Essential Spirits for an Unusual Season - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Essential Spirits for an Unusual Season

What to drink during a holiday season intersected by a pandemic? A number of our favorite bottles to give and serve this year happen to be made by people who’ve worked behind the bar or retail counter. Because 2020 has also been the year of the passion project, after all.


Non-alcoholic drinks are proving to be more than a fad in this era of mindfulness and well-being. As Proteau founder John deBary puts it, “Drinking less or not at all is becoming much more normalized.” The former Momofuku bar director wanted to create an aperitif in the tradition of amaro and fortified wine, but alcohol-free. First came the velvety and floral Ludlow Red in 2019, then Rivington Spritz earlier this year. Bright flavors of Chinese rhubarb, strawberries, gentian and Champagne vinegar are rounded out by chamomile and hibiscus. Hitting floral and bitter notes, it has just enough sparkle to feel celebratory.
0% abv; $20/750ml


Every holiday table needs an amaro to soothe full bellies at the end of the feast. La Boîte makes an argument for serving amaro during the meal as well. A collaboration between Indiana’s Cardinal Spirits and New York spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz, it adds to the growing pantheon of American-made amari that are inspired by the Old World but decidedly not of it. La Boîte has a low proof and subtle bitterness tucked behind layers of spice. Blush-brown in the glass, it’s full of savory star anise and cardamom, with hints of smoke and orange peel.
20% abv; $35/750ml


Scotland’s tradition of independent bottlers, who source casks from distilleries around the country, didn’t have a true US counterpart until Lost Lantern launched this fall. Led by husband-and-wife team Adam Polonski and Nora Ganley-Roper, who hail, respectively, from the worlds of spirits journalism and retail, its inaugural release is a blend of single malts from six US distilleries. There’s the cereal quality found in Pacific Northwest whiskeys, and a whiff of smoke from the mesquite wood used in Santa Fe. “We wanted it to taste American,” says Ganley-Roper. The mingling of salted shortbread, oak spice and milk chocolate doesn’t suggest anywhere else.
52.5% abv; $120/750ml


Global rum ambassador Ian Burrell and distiller Richard Seale are two of the most recognizable names in rum. Together they created this artful blend of Mauritian and Barbadian aged rum. It’s named for Olaudah Equiano, an 18th-century African who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and who later used the profits he made from selling rum to buy his freedom. At once lustrous and restrained— it’s strikingly dry—the rum opens with a burst of banana bread that gives way to gentle spice, with just a hint of hogo, that gamey funk found in old school–style rums.
Imported by Park Street, Miami; 43% abv; $60/750ml


In the ever-growing Irish whiskey category, Knappogue wants to set itself apart with a series of cask-finished single malts, the first of which was launched in 2018. The latest is the Marchesi di Barolo Cask, a limited edition of 1,200 bottles. Aged at least 12 years in Bourbon barrels and finished for up to 12 months in casks from the Barolo producer, it shows plenty of sweet fruit and fresh pastry, with warm spice on the finish. Expect a Cognac-cask finish to roll out soon.
Imported by Castle Brands, NY; 46% abv; $80/750ml


In 2020, many bars and craft distilleries began taking the bottled cocktail seriously. Ready-to-drink (RTD) products, both bottled and canned, have come a long way. Tattersall, a Minneapolis spirits and liqueur producer, released the latest in its line of bottled cocktails, a Manhattan made with Sherry and the company’s own Minnesota rye, Italiano-style liqueur and bitters. Chilled over ice, it’s a solid take on the classic, with the Sherry adding a nutty dimension to the traditional trio of ingredients.
35% abv; $35/750ml

This story appears in the print issue of December 2020.
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