With the liquor industry constantly releasing new spirits and resurrecting old ones, there's always a favorite ingredient or a hot trend (see: Fireball Whiskey). It can be hard to keep up. For guidance, we asked some of the cocktail community's top bartenders and personalities which spirit or liquor they discovered in 2015 that they now can't live without. Below, experts weigh in on the best of 2015:
Trevor Easter, Noble Experiment in San Diego, CA: Without a doubt Siempra Metl mezcals from Michoacán. Absolutely wonderful mezcals imported by a brand that is the at the cutting edge of transparency on their labeling. Another is the return of Yellow Spot Irish whiskey. And finally the big whopper is the V.J.O.P. from Sipsmith. Gin fans have been waiting for a gin this offensive their whole lives. Only a mad man like Jared Brown could pull off combining distillation methods to make the gin every obsessed gin lover wants: Pure magic in a bottle.
"Without a doubt Siempra Metlmezcals from Michoacán."
Robert Simonson, cocktail writer for The New York Times and author of The Old Fashioned: The 2015 spirit most likely to retain a permanent spot on my shelf is J. Rieger & Co Midwestern Dry Gin. It comes out of J. Rieger & Co., a new distiller in Kansas City, Missouri, but the gin recipe is the work of Tom Nichols, the legendary distiller of Tanqueray. So many new American gins are interesting without actually being good. Its name notwithstanding, Rieger is recognizably a London Dry gin, and a solid one, and just different enough for it to demand space next to Beefeater, Plymouth and, yes, Tanqueray.
Nicholas Krok, bar director at Bestia and co-owner of Courage and Craft liquor shop, both in Los Angeles, CA: Highspire Pure Rye Whiskey. Made by California wine maker Austin Hope, Highspire is its own category of rye whiskey. He sources the rye from a farm only a short distance from the distillery, ferments it at lower temperatures than normal and then ages it for only 130 days in used California red wine barrels. Sounds crazy, tastes amazing. The entire process Hope employs, from the strain of rye he chose to the short aging in nontraditional barrels, creates a delicate yet complex spirit worthy of any serious whiskey drinkers glass. I love this stuff straight or in a simple cocktail. If you go crazy with ingredients, you'll lose all the subtleties. Old Fashioned or a Brooklyn for this spotlight deserving rye.
David Wondrich, author of Imbibe! and Punch: Because I am a fancy spirits writer, occasionally people give me things that are very fine indeed; things like the Dartigalongue Louis Philippe Bas Armagnac, a blend of casks distilled in 1974 and 1976. Richer than Dubai, mellower than Snoop Dogg, with a finish longer than the Game of Thrones books put together, it's something I could quit my job for and spend all day every day sipping. Unfortunately, though, because no matter how fancy, I'm still just a spirits writer. Once the one bottle I was given is gone, nobody's going to send me another, and there's no way on earth I could afford it on my own. Carpe diem.
Jamie Boudreau, Canon in Seattle, WA: Favorites of this year are as follows: Cynar 70, because almost all spirits could use a boost in ABV. For me, ABV=flavor! Sipsmith gin, Courvoisier 12 yr, Pikesville 6 yr rye 110 proof, And Stiggins! Love the Stiggins, which is a surprise as I don't normally enjoy "flavored" spirits, but if all "flavored" spirits dod it with natural ingredients that don't go over the top, but instead are well balanced like Plantation Pineapple rum, I'd be all over the category.
Daniel Djang, Thirsty in LA cocktail blogger and Art Beyond the Glass co-founder: I love the new Cynar 70. My favorite amaro doubles the proof and builds on its distinctive bitterness. Little Italy FTW! Great sipper indeed. For the Little Italy, the increased horsepower and bolder flavor go great with higher proof ryes like Rittenhouse 100 or Wild Turkey 101. Not that the original Cynar didn't hold up, of course.
