Was it difficult to narrow down 2023 to two dozen or so new bottles? Sure, but it was also a hell of a lot of fun. The throughline with these spirits is innovation. The sheer number of distilleries and blenders out there in 2023 — one tequila producer told me there’s a new agave brand popping up every other day — means drinks companies have to go beyond tradition and come up with stories and spirits that resonate in a new way.
Maybe it’s a rum aged in ancient Armagnac barrels or a new way of storing ultra-aged whiskies. It could be new ways of barrel toasting or charring, unique terroir, or bringing a grain back to life. Whatever the case, below we present our favorite bottles of the year, including vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, agave spirits, aperitifs, bottled cocktails and one non-alcoholic selection.
For a deeper dive, we also have separate articles on our favorite bourbons, ryes, tequilas, non-American whiskeys, our favorite brewery and vineyard of the year, plus an interview with the most interesting whisky maker of 2023 and look ahead on the bar world with Danger Danger and Attaboy co-owner Sam Ross.
Without further ado, these 25 bottles are the best new spirits of 2023.
It’s not just a vintage rum — BHAKTA’s rum release is actually a blend of column- and pot-stilled rum from 1985 and 1990, which also spends a few years in second-fill MP bourbon and rye barrels before a final maturation in Armagnac barrels (with the latter being the foundation of BHAKTA’s portfolio). It’s exquisite, with notes of oak, tobacco, banana, allspice and clove.
A marriage of 11- and 12-year-old bourbon barrels — and the first age-statement release from the famed Kentucky distillery — this one offers the classic Maker’s mashbill (70% corn, 16% wheat and 14% malted barley), but the barrels spent the latter half of their maturation in a climate-controlled, limestone cellar. So you’re still getting that smooth, bitter-free experience that Maker’s is known for (and classic vanilla, caramel and baking spice notes) but now with a creamy mouthfeel and additional notes of dried stone fruit, fig and candied cherry. Read our profile here.
A well-loved rum brand that’s been around since 1888, Brugal recently launched an ongoing series showcasing ingredients from its home in the Dominican Republic. Colección Visionaria also marks the debut of Aromatic Cask Toasting, a new process where cacao beans infuse toasted casks with nutty and fruity aromas. Overall, it’s a wonderful melange of chocolate, orange, caramel, toasted almonds, vanilla, wood spice, tobacco and dark fruits, with a rich mouthfeel, full body and a nice long finish. More info here.
Our friends and a lot of industry folks who are into non-alcoholic spirits pretty much swear by this Italian-inspired, Brooklyn-based distillery, which also offers two booze-free Negroni variations (Phony and Phony Mezcal). This amaro alternative is a combination of all-natural citrus, botanical and herbal ingredients, and the spice, mint and bitterness, rounded by a bit of cola-like sweetness and carbonation, makes it more akin to an amaro highball.
Usually, my favorite part of the year for Scotch is the annual Octomore releases in the fall. And those peaty expressions were great, as usual, but my favorite release from this terroir-obsessed Islay distillery was an unpeated gem. Coming in at 50% ABV, Bere Barley 2013 is tropical fruit-forward, malty and full of honey and toasted oak notes, with a rich and oily mouthfeel. It was aged primarily in first-fill American oak with some second-fill French oak and utilizes an ancient variety of barley, sourced from Orkney, that can be traced back 2,000 years.
A unique, limited-edition bottle references an old and currently rarely used Hispanic-Peruvian production method of distilling live yeast. Coming in at 95 proof with no water dilution, the Exclusivo is wonderfully sweet, silky, fruity and peppery while still maintaining its cooked agave flavor and a nice minerality.
Felipe Camarena’s family has been crafting tequila in Los Altos de Jalisco since 1937. G4 uses estate-grown agave, and its water source is a mix of collected rainwater and spring water from their own farm. The liquid undergoes a natural fermentation process, and the distillery works with a multigenerational yeast that Felipe’s grandfather started. For this release, G4 aged its tequila for six years in Dickel Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled at barrel strength (86 proof). This special release maintains full agave flavor, with plenty of citrus and pepper, while adding a bit of the expected tobacco, leather and baking spice notes from the ex-whiskey barrels. Bright and earthy, this is a sipping tequila for people who want the actual tequila character.
