(because Cinco de Mayo is just an excuse to dabble in something you really ought to enjoy more often)
- Z Blanco Tequila (~$24): you were going to drink it neat, right? Before you go shooting this one, you really ought to appreciate what this company is able to do with such an affordable spirit. Z (a project of Pepe Zevada) harvests their agave 1-2 years later than most distillers (h/t to Drink Spirits for the gouge). The result is a ripe, sugary base for fermentation, distilled in a squat column still to preserve an enormous range of pepper, spice, and sweet vegetable. The blanco means this is a new make spirit, very forward and aggressive (but that's where the fun is). One of my most recommended budget tequilas, just don't say I didn't warn you - it's crazy.
- Tequila Avion Reposado (~33): so you want to slow things down and savor the sensations? That's where Tequila Avion steps in with their A-game. This is a rediculously drinkable tequila, famous for its "pleasure over pain" advertising and fabulous market disruption. This young distiller is shaking up what it means to be a tequila. I personally think Avion's reposado (meaning "rested" - aged around 9 months in bourbon barrels) is their best expression, striking the perfect balance between mellow oakiness and that warm tequila fire.
- Don Julio Anejo (~$52): the old man in the room (founded in 1942), many of you will be tempted to dismiss this tequila as an establishment ultra-premium that's overrated or old-fashioned. That would be foolish. This tequila fetches a premium price for a reason, as you'd be hard pressed to find an anejo (meaning "aged" - 18 months) that tastes or looks anything like this one. That's because Don Julio actually presses this spirit into second-fill bourbon barrels; that is, barrels that were previously used to age their reposado. As a result, you get all the warm, mocha/vanilla creaminess that comes from barrel aging without the massive oaky hit like you'd get with a bourbon. Keep this one for the special occasions.
(because as long as we're dabbling in imports, you may as well)
- Single Malt: Bruichladdich “The Laddie” 10 (~$50). The first 10yo batch since the distillery reopened in 2001, there’s not a more perfect expression of malt this young anywhere in the world. Only lightly peated for an Islay, the fruity grain is the star of the show here.
- ACE’d (Additional Cask Enhancement): Bowmore 15 “Darkest” (~55). For a huskier showing, I present another fine son of Islay, this one extra matured in Oloroso sherry casks. The smoky malt and the delicate sherry are balanced perfectly, providing a sweet spin for a very fetching price.
- Limited Edition: Glenmorangie Astar (~$70). Glenmo proves they’ve still got the lead on extra cask maturation with this stunning bourbon-barrel private edition. You think you’ve tasted sweet and creamy? This is sweet and creamy served on silk. The nose on its own is like snorting crème brulee – a positively decadent dessert dram that none of your friends will believe is a Scotch.
(in case "5th of May" is more your thing)
- Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whisky (~$30): Badda boom, badda bing. You just can’t beat it, and for its price it’s a steal. Perfect for mixing or sipping neat - see our review on the matter.
- Four Roses Single Barrel (~$39): Another high rye bourbon, but the pepper and spice is subdued a bit compared to Bulleit’s offering. A full-bodied and exclusive take on what is already a great original.
- Angel’s Envy (~$45): Extra matured in port pipes? That’s all I needed to hear. Suffice to say that this one’s generating a lot of buzz, and I hope it's the start of many ACE’d bourbon expressions to come from this master distiller. Like burying your face in a rummy fruit pie.
(because Roger F***ing Sterling)
- Greylock Gin (~$28): the juniper is surprisingly restrained here, allowing coriander and citrus spice to roam free over that river water base. This is easily enjoyed neat to appreciate its complexity, as its action on the palate is soft and mineral-y.
- The Botanist (~$35): a product of the ancient “Ugly Betty” still at Bruichladdich Distillery (of Scotch fame) on Islay, you’d expect this to be something peaty or farmy. Not so. 22 of the 31 botanicals used are native to Islay, including that dominant Islay juniper. Positively bursting with flavor, and splendid for mixing.
- Leopold’s Gin (~56): most gin distillers either steep their vodka with botanicals to produce the gin flavor or hang the botanicals above distillation vapors in a botanical basket. Leopold’s does neither. Instead, Leopold’s distills each botanical individually and then blends the separate flavors together into one spirit. Crazy stuff, but the results are undeniable. Very small batch, very hard to find.
Bruichladdich Octomore “Comus” (~$170): Easily one of the top 3 Scotches I have ever tasted (which includes Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan, above), there is something unconscionable about placing the world’s peatiest malt (167 ppm phenol) into first-fill sauternes casks. However, there are no words to describe the journey your senses take when this spirit enters the palate. You’re basically Latin dancing with Christina Hendricks, in dramming form. For the ladies out there, insert Channing Tatum. It’s the Don Juan of single malts.
Hakushu Bourbon Barrel (~$110): You’ll read lots of puff pieces out there about how Japanese whisky has arrived, and you’ll probably be concerned that people have just been watching a few too many reruns of Lost in Translation. Let this bottle dispel your doubts. Hakushu is the product of true shokunin, and the bourbon barrel expression raises the bar about as close to perfection as my mind can conceive. Crisp, clear, and bright, this is spring in a bottle and heaven in a glass.