Inspired by Wall Street stock predictions, our year-end retrospective list is aimed squarely at the industry: the importers, the distributors, and the retailers. These are the spirits we think can make money and deserve to make money. Just like “can’t miss” stock picks, these aren’t guarantees (of course!) but we feel like they’re very, very good bets.
Last year we published a “Must Carry List for 2012” and we’re pleased to see that several of the spirits we suggested had good years (High West Distillery and Bear Hug Infusions seem to be doing well) and others are still waiting to get into the US (why won’t someone import Vegefeur?).
Here are our recommendation from this year and why you should carry them (see below for our criteria):
- Homestead Bourbon. The bourbon connoisseur market is going crazy with stories of the adoring public literally pursuing delivery trucks for particular labels. Those labels are scarce and alternatives are needed. Homestead is one of your answers. It’s a very good bourbon that can compete with some of the best brands on the market. Its price-point is marvelous compared to comparable bourbon. This would be a hit for any liquor store looking at an extended bourbon selection.
- Grand Teton Potato vodka. For anyone who has visited our vodka top-20 list, you’ve noticed Grand Teton has had a spectacularly successful year in critical ratings. Our opinion is that the critical accolades are well deserved. For anyone who likes the authoritative and earthy taste of potato vodka, this is a must-have for both the extended vodka selection in a liquor store and any bar that promises upscale, classic vodka martinis. It takes a lot to impress us with vodka but Grand Teton did it.
- Door County Distillery. There are some great craft-distillers coming out of the Midwest and if there’s one that has a chance to follow the success of North Shore Distillery or Rehorst, then it’s probably Door County. Their gin is likely their signature product but they also put out a line of fruit brandies and are beginning to release some whiskeys. For those bars and liquor stores in the Midwest looking to carry local products, Door County should certainly be on the list.
- Yerlo. Asian spirits are underserved in the American market (where the continent of Asia itself has certainly embraced whiskey). It’s a rice-based spirit that we regard as a cousin to baijiu or shochu (though the distiller regards it in a category of its own). It’s high-proof but also manages to be sweet and light. For those areas serving an Asian market or bars looking to add an international flair to their lineup, this is a surefire hit. And if you’re making sushi at home…
- Brovo Amaro liqueurs. broVo out of Seattle shows up for our second straight year. Their products are aimed quite specifically at the craft-cocktail world. Their run of specialty amaro liqueurs will be a sure-fire hit for any bartender/mixologist in any upscale setting in any city. They are the distinctive flair that will add the little élan to your drink. Our highest recommendations for specialty cocktail bars and adventurous home mixologists.
- Chila Orchata Rum Cream. This is from a Big Liquor company in Sazerac and an entrant into the space carved out by RumChata. It is the very first time that we’ve tried anything that could actually compete with RumChata… and for some palates, it will be better. We said it had a “staid dryness” that elevates a cocktail. Recommended for any major liquor store and should be carried in any party-atmosphere bar.
- James Pepper 1776 Bourbon and Rye. More alternatives to a bourbon market that is having trouble keeping up. These are excellent examples of the craft of whiskey-making at very, very reasonable prices. Recommended for extended whiskey collections in liquor stores and bars; these are deadly accurate recreations of classics.
- Miodula Honey Vodka. We’d be remiss if we didn’t include an import that seems to be having trouble finding purchase in North America. In a market that seems mad for honey, this is a honey vodka that evades the overly sweetened liqueur space, claims authentic honey flavor, and also distinguishes itself in its own right. It’s the finest example of honey anything we tasted all year long. Recommended for any mixologist looking for signature drinks in the white spirits space. It might not have the name power of Barenjager or Smirnoff or the recent outpouring of flavored whiskeys but it is far superior to the vast majority of them in taste.
And that closes our 2013… here’s looking forward to another exciting year in 2014! For those curious, here are the criteria we use in selecting spirits…
We wetted our own tongues with it this very year and liked it. And when we taste something, we taste with rigor in a lot of different settings. Listed here, it means we feel it was not only well-crafted but had a “universal elevation element” in most of the popular cocktail settings.
It’s a little obscure… meaning it isn’t already carried everywhere. There’s great stuff on the traditional market… bourbon’s so popular this year it’s getting stolen from the warehouse (which we're sorry to hear Buffalo Trace). It scarcely does any good to tell a business to carry Pappy Van Winkle.
We have reason to believe that the label can scale. We’ve met a lot of craft distillers who actually aren’t interested in national distribution but want to remain local.
A little marketing appeal helps. We like to see stories or something compelling around the production and/or packaging.
As a final note: we’re independent. We don’t take compensation for our opinions. If it’s on this list, it’s because we really think it’s a winner and will make money. Some spirits are sent to us for free; some were invited events; others we simply happened across and purchased ourselves… other than the review bottles, we’re completely lobby-free. If we’re under any influence at all it’s because we’ve been persuaded by a combination of the story and the taste. We’re happy to answer direct questions.