The founder of Mijenta is back with a mezcal (a B-Certified Corp) where the “smoke” that many people identify with the spirit isn’t an afterthought, but it’s certainly not the emphasis, either — it’s more of an earthy hint that serves to enhance the other flavors and aromas. Crafted from a wide variety of wild foraged agave, wild yeast and a handbuilt still, the Ensamble is distilled from eight-year-old Espadín, Tobalá, Jabalí silvestre (10 to 15 years old) and rare Salmiana silvestre (15 to 35 years old). Here, you’ll find an aromatic blend that’s full of stone fruit on the palate (with a bit of sweetness) and some lingering minerality on the finish. It is indeed a work of art, and your impressions will and should change with each sip.
While rye has been a component of Irish whiskey in the past and a bit in the present, the grain has usually only made up a small percentage of the spirit’s mashbill. And the rye itself, at least in the present day, has been imported from other parts of Europe. This rye, however, is 100% Irish-grown. To create the new expression, Powers doubled the fermentation time and put the liquid through a column still in lieu of the traditional pot still. It also utilizes four different types of American oak (virgin oak, first-fill bourbon and refills) for aging less than five years. Overall, it’s an incredibly balanced yet surprisingly not-that-spicy rye; it has a sweetness and earthiness on the nose, and you’ll find a complexity on the palate with notes of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, banana and cherry.
From Torahbaig Distillery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, this double-barrel blended Scotch was aged for 12 years in refill American Oak hogsheads then re-aged in 230-liter barrels that held Oloroso sherry — and then re-aged again in specially coopered 500-liter European oak butts that were seasoned with Oloroso sherry. Despite the “heavily peated” label, it has a low peat point (18.7ppm) and the smoke is pretty delicate on the nose. On the palate, however, the warm campfire notes shine alongside the sweet, fruity flavors and a bit of maritime salinity. At about $70 or less, this is a steal.
Hailing from one of our favorite new(ish) domestic distilleries, this is a 100% malted barley American single malt aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in barrels that previously held ethically sourced, small-batch coffee. Sales of the limited edition release help fund $100K in scholarship aid to women looking to enter the field of distillation and whiskey production. A noble goal, but it still needs to taste good — and it does. The unique finish brings out some delicious coffee and mocha notes, which pair well with the vanilla and baking spice flavors you’d expect from the ex-bourbon barrels.
The second in a series that utilizes unusual or rare woods as part of the maturation process, this bottle features Teeling’s single pot still whiskey (50% malted barley, 50% unmalted) that’s triple distilled and fully matured in virgin Portuguese oak casks. Coming in at 50% ABV, this WOW release features notes of sandalwood, cereal, orange and a bit of lemon butterscotch on the finish. It’s a bit oily and quite delicious.
Best Bourbons to Drink in 2023Including excellent bottles from Barrell, Chicken Cock, Old Forester and more
This new line of bottled spritzes raised a few red flags: it’s celebrity-owned (JLo), and that celebrity is not a drinker. However, the liquid here is overseen by Lynnette Marrero, an award-winning bartender and founder of SpeedRack, so we gave it a chance. They’re all delicious and refreshing, without any sort of artificial notes you often find in ready-to-drink offerings. The Paloma is particularly bright and even offers a hint of salt.
Barrell is an award-winning independent blender of uniquely aged cask-strength whiskey — but those fun maturations don’t come cheap. Ergo, a new five-year bourbon that’s more approachable in price ($60-ish) but still complex enough for whiskey enthusiasts. A blend of KY, IN, TN and MD bourbon whiskeys bottled at 100-proof with a derived mashbill of 73% corn, 23% rye and 4% malted barley, this one is, well, harmonious. It features a powerful nose with sweet, buttery notes of caramel popcorn, honey, vanilla and a little wood spice on the palate. A steal.
A limited-edition release from the famed Islay distillery, this is a 17-year-old whisky finished in a white Madeira cask and hand-selected by renowned chef Francis Mallmann. Limited to just 276 bottles worldwide, this one maintains the peaty, smoky flavors you’d associate with Laphroaig but adds in a wonderful amount of orange zest and tropical notes, along with a hint of salinity.
Via Carota is a well-loved Italian restaurant in NYC’s West Village, helmed by James Beard award-winning chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi. The Via Carota Craft Cocktails portfolio consists of three ready-to-pour recipe families (Negroni, Bourbon-based, Martini) with two cocktails each. Oddly, given my love of whiskey, it’s the Martini bottles that shine here. The vodka Martini is perfectly balanced and far less punchy (read: boozy) than something I’d make at home or get at a bar — it’s the rare case where the bottled version shows more restraint and flavor. And the Espresso Martini is an after-dinner stunner, with the coffee notes really shining through.
