Arguably, 2011 was the year of whiskey. Never before have so many and so varied new expressions of the spirit come to the U.S. market—smoky and smooth, blended and single malt, Bourbon and Scotch and something else altogether. So if this year’s Top 50 seems heavily weighted toward the whiskey category, it’s with good reason.
But whiskey may need to watch its back as 2012 rounds the corner, because so many other spirit categories have wonderful offerings too: aged rums, Tequilas and bright young upstart mezcals, plus a growing range of liqueurs, from stalwarts to fresh new flavors, and nearly-forgotten products that importers are reintroducing. Any one of these could change the spirits landscape in the year ahead.
The 50 spirits on the following pages represent the best of what we tasted in 2011 exclusively, so if a particular spirit category is not represented, it may be due to few, or relatively less notable, submissions. But it’s a pleasure to introduce what we have—a list of 50 stellar spirits.