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Best New Spirits of 2009


This year has been an interesting one for the launch of distilled spirits. We did not see too many "ordinary" liquors appear on the market, but instead have seen more boutique and completely unique tequilas, gins, and whiskies. Infusions were still a big hit, though we didn't see too many infused vodkas, which was a nice change of pace. I tried to collect a range of distilled spirits for this year's list and it ended up including some amazing new bottles that should lead to some very interesting cocktails.

1. Square One Botanical Spirit

Square One Botanical Spirit
Photo Courtesy of: © Square One Organic Spirits
Not a liqueur but it is also doesn't claim to be a vodka, though if you want to label it I would say it is an infused vodka. Whatever it is, this "spirit" is fantastic and almost as complex as a gin (minus the juniper). This 2009 release from Square One is rye-based and filled with organic fruits and botanicals and can form some wonderful cocktails. Use it like a vodka to invigorate some of your favorite vodka cocktails or get creative and experiment with it to form unforgettable drinks.

2. Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila

Rosangel Margarita
Photo Courtesy of: © Gran Centenario
Pink tequila? It is true and it is delicious. The beautiful, pale pink spirit gets its hue and flavor from being aged in used port barrels and an infusion of hibiscus flowers. The result is a semi-sweet, floral tequila unlike any you have ever tasted and it lends itself to some amazing, new cocktails like Julie Reiner's Rosangel Ruby Fizz and a Rosangel Margarita. This is one tequila that will captivate you.

3. Fruit Lab Organic Liqueurs

Fruit Lab Organic Liqueurs - Citry (Orange), Crism (Hibiscus), Theia (Jasmine)
Photo Courtesy: © Modern Spirits LLC

I met with Melkohn Khosrovian and Litty Mathew of Modern Spirits this summer at Tales of the Cocktail and that is when they introduced me to their new organic liqueurs and I was sold on them immediately.

The new brand was launched under the label Fruit Lab and currently includes three flavors. There is the luscious "Citry" that has replaced most orange liqueurs in my bar, but the other two are relatively unheard of in the industry. "Crism" is a sweet, floral, tangy hibiscus liqueur that brings together sweet and sour with its hibiscus flavor and "Theia" is a lively and exotic jasmine liqueur. Both of these can be used to create amazing modern cocktails and are simply divine straight and chilled.

4. The Macallan 1824 Collection of Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The Macallan 1824 Collection of Scotch Whisky
Photo Courtesy of: © The Macallan

Every year I end up including a Scotch or two in my list of favorites and this year it comes in the form of a stunning collection of the whiskey from The Macallan. I had the opportunity to taste three of the four from the 1824 Collection - the Select Oak, Whisky Maker's Edition, and Estate Reserve - and have to say they are the most impressive whiskies of the year. These single malts span from a delicate, sweet to an intense, complex oak. My favorite for sipping straight undoubtedly has to be the Estate Reserve (though I have not tried the 1824 Limited Release, which goes for $2000 a bottle) and for those who love refined Scotch cocktails, the Select Oak is a great choice.

5. Van Gogh Blue and Dutch Caramel Vodkas

Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka
Photo Courtesy of: © Van Gogh Imports

The notable vodkas of the year were launched by none other than Van Gogh. The two new additions to the company's line are phenomenal and bring their listing to over 20 spirits.

Van Gogh Blue breaks the trend of flavored vodkas, and is instead an attempt at a rich clear one. This one is made from Dutch wheat and is one of the best wheat vodkas available to date. It is also an upgrade for Van Gogh's original vodka - which in itself is top of the line - making vodka cocktails that will WOW anyone.

The other Van Gogh release of 2009 is Dutch Caramel. This is dessert in a glass and simply irresistible. If you enjoyed their attempts at espresso you are going to find this one of the most impressive, non-fruit infusions out on the market.

6. Compass Box Orangerie

Compass Box Orangerie Scotch Whisky Infusion
Photo Courtesy: © Compass Box

You may know of Compass Box's Orangerie from holiday seasons in the past as it was only a seasonal release. It has made my 2009 list because of the exciting news that this unique "Scotch" is now available year round.

Technically we cannot call it a Scotch whisky, but the Orangerie is instead a "Scotch whisky infusion" because it is infused with orange, cassia bark and clove. These introduced elements turn the blend of single malt Highland and single grain Fife whiskies into a delightful treat that is truly unique and wonderful against the Scotch background. Use this spirit when you want to add a kick to winter cocktails or when you feel like sipping the flavors of the holidays no matter what the season may be.

7. Woodford Reserve Master's Collection 'Seasoned Oak Finish' Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Seasoned Oak Finish Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Photo Courtesy of: © Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey

In a short period of time Woodford Reserve has been an innovative distillery that has made mark and with the fourth in their Master's Collection they do not seem to be slowing down. The 'Seasoned Oak Finish' is my personal favorite of the collection so far and is a phenomenal sipping bourbon.

This bottling takes the "average" Woodford Reserve bourbon and finish ages it in barrels that have been naturally seasoned in the Kentucky weather for 3-5 years. The whiskey ends up being the richest, most robust we have seen from the distillery and holds an invigorating complexity with crisp edges. Get a hold of this limited edition release while it is available, then thank yourself and share with friends.

8. The Red Stag by Jim Beam Bourbon

Red Stag by Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey - Black Cherry Infused Bourbon Whisky
Photo Courtesy of: © Beam Global Spirits & Wine

Jim Beam stepped out of the standard bourbon box this year with the release of The Red Stag. This bottling takes the classic bourbon and infuses it with black cherry for a very interesting take on an old favorite.

There are mixed reviews about Red Stag and whether you like it or not will depend on your personal taste. Some people find that it has too much of a medicinal flavor, but that is common with any cherry-flavored alcohol. However, some of us find this an innovation and inspiration with a lot of cocktail potential. As one of my readers said, "A Manhattan waitin' to Happen!" I have to agree and there are more bourbon cocktails that can benefit from this infusion.

9. Oxley Classic English Dry Gin

Oxley Classic English Dry Gin
Photo Courtesy: © Oxley Spirits

One of the notable gins to come out of 2009 has to be Oxley Classic English Dry Gin. Yes, it is designed, as the name suggests, in the classic dry English style and is very similar to a London dry gin, but this one has a unique characteristic. Oxley is produced using a distilling technique called "cold distillation," which is not commonly used in the industry. This process allows the botanicals of the gin to come through in a softer, more natural way, making this gin ideal for those who like a more delicate profile.

On another gin note, you have to try Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin, launched in December, 2008. This orange-colored gin is simply amazing and adds a delightful twist to the Martini and any other classic gin cocktail.

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