Every year, this Colorado distillery releases a new edition of Diamond Peak, which utilizes a unique cask maturation. This year, it’s a five- to eight-year-old American single malt that spends an additional two years in extra añejo casks that previously held Jose Cuervo’s most premium tequila, Reserva de la Familia by Jose Cuervo. The herbal, peppery and agave notes here are modest, but they really add mouthfeel and flavor to the more expected butterscotch, caramel and floral profile of Stranahan’s. It shows that American single malts seem to work better with tequila finishes than bourbons and other American whiskeys.
You probably don’t think of gin as a spirit that can conjure a cult following — but then again, maybe you haven’t had Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut. If you’re not familiar, Monkey 47’s evergreen expression features 47 botanicals. Each year for Distiller’s Cut, they add in a 48th botanical, which was woodruff for this year’s edition 12. Sourced near the distillery’s home in the Black Forest, woodruff gives the gin a spicy but smooth flavor with a touch of cinnamon. It’s absolute perfection in a Martini. Fun fact: the corks of Monkey 47’s standard expression are outfitted with silver rings, but Distiller’s Cut always has gold. Now that you’re aware, you might start to notice gin nerds wearing them as a badge of honor for bottles well enjoyed. – Amanda
Ultra-aged bourbon is not something we usually go for (the sweet spot is about 10 to 12 years), but Buffalo Trace used its new experimental warehouses to create the oldest and best expression of Eagle Rare yet. You’ll find notes of cherry, dark chocolate, vanilla and, of course, some oak spice, but certainly not to the astringent levels you’d expect.
Back in 2012, Alexandre Gabriel — owner of Maison Ferrand and Ferrand Cognac Master Blender — and spirits and cocktail historian David Wondrich revived a 19th-century recipe to introduce Ferrand Dry Curaçao, which has been a beloved cocktail ingredient in the years since. In 2023, the duo reunited for the limited edition Ferrand Dry Curaçao Yuzu Late Harvest. The yuzu fruit is left to ripen past maturity for more concentrated flavors before a maceration of the whole yuzu is infused in grape spirit for a week before it’s distilled and blended with Ferrand Cognac. The result is a candied citrus flavor profile with rich pastry notes of almond and vanilla. It’s outstanding in a Margarita and other daisy cocktails. – Amanda
We love Yola Mezcal for a lot of reasons: owner Yola Jimenez’s farm and mezcal recipe were passed down from her grandfather, the brand employs local women and provides childcare, and they crush roasted agave the old-school way with a horse-powered tahona. This year, the brand launched our favorite expression to date, an elegant Pechuga that’s made from eight-year-old agave angustifolia. Pechuga is produced using a centuries-old technique where a protein is hung above the still during distillation. Steam rises, and juices from the meat — in Yola’s case, a turkey breast — drip into the in-progress spirit. Yola Pechuga is then married with local fruits like tangerine, lime, guava and pineapple for a rich, elegant spirit of which we can’t get enough. – Amanda
Shibui is a recently launched brand with a fascinating portfolio and a co-owner who’s not afraid to take on the giants of the Japanese whisky world. The whiskies here are crafted by multiple distilleries from two different regions of Japan; the art of blending and multi-cask maturation is showcased in expressions from Niigatta, while Okinawa’s releases feature distillates from local grains (mainly, long-grain rice). This single-grain release is sweet and floral with a fair amount of salinity — it’s almost like a dessert.
This SF-based brand offers a more mindful and American attitude to aperitifs, approaching them from both a winemaking and a low-ABV cocktail background. Bourbon fans will gravitate toward Vanilla Nightfall, and Campari fans should enjoy Bitter Citrus — both fine on their own, btw — but we’re picking Alpine because it offers something very gin-like but with lower ABV and a pronounced piney-ness.
From Iconic Spirits — a premium line of Japanese tipples such as Teitessa whisky and Awayuki gin — comes this rather delicious and, yes, flavorful vodka. It has the right amount of sweetness with a nose of cooked rice and a warm, creamy mouthfeel. Also available in Yuzu and Lychee flavors.
One of our favorite tequila brands, this woman-led, certified B Corp distillery released a limited-edition añejo aged approximately 18 months in four types of hand-selected casks: American white oak, French oak, acacia and cherry. The final result is a luscious mix of cooked agave, cacao, butterscotch and dried fruits.
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