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The Best Whiskies, Rums, And Brandies That We’ve Tasted In Quarantine

Let’s get achingly real. Many of us are probably drinking a little bit more than usual at the moment. The phrase “to take the edge off” has never felt quite so potent. After all, alcoholin moderation — can be a hell of a stress reducer. God knows we’re all plenty stressed.

We understand if you need a drink on a Tuesday afternoon, is what we’re saying. And whether you’re mixing a cocktail or just enjoying a dram on the rocks, having a good bottle of whiskey or rum or brandy on hand is a good call during these trying times.

Since tasting alcohol is a big part of what we do around here, we thought we’d let our audience know what we’ve been sipping on during the quarantine. These aren’t necessarily the best or cheapest or most expensive bottles of any one thing. They’re just the bottles we find ourselves appreciating right now. They’re all also easy to have delivered if you’re interested in trying them out yourself.

Cheers!

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg, TN
Average Price: $25

The Bottle:

Jack Daniel’s broke with tradition back in 2017 and started making a new whiskey for the first time in generations. Their straight rye goes through the same process as a classic Tennessee whiskey, meaning the hot juice is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging. This process adds a level of refinement to the whiskey that helps it shine brighter than the standard Jack.

Tasting Notes:

Toasted rye, vanilla, and oak lead into a feeling of bananas simmered off in brown sugar and butter with a hint of smoke. Apples stewed in Christmas spices mingle with a note of bitter dark chocolate cut with cream on the palate. The black pepper rye rises near the end, with a finish that luxuriates in oakiness. – Zach Johnston

Cardenal Mendoza Solera Gran Reserva Brandy

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Sánchez Romate Hnos., Jerez, Spain
Average Price: $55

The Bottle:

Times like these call for brandy. This Spanish brandy is aged for an average of 15 years in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. The throughline of this brandy is the Airen grapes used as a base. This is a bold Spanish masterpiece in a bottle.

Tasting Notes:

The sherry is prominent at first with a hint of orange zest next to dark chocolate. That bitterness leans into wet coffee grounds aligned with a real nut fattiness, vinous dried fruits, mild spice, and a clear sense of a well-seasoned barrel. The fruit lingers with a slight sweetness as the nuttiness, bitterness, and oakiness cut a line on the finish that’s slightly dry. – Zach Johnston

Ardbeg An Oa

ABV: 46.6%
Distillery: Ardbeg Distillery, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland
Average Price: $55

The Bottle:

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the Scottish Hebrides island of Islay, or if you’ve just had a chance to sip on some of the whisky made there, you’re likely well aware of Ardbeg. One of the smokiest of the peat-smoked whiskies from the windswept, sheep-filled island, Ardbeg 10 is a home bar staple. If you want to branch out, we suggest you grab a bottle of Ardbeg An Oa. Named for the Mull of Oa and its breathtaking views of the Kildaton coast, this 2017 addition to the core brands is perfect for fans who like their whisky smoky and sweet at the same time.

Tasting Notes:

It’s not unusual to age a Scotch whisky in ex-bourbon barrels. But An Oa takes it one step further and matures its juice in not only bourbon barrels, but charred virgin oak barrels, and Pedro Ximénez sherry butts. The result is a multi-layered whisky that appeals to peated whisky fans and bourbon fans alike. From the first sip, you’re met with the tobacco and vegetal smokiness expected from an Islay malt. But the flavor profile soon moves to sweet, candied fruits, rich honey, and cinnamon heat before ending with a subtle hint of cigar smoke. – Christopher Osburn

Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Copper & Kings American Brandy Co, Louisville, Kentucky
Average Price: $40

The Bottle:

If your knowledge of alcohol doesn’t go much farther than brands named Jim, Jack, or Johnnie, you might not realize that a ton of high-quality craft brandy has begun to emerge over the last few years. Copper & Kings, located in the “Butchertown” area of Louisville makes artisanal absinthe, gin, and brandy. The literal kings of the American brandy movement, their flagship brandy is a grape-based eau de vie (just like Cognac) that ages in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and new charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

If you want to get on board with American brandy, this is the bottle to pick up. This solera-aged offering is smooth and sweet — the perfect brandy for bourbon fans to get their foot in the door. The first sip of full of rich, sticky toffee pudding, and honey flavors before moving on to subtle floral hints. It evolves into charred oak and cigar smoke before progressing into just a hint of peppery spice.

