No matter how you choose to remember the year 2017, it's been a banner 12-month run for drinking connoisseurs. Here, we’ve collected a sampling of liquors that came into the world this year—spirits that are either delightfully delicious, distractingly daring, or both.
If you’re looking for some fresh ideas to start off 2018, each bottle on this list is worthy of an unforgettable investigation.
The Brown LiquorsConsider Little Book a newborn sibling to the blockbuster that is Booker’s. This is the first release by Freddie Noe, the 30-year-old, 8th-generation descendant of Jim Beam founder Jacob Beam, who has crafted a blend of 4-year-old straight bourbon, 13-year-old corn whiskey, plus malt and rye whiskeys. The result is a unique American sipper with heavy notes of vanilla coupled with tropical fruits and floral hints.
Also new from spirits giant Beam Suntory is the 16-year-old version of Tyrconnell, named after a famous Irish racing colt. This rich, powerful whiskey is distilled out of the Killbeggan Distillery and spends a minimum of 16 years in ex-bourbon barrels. The long finish and deep complexity is enhanced with just a small splash of water.
Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza, from master Scotch blender John Glaser, was released this year to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Scotch Whisky Association banning his original Spice Tree—it used fresh oak staves from France during aging, a big no-no for Scotch. With the Extravaganza, Glaser has created something very similar to the original, but this time augmented with old sherried single malts that results in a lovely balance of complex spiciness and round sweetness.
One of the strangest and most delicious releases this year is Akashi Ume, a bottle that combines Akashi’s “White Oak” whisky blend with macerated Japanese Ume plums. It’s a lot sweeter than most whiskys, and some drinkers might be tempted to consider this a liqueur. But at 30.5% ABV with vibrant acidity, Akashi Ume can stand alone on the rocks or with a splash of soda. It also mixes well in a simple highball or a sour cocktail.
The Clear ChoicesVodka is often the odd man out in the current craze for artisanal spirits. Polugar, an ancient type of spirit more akin to Russian “bread wine,” isn’t even technically vodka: It’s more often thought of as its forefather, and a brother to whiskey. Though released in 2014, the brand’s line of infused spirits started gaining traction this year. Polugar No. 3 is distilled from a base of rye and then re-distilled with caraway and coriander. Think of it as a love-child between unaged whiskey, vodka, and aquavit that works best in a Bloody Mary, martini, negroni, or just on the rocks.
Distilled in the highlands of Jalisco by Melly Cardenas, one of the few female tequila distillers, La Gritona tequila might look a bit paler in color than many others on the market. That’s due in part to the fact that she lightly re-chars the bourbon barrels before resting the tequila for eight months. This reposado allows refreshing and vegetal notes of the agave to shine through, making it excellent for sipping but also versatile in cocktails, whether a traditionally tequila concoction such as a Paloma or a refreshing take on the Negroni.
The year may be remembered as the year that well spirits started to go high-end. Case in point: The new well line Street Pumas, custom-distilled in Spain with juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, sweet orange peel, and bitter orange peel, blows the cheap stuff out of the water. The bottles even come with a comic book-inspired label created by artist Zak Hartong and designed by William Bahan.
The well-established lowland producer Arette has been making excellent tequila for years, but 2017 was the year that its Artesanal Suave Tequila Blanco was released in the United States. The herbal, vegetal, somewhat savory blanco is best for sipping with a small ice cube, but it would bring a lovely earthiness to your next margarita.
Made from the rare and wild Montana agave varietal, only 369 bottles of the fantastically complex Mezcal de Leyenda Grandes Unicos exist in the world. This mezcal has smokiness that is also surprisingly slightly peaty, with dark green herbal overtones. Sipping neat is the only way to go with this one.
The Avant-Garde OptionsLustau has been making sherries for over a century, but this year, the Jerez, Spain-based winery released Lustau Vermut Blanco, a white vermouth that rivals similar offerings from France and Italy. Fino sherry and Moscatel wine are infused with wormwood, gentian, rosemary, orange peel, marjoram and chamomile; the result is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted in your dry martini. This one might even be best appreciated with minimal mixing—at most some ice and a splash of soda.
When talking rum, the word ‘funky’ gets thrown around a lot. Two James Doctor Bird, distilled in Jamaica and finished in Moscatel barrels in Detroit, is one of the few that really earns that description. A wine-barrel finish gives it a bouquet of otherworldly tropical fruit notes that will reward the more adventuresome sippers among us. But at 50 percent ABV, this is also a rum that begs to be mixed into tropical and tiki cocktails.
Singani 63 has been produced in the Bolivian Andes for nearly five centuries. But it hasn’t been widely available in the United States until now. Distilled from the thick-skinned muscat grape and rested in stainless steel for nine months, this fresh, spicy floral spirit lends itself perfectly to bright, citrusy cocktails. Try subbing it for gin in a Corpse Reviver #2.
Many traditional digestives can be cloying and overpoweringly bitter, rendering them largely inaccessible to more sensitive palates. Arcane Fernet trades the sugar for peppermint and adds three varieties of hop flowers—as well as an equal number of citrus types—for an added dimension of bright bitterness. The Brooklyn-made spirit only has a glancing similarity to Fernet Branca. And that’s a good thing.