Alex Day, The Walker Inn in Los Angeles, CA: There have been a lot of new products come to market this year, and many that have become indispensable in our toolkit. But, honestly, I've been most excited about a rediscovering certain spirits—or, I guess, falling back in love with booze that I was excited about years ago. Ya know when you hear a song that you used to obsess over in high school and then it leads to a completely unavoidable spiral through album after embarrassing album of music dripping with nostalgia? Bourbon is my Jimmy Eats World this year. Thanks to a trip to Kentucky with some badass bartenders a few months back, I'm currently deep into rekindling my understanding of bourbon in particular and remembering how valuable it is in our work. It doesn't have to be expensive, but good American whiskey is a truly beautiful and versatile thing.
Dan Dunn, author of American Wino: Glenmorangie Tùsail. For each of the past five years, the fine folks at Glenmorangie—bless their hearts—have released a "Private Edition" single-malt scotch bottling. The range has been a source of great delight to whisky connoisseurs and collectors, a great many of whom (myself included) rate Glenmorangie among the finest whisky producers in the world. The Tùsail gets its name from the Scots Gaelic word for ‘originary,’ and is an homage to a delightful winter barley called Maris Otter, which was brought back from the verge of extinction by Dr. Bill Lumsden, the brand's legendary Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation. It’s a spirit full of rich flavors of nut toffee, ginger, molasses cinnamon and dates, with the familiar notes of peaches, oranges and smoked pea whisky lovers expect in a dram of Glenmorangie.
"I'm really enjoying Singani out of Bolivia."
Dapper Diner, freelance writer for SF Weekly: I'm really enjoying Singani out of Bolivia. It reminds me of a more fragrant and floral pisco which adds another layer of flavor to drinks traditionally made with pisco. As for specific brands, I've been loving Fernet Francisco in cocktails, since its softness lets more of it be used in drinks compared to Branca. And Plantation "Stiggins' Fancy" Pineapple Rum, because it's delicious in a Tiki drink or on its own on ice.
Paul Clarke, Imbibe Magazine: I’m gonna say the brand-new Caña Brava 7-year-old Reserva Añeja rum. There are plenty of aged rums out there, but this one fills a particular need—it’s noticeably dry, which make it a great pick for cocktails, and with a little higher proof, it lets its rum flavor shine through in a drink. Like everything from the 86 Co., the rum has a great balance, and it’s versatile enough to fit many aged-rum needs in recipes.
Elana Lepowski, Stir & Strain and Serious Eats: Pisco. I know this isn't a "new" spirit, I mean, it dates back to the 16th century so it's been around the block. However, I got a little schooling on the spirit earlier this year and learned just how mixable this liquor was. After that I started using it in many cocktail recipes that I might not have initially considered Pisco for, like Tiki drinks. Now I always have a bottle at the ready.
Cody Skrbina, Daveco Liquors, "World's Largest Liquor Store" in Thornton, CO: A.D. Laws Four Grain Whiskey has to take the cake for 2015. It's one of the best Colorado Whiskeys that has really taken the market by storm. It's such an exceptional spirit and it's one of my go-tos. I love it for its refined qualities. It's such a great spirit. I always make sure to have a bottle at home!
Julia Momose, GreenRiver in Chicago, IL: I first fell in love with Aquavit in place of the vodka in a Bloody Mary. The flavor of caraway seed in the forefront, and the supporting flavors of juniper, star anise, and citrus peel play so well in this classic. Aquavit also is beautiful in more nuanced applications as well. One that I really enjoy is The Square Shooter on our menu at GreenRiver, with Celebration Aquavit (caraway, dill, star anise, coriander, orange, vanilla), mezcal, falernum, framboise, vanilla, and absinthe. On another flavor spectrum, we have The Head Honcho, using North Shore Aquavit (caraway, star anise, coriander, cinnamon, etc), caper, genepy, citron sauvage, and dry vermouth. The house Bloody Mary at GreenRiver is made with North Shore Aquavit as well, and is a very soft iteration of the bold brunch drink.