master distiller) inspired by their Southern California origins. Serve with tonic and club soda, the three flavors here (bright, fresh, smokey) are gentle but flavorful.
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