The year 2018 has been an eventful one, no matter where you looked. This is no less true in the spirits world. Even as cannabis continues to boom as an intoxicant of choice and manufacturers pivot to weed beer, there have been innovations in almost every type of booze, from Japanese gin to bartender-made brandy to a Danish spirit from a team of Noma alums that defies categorization.
The spirits we selected as “best in show” represent a bunch of delicious, weird, and pioneering bottles divided into three categories: classics that are newly available from distributors; true innovators; and the purely best in class—plus an honorable mention that warrants its own space, because, well, it’s a not even alcoholic. If you’re in the market for a few different bottles to welcome 2019, each of these is worth cracking open.
Produced from grapes grown on an estate established in 1939 from 40- to 60-year-old vines, this unfiltered and undiluted brandy packs quite a punch at 49.9 percent alcohol by volume. But once you power through the heat, you’re left with deep, luxurious notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice. A slow sipper for long winter nights.
Handmade and distilled to proof from a single varietal of sugar cane juice, like rhum agricole from Martinique, rather than molasses, Clairin stands apart significantly from rums you might be familiar with—it’s grassy, complex, and somewhat briny. Made near the beaches of southwestern Haiti, Clairin Vaval can be a great substitute for standard white rum in citrus-forward drinks such as a daiquiri or mojito.