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.