by Jacob Brower, Spirits Buyer
From bourbon to Scotch to tequila and mezcal, craft spirits are incredibly popular right now. However, because the world of spirits is so broad, some of the most incredible bottles on the shelf still get overlooked in favor of more familiar options. As your resident spirits expert and enthusiast, I just wanted to point out some of my favorite spirits currently in inventory that aren’t getting quite the attention they’re due. These were the bottles that lingered in my mind after I first tasted samples and then ended up on my home bar because I couldn’t quite live without them. Whatever your favorite category, hopefully you’ll find something to try and enjoy as much as I have!
- Cascahuin ‘Plata 48’ Tequila Blanco, Jalisco, Mexico - $59.99
Like any popular consumer category, tequila in 2020 is full of celebrity-backed and mass-marketed brands like Casamigos, Teremana, and Patrón. It’s a bit of a shame that these opportunistic brands get so much play because they aren’t usually among the better options out there—furthermore, Jalisco is chock-full of traditional, independent producers making much better tequila. Among my favorite recent discoveries is Cascahuin ‘Plata 48,’ a still-strength blanco showcasing the mineral rich agave of the Jalisco Lowlands. Unbelievably complex for its price point, ‘Plata 48’ offers rich notes of cooked agave, dried tropical fruit, and a lovely saline minerality that lingers on the long finish. Strong enough to mix beautifully, but so good you’ll want to sip it neat!
- MacNair’s ‘Lum Reek’ 12 Years Old Blended Malt Scotch, Scotland - $79.99
Blended Scotch has a bad reputation among enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why: the best-known blends from Johnnie Walker, Chivas, and Dewar’s are full of cheap, characterless column-still grain whisky; proofed down to a thin, flavorless 40% abv for ultimate profitability; and bottled with caramel coloring and chillfiltration to make them look ‘clean’ at the expense of mouthfeel and complexity. But not all blends are created equal! Created by legendary Billy Walker—the former master distiller at GlenDronach and BenRiach, current owner-distiller at GlenAllachie, and 2020 Icons of Whisky master distiller/blender of the year—MacNair’s ‘Lum Reek’ 12 Years Old is created by marrying only single malt whiskies from Speyside and Islay, including much older barrels of GlenAllachie. Bottled without chillfiltration and at natural color, it competes favorably with any peated single malt in its price point and blends that are two or three times as expensive. It’s a stunning whisky, however you categorize it: jammy red fruit, sweet malt, and ashy Islay peat smoke make for a complex and thoughtful dram that punches way above its weight.
- Antica Distilleria Quaglia ‘Bèrto’ Distilled Dry Gin, Piedmont, Italy - $29.99
When it’s this warm, pretty much all I want is a gin & tonic! With so many great gins on the market that it’s baffling to me how the big commercial-industrial gin brands remain so popular. Because gin is a broadly-defined category with only a few strict rules, the aromatic and flavor profile from one gin to another can be vastly different. This means two things: 1) there’s almost certainly a gin out there for you, and 2) it’s easy to fall in love with a gin that for whatever reason ends up clashing with a particular cocktail you decide to make down the road. As a result, it’s important to keep an affordable workhorse gin on the bar that works in all the classic cocktails and offers a broadly appealing profile. Enter Quaglia ‘Bèrto’ Distilled Dry Gin. This 1-liter bottle of distilled gin comes from an amaro & vermouth producer in Piedmont. It doesn’t stray too far from the classic juniper-forward London Dry style, with bright notes of citrus and juniper that work well in all the classic gin cocktails, along with an intriguing woodsy botanical profile in the background that offers plenty of interest. Plus it’s hard to beat for the price!
- Breuckelen Distilling ‘Brownstone’ 6 Years Old American Single Malt, Brooklyn, NY - $74.99
Sometimes I worry American single malt is a cursed category. American whiskey drinkers rarely stray outside of bourbon—and when they do it’s rarely further than rye. Similarly, single malt scotch drinkers often like to believe there aren’t any great malt whiskies outside of the UK (and maybe Japan). Finally, there are the bizarre single malt laws in America that differ from every other malt-producing country in the world (new oak, only 51% malted barley required). And yet somehow there are still brave distilleries all over the country working to craft distinct regional malts inspired by Scotland but with an American twist. The right one for you will depend largely on style preferences—there’s BBQ-smoky Colkegan, earthy Bull Run 5-Year, and finally the most recent addition to our shelves, Batch 1 of a 6-year-old single malt from Breuckelen Distilling in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Unpeated and aged in new oak, it offers aromas and flavors of honey, granola, candied orange peel, and freshly cut grass. You have to admire a tiny distillery willing to wait an entire 6 years before releasing their first batch…with only 15 cases released to the New Jersey market, you’d better grab a bottle while you can!
- Jacoulot Fine de Bourgogne ‘L’Authentique’ Brandy, Burgundy, France - $119.99
If you’ve chatted with me in person, came to in-store tastings in 2019, or are on my spirits email list, you likely know about my deep, abiding love for great brandy. If I could fill the entire shop with independently-produced Cognac, Armagnac, and other brandies from around the world, I probably would. But here at Amanti, we also love the wines of Burgundy—and many people don’t even realize the world’s greatest wine region also produces brandy distilled from their annual harvests. While many domaines produce tiny amounts of brandy that never leave France, there are also a few internationally available examples. My personal favorite has to be Jacoulot Fine de Bourgogne ‘L’Authentique,’ which is an exotic rarity in the United States but can be found in pretty much every decent wine shop in its home region. Distilled from the fine lees of Pinot Noir and blended from barrels aged between 7 and 20 years, this is an absurdly delicious brandy that would cost two-to-three times as much for its quality if it came from a better-known region such as Cognac. Presented in a 1-liter bottled at 90 proof, it’s the brandy you didn’t know you needed to try—nutty and unctuous, with a complexly sweet and lingering finish, it’s exactly what I want to drink on a rainy day, or (if I’m being honest) throughout the entire fall and winter.
If you want to try any of these incredible spirits, feel free to purchase online via the items linked below, stop by to browse in person, or give us a call to place an order for pickup. Additionally, feel free to reach out with any questions or if you’d like a recommendation in a different category. Our shelves are overflowing with great spirits at the moment, and I’d be thrilled to point you toward a bottle you’ll love!