Wahaka Mezcal Joven Tobalá
Mezcal lovers should make a beeline for this rich, peaty small-batch mezcal made with Tobalá, a wild agave plant found in the central valley of Oaxaca. It sits heavy on the tongue and has a long, lingering finish.
Koval Distillery Lion’s Pride Rye Single Barrel
The Chicago-based Koval Distillery makes a range of whiskeys, brandies, and liqueurs, including a very unusual sunchoke brandy. Koval was founded by Robert and Sonat Birnecker, former academics who wanted to bring the distilling traditions of Robert's Austrian grandfather to America. I really liked their Lion’s Pride Organic Rye, which is 100 percent rye and aged for two years in American oak. You’ll catch whiffs of banana and vanilla, and flavors of caramel, spices, and citrus fruits blossom in your mouth.
Roughstock Montana Straight Rye Whiskey
Roughstock is the first legal distillery in Montana since Prohibition, and they offer six whiskies. Unfortunately for me, the Straight Rye, an absolute standout, is currently only available in Montana, but they are hoping to distribute it to other states starting next summer. The rye is made with a 100 percent rye grain mash and aged two and a half years in American oak barrels. This is a full-bodied whiskey with lots of spice and toffee on the palate.
Benromach Speyside Single Malt Scotch
This 2005 Speyside single malt is aged in bourbon and sherry casks, and then transferred to Sassicaia wine casks for 29 months. It’s a very smooth whiskey with berry, sherry, and gentle smoky flavors coming through. There’s a long, slightly peppery finish. The only downside to this Scotch? There are only 300 bottles in the U.S.
La Troussépinètte is made by winemaker Gerard Pagnon, who is from Cognac. He takes blackthorn shoots, (the blackthorn bush produces sloe berries), macerates them in cognac, and adds red or white wine. I tried the white version, which has a strong almond aroma and flavor. This is an elegant sip that would be great before or after dinner.
Averell Damson Gin Liqueur
Made by Scott Krahn (of DH Krahn gin), Averell is made with damson plums from New York State. It’s similar to a sloe gin (sloe berries are a relative of the plum) and manages to elegantly balance tart and sweet. While it could be a lovely fruity component in cocktails, it’s also darn good just straight.
Journeyman Distillery Ravenswood Rye Whiskey
Bill Welter, the Michigan-based distiller behind Journeyman Distillery, apprenticed at Chicago’s Koval Distillery in 2010. While there, he put his rye into barrels and named the finished product Ravenswood Rye after the neighborhood Koval is located in. It’s 60 percent rye, 40 percent wheat, and aged in Minnesota white oak barrels. There’s the spice you expect from rye, while the wheat tones it down a bit. It’s a smooth, easy rye that packs a lot of flavor. The distillery is all-organic, down to the beeswax used in the barrels.
Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy
The Iowa-based distillers use five varieties of local apples in their apple brandy. It’s aged in used bourbon barrels and finished in French Limousin oak. This is an ideal fall sipping spirit; fruit and oak mingle on the palate and the finish is rich and warming.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ethereal Gin
The Great Barrington, Massachusetts distillery releases a new batch of its Ethereal Gin each year, changing the bottle label color and tweaking the recipe. It uses 14 different botanicals, and each year the combination changes slightly. The purple label Ethereal definitely has character—there’s a nice balance of citrus, rose, and spices. Berkshire was founded by Chris Weld, who got the distilling bug early—he tried to make his own still for a class science project in eighth grade, but his mother stopped him when she realized it was illegal.
Released in August by Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge Bitters is an aperitif with a gentle sage flavor. It’s made with a variety of herbs, spices, and roots, including genipi, which is alpine wormwood. They recommend mixing it with ginger ale and orange peel, or adding some to an IPA for a simple beer cocktail.