The dram all ends in a long crescendo of silky vanilla. – Christopher Osburn

WhistlePig 10-Year-Old Straight Rye

ABV: 50%
Distillery: WhistlePig
Average Price: $75

The Bottle:

The crew at WhistlePig discovered a cache of powerful rye whiskey stock in Canada, which was originally destined for blending, and brought it to their farm in Vermont to give it a more independent existence — aging it in virgin American white oak. The result is the most awarded rye whiskey in the world.

Tasting Notes:

Like any great rye it bites, but then leads into an amazing vanilla sweetness on the tongue. Next comes a welcome explosion of spice, cinnamon, and spice. The finish is a lingering caramel warmth, like a maple log on the campfire. – Charles Thorp

Solento Organic Tequila Blanco

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Amititan, Jalisco, Mexico
Average Price: $60

The Bottle:

The organic blue agave for Solento is harvested in small batches by the Montes family jimadors. Their estate has been producing tequila from the Las Americas distillery for over 60 years, and they do it in the most sustainable way possible. That is why Solento founder, and surf film legend, Taylor Steele partnered with them for his brand. The agave is cooked in brick ovens, extracted using a roller mill, fermented in the open air, and double distilled.

Tasting Notes:

During the harvesting process they cut out as much of the bitter stem as possible, so the tequila that is left is sweet with notes of vanilla right off the bat, with the essence of the fields and straw. On the taste, there is a clear citrus presence that pops on the back of the tongue. Smooth enough to drink straight, but best over a few rocks and a lemon slice. – Charles Thorp

Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Manulele Distillers, Kunia O’ahu, Hawai’i
Average Price: $55

The Bottle:

If your conception of rum was formed by Bacardi and Malibu it’s time to try some good stuff. I love to have a nice glass of sippin’ rum with an ice cube on a nice Summer night and pretend I’m somewhere tropical.

As I learned at the Caribbean Food & Rum Festival, there are two main types of rum — the kind distilled from molasses-like the English and Spanish did it, and the kind distilled from sugar cane juice as the French did it. The latter is usually labeled “rhum” or rum agricole. Rum agricole is typically more complex and fruitier than molasses-based rum, which has a more chocolatey flavor. To be honest, I thought agricole was too complex for my palate at first — until I tried this KoHana “Hawaiian Agricole” rum on O’ahu. They distill from heirloom varieties of native Hawaiian sugar cane (most sugar comes from just a few varieties) and like many things native to Hawai’i, you probably haven’t had anything quite like it.

Tasting Notes:

Oak barrel-aging gives this one bourbon-esque flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, and warm spice. – Vince Mancini

Carbonadi Vodka

ABV: 40%
Distillery: House of Carbonadi, Italy
Average Price: $90

The Bottle:

The debate over vodka for the past decade or so has been: is there really such thing as “top shelf” when it comes to this spirit? The answer has been mixed. On one hand, the difference between a standard Russian vodka (like, say, Russian Standard) and mid-tier brands that might look cooler in the VIP section of a club seems to be pretty slim. That said, vodka, like any spirit, has a process through which its made and that process can be refined and clarified to a pretty high degree.

Carbonadi is going for the highest degree of refinement. The (pretty damn pricey) Italian brand not only carries the unique terroir of wheat grown in the Piedmont region of Italy, but it also has a unique production process that finishes with “carbonado filtration.” In short, that means the spirit is pushed through porous “black diamonds” (!!!) before it gets to the bottle, resulting in an ultra-refined final product — a process which sounds like it could be both marketing-speak and scientifically legit at the same time.

