Looking back at the year in spirits, 2012 was a year of contradictions. The industry touted historically accurate ingredients and futuristic distilling techniques. Extra-high-proof cask-strength spirits shared shelf space with an influx of lower-alcohol apéritif bottlings. Mad-scientist distillers simultaneously focused on creating laser-focused single-grain whiskeys and meticulously balanced über-blends.
Small-batch craft spirits continued their ascent—to the point where many of the largest houses acquired or started their own in-house craft divisions.
Whimsical dessert-flavored vodkas continued to sell—consumers couldn’t seem to get enough of flavors like chocolate-covered pretzel or Fruit Loops, even though deriding the category seemed to become a sport of its own.
And just when we thought we had a proper handle on the provenance of certain liquor categories—great whisky comes from Scotland, gin from England, and vodka from Eastern Europe, right?— the world turned on its head. We had an influx of gins from Scotland, single malts from Japan and India, vodkas from Australia and Napa Valley and luscious liqueurs from every corner of the world.
In an era when little seems certain, at least one thing is for sure: We have a surplus of wonderful spirits available. From the hundreds reviewed during 2012, here are 50 favorites to try.
Enticing and complex, this velvety XO is one to savor. The countryside perfume of this 15-year-old brandy evokes notes of fresh flower, hay, fig and vanilla, with a crème brûlée flavor that fades away ever so gently. Hard wax cap.— K.N. (12/31/2012)
Vibrant -yellow-gold in color, this full-bodied blend of Ugni Blanc and Baco Blanc resounds with a rich butterscotch note and a long finish that would be dynamite paired with pecan pie. The cap to the rounded cylindrical bottle is frustratingly hard to open.— K.N. (12/31/2012)
Within the curvy, regal-looking bottle with the royal crest—more Cognac style than modest Armagnac—is a silky, vanilla--forward brandy that resonates into a powerful finish with bold notes of clove, cocoa, espresso and cigar tobacco. Savor alongside dark chocolate.— K.N. (12/31/2012)
Look for a dark amber hue and a deep caramel aroma from this brandy. On the palate, fleeting sweetness gives way to a long finish, offering flavors of oak, cocoa, caramel, clove and cinnamon. Some might compare this Armagnac- to good Bourbon.— K.N. (12/31/2012)