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TQE’s first annual ‘Best Of’ campaign celebrates the head-turning, drool-worthy, seriously-can’t-live-without brands we obsessed over this past year. We sample a *lot* of products – this week, meet the ones that have stood out.
Around these parts, I have a reputation for loving nothing more than a good drink (guilty as charged), so I’m eager to salute the beverages that made the biggest splash over the past year. Below we've got a bevy of sensational sippers, each standing out for the flavors – and aesthetics – they brought to their exciting product launches.
While there are even more where these came from, these eight brands are a wonderful cross-section of the best the beverage market has to offer. There's never been a better time to have a drink in hand.
I first came across AMASS during a trip to Soft Spirits, a non-alcoholic bottle shop here in Los Angeles, for my roundup of the best booze-free bevs on the market. The sage green bottle that houses Riverine ($50), the zero-proof botanical spirit, cuts such a nice profile there's no way it wasn't going in my cart. But in a market full of non-alcoholic imitators trying to taste like "the real thing," AMASS: Riverine stands out for more than aesthetics – it's got an herbaceous, green-tea-like flavor all its own.
This past year, AMASS launched its own premium hard seltzer ($55). With evocatively-named flavors like Surfer Rosso (think quince and citrus), Faerie Fizz (rose and jasmine), and Sun Sign (mandarin and bay leaf), these gorgeous new cans are a far cry from White Claw. Having tasted them, I can confirm AMASS has an equally deft touch on either side of the alcohol spectrum. And that means they've got something for everyone.
California Fernet by Geijer Spirits
The word "fernet" has become synonymous with Fernet Branca, the mint-y, almost punishingly medicinal liqueur that hails from Milan. But fernet is actually a style of amaro, and as someone that isn't a huge Branca fan, I had all but closed my doors to the wider world of different fernet styles.
Thanks be to the liquor gods that I tried California Fernet ($38), though, because this one was love at first sip. With 21 roots, herbs and spices in the mix, it's still bitter and biting, but with a rounded edge that's warm and cinnamon-y. For the real amaro-heads out there, mix this with Campari in equal parts and enjoy yourself a nice Ferrari. It's criminally slept-on.
Even for my friends who are sober and proud, there's no denying the word "mocktail" is a bummer. Zero-proof drinks can and should pack flavor and innovation – which is why I'm such a fan of Curious Elixirs, the brand serving up dynamite flavor combinations like Smoked Cherry Old Fashioned and Pomegranate Negroni with no preservatives, refined sugars, or alcohol.
Curious Elixirs’ branding is just as creative, with mysteriously named bottles ranging from No. 1 to No. 7 begging you to read the tasting notes. The brand has recently dropped two new limited release bottles: a booze-free champagne cocktail with elderflower and lavender, and a crisp, clean take on a piña colada. Curious Elixirs balances reinventing the classics and carving out a niche, and keeps us eagerly awaiting the release of bottle No. 8.
Créme de cassis gets a pretty bad rap. The kir royale, a mixture of champagne of cassis, is one of those cocktails that's got a vintage pedigree but hasn't had that old-school cool comeback. And partly due to a ban on blackcurrant farming here in the U.S. that lasted through most of the 20th century, 99.9999% of cassis comes from France and has yet to make a splash stateside. Until now.
Current Cassis hails from New York's gorgeous Hudson Valley, with a taste so sharp and juicy it takes you right to those orchards. After receiving a bottle from a friend, I've gone from knowing absolutely zero about cassis to trying it in all my usual cocktails, falling back on the easy-breezy cassis and soda on days that call for minimal effort. This is a great one to break out at parties before it's absolutely everywhere – and with fans at Bon Appetit and the New York Times, the brand is already well on its way.
Ghia Le Spritz
Hopping back into the non-alcoholic world, there's arguably no bigger name than Ghia: the chic, herbal aperitif that took the influencer world by storm upon launch. But for those of us who like our on-the-go options, Ghia debuted an even more exciting iteration last year: its new ready-to-drink spritz ($54).
While Ghia has always hosted a popular spritz recipe on its website, the brand has now done the heavy lifting for us – and I for one am not complaining. With hits of fresh yuzu and rosemary, this spritz sings in a way that my homemade versions never did, and has become a big favorite for all my beach days. It's exciting to see a new brand expand so quickly, especially while doubling down on what made its original product so great.
Who among us turns to a can of wine for complexity? If the answer before Nomadica was "no one," then the brand has single-handedly changed the game. Nomadica's wine is legitimately so good that it feels like a premium bottle, the kind you wouldn't even be mad you paid that restaurant mark-up for.
Nomadica’s secret lies in sourcing finished wines from its favorite winemakers, cutting down on the overhead costs it takes to run a vineyard and freeing up resources to buy only the best product. While it’s been on the market for a few years, Nomadica’s recent rebrand caught our eye all over again. Each can is now enrobed in a piece of art specifically commissioned for the wine itself, with gorgeous abstract landscapes that hint at the flavors inside. Hats off to Nomadica on the glow-up of the year.
Trader Vic's Mai Tais
Victor Bergeron, aka Trader Vic, is as legendary as it gets in the world of tiki drinks. The inventor of the Mai Tai himself, Trader Vic has provided real-deal, sugary syrup-free drinks since 1944. For those of us who don't have a brick-and-mortar nearby, the release of the brand-new canned Mai Tais ($34.99) is a game-changer.
With the dark spice of aged rum and the tartness of lime, these cocktails have an almost shocking depth of flavor, thanks to the fined-tuned canning process employed by producer Iguazu Holdings. With the Mai Tais just debuting last month, and two more tiki classics on the way by the end of the year, Trader Vic's next chapter is just getting started.
Ruby Hibiscus Water
Last but certainly not least is Ruby, which deserves high praise not just for flavor, which is delicious, but for its totally bonkers interactive experience. On the Ruby website, below the mysterious question, "Which Rubyverse character are you?" is a prompt to text (414) 404-6490. A few short questions later (see screenshots below) I was christened… TREE PRINCESS. Which is a first, but I'll take it.
While this detour has very little to do with the drink itself, it speaks to the fun, imaginative approach Ruby has to branding. Riffing on everything from curated playlists to hibiscus history lessons, it’s nothing short of a whole vibe. But it'd all be in vain if the drink was underwhelming, and I'm happy to say it decidedly is not. Ruby is a fantastic new alternative to juice and/or soda, with a refreshing kick that's low in sugar. Just take it from Tree Princess.
There's always room in my bar for one more bottle, so be in touch @thequalityedit with favorites I’ve missed. Plus, catch us tomorrow with our favorite collabs.