Tasting Notes:

There’s no way to get a good bead on this product without blind taste testing it, so I drank a shot of Carbonadi next to a shot of Kettle One and a shot of Grey Goose (after having them mixed up by my partner). I picked out the Carbonadi right away. I’m not sure it was necessarily the smoothest (if you want pure smooth sipability, Grey Goose hangs tough), but it was definitely the clearest. As in: clear flavors on the palate, a clear sense of place (you could almost taste the Italian alps), and a clear, crisp finish that makes a strong impression without being even the least bit harsh.

This is the #1 perfect bottle for drinking ice cold with a spoonful of caviar. You’re already being decadent, might as well go all in. – Steve Bramucci

Montanya Rum Valentia

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Montanya Distillery, Crested Butte, CO
Average Price: $55

The Bottle:

Montanya Rum’s Valentina celebrates women working in the distilling industry from one of the industry’s coolest female distillers. Renee Newton created this expression as a special one-off but it was so popular that they’re bringing it back. The actual rum was aged in Catoctin Creek Rye barrels which once held master distiller Becky Harris’ much-beloved rye whiskey. The marrying of these two worlds helps to create a wonderfully deep sip of rum that’ll have you itching for that next release.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is very rum cakey — you get those heavy baking spices (especially nutmeg) and a fair bit of vanilla. On the palate, that spice turns black peppery, proving just how much of an impression four years in a rye whiskey barrel has made on the expression. The finish is long and steady, with some late-to-the-party tropical fruits and just the right amount of heat.

This is a truly pleasant sip at the intersection of rum and rye. Take it with an ice cube and it’s all the cocktail you need.

Steve Bramucci

El Recuerdo de Oaxaca Mezcal Abocado con Gusano

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Tlacolula, Oaxaca
Average Price: $38

The Bottle:

El Recuerdo is a classic mezcal that edges towards the clarity of fine tequila. The mezcal gained prominence on the U.S. market when MMA Fighter Jorge Masvidal brought the brand north. The base is made from Espandin agave that’s roasted over hot river rocks with pine and oak wood — all of which is sustainably sourced. Abocado con Gusano, in case you’re wondering, means “enriched by the agave worm,” a method that adds a silken nature to the sip.

Tasting Notes:

My fight with mezcals is that they’re often so smoky and grassy that they’re just not a ton of fun for me to sip. The nose here indicates that this expression is going to be different. There’s a mellow sweetness that blends with the smoke — maybe like… what’s that frosting on carrot cake? Does it have a specific name? Or… sort of like a bowl of Trix cereal. Fruity.

On the palate, the vegetal flavors rise to the fore with a fair bit of minerality, but it’s really (and I know how cliche this is) the smoothness that carries this part of the sip. No rough edges. The final notes are a little smokier and even more mineral-forward, but never overpowering. As if the distiller is in your ear saying, “sure, there’s the ground-roasted agave pinas, everyone knows that, but I want you to taste the other techniques, too.”

Steve Bramucci

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY
Average Price: $22

The Bottle:

I guess I’m on a rye kick right now. Anyway, this bottle gets a lot of love for being a quintessential straight rye whiskey out of Kentucky. The mash bills (recipe) is a throwback to Jim Beam’s pre-Prohibition past that keeps things straightforward. It’s worth noting that this sip works as well on the rocks as it does in a highball or cocktail, adding to the versatility at this price point.

Tasting Notes:

Cocktail cherries, tart and ripe red berries, and a clear hit of peppery rye spice greet you. That pepperiness leans into a Christmas spice matrix as vanilla and caramel counterpoint the red berries. Then things take a turn into florals and fresh mint with an echo of licorice lurking far in the background as the spice brings about a warm, lingering final note. – Zach Johnston

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