This story is part of the GP100, Gear Patrol's annual index of the 100 best products of the year. To see the full list of products or read this story in print, check out Gear Patrol Magazine: Issue Eight, available now at the Gear Patrol Store.
For all the fun attributed to alcohol, covering the category of booze is woefully boring, a fact tempered only slightly by silly trends and insignificant product releases. So curating any best-of list around the stuff that gets you buzzed is fraught with identifying if something is simply novel or actually moving. From a bottle series industrializing one of the whiskey world's biggest DIY trends to a Danish distillery turning the entire distillation process on its head, our picks for the best drink releases of the year are all but stale — they're curious, refreshing and wholly unexpected.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company Firestone Lager
A great lager should be sophisticated but drinkable, and few people know it better than Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at California’s renowned Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Brynildson and his team first launched this helles-style lager in the 2000s, but it was pulled amid craft's growing thirst for big, bad IPAs and stouts worth 1,000 words. Over a decade later, it's back on the shelves, signaling craft's growing taste for beer designed for drinking, not musing. — Andy Frakes
- ABV: 4.5%
- Malts: German Pilsner and North American pale
- Hops: Hallertau Tradition, Spalter Select, Saphir
Nikka Whisky From the Barrel
Nikka's From the Barrel, originally released in 1986, claimed the title of most popular Japanese whisky outside of Japan before it was finally made available stateside this year. And though a blend without age statements can reduce enthusiasts to snobby eye rolling, From the Barrel is anything but a money grab — more than 100 grain and malt whiskies, aged in re-charred hogsheads, sherry butts and bourbon barrels, meddle in each bottle. — Will Price
- Proof: 102.8
- Tasting Notes: Caramelized apples, woody, floral
- Age: NAS (no age statement)
Vitamix Aer Disc Container
Why would Vitamix — a company that's built its name making high-performance blenders that measure power not in wattage but in horsepower — design a blender that doesn't blend?
According to representatives for the brand, it all started when a very large (though undisclosed) coffee company approached Vitamix with a request to design something capable of yielding large volumes of foamed out of milk in a few seconds. The solution was a benign blender top called the Aer Disc Container. It features a flat, hole-punched disc that spins exceptionally fast and works atop all full-sized Vitamix blenders, including the flagship 5200 and newer E310. And while the Aer Disc Container does indeed produce silky whipped cream and bubbly foam in the blink of an eye, its uses reach far wider.
The specifically placed holes in the blade create what amounts to a lightning-quick aerator that doesn't pulverize the contents inside the container. This means that anything that benefits from mixing or muddling is within its purview — blender-sized batches of Old Fashioneds, margaritas, mojitos and any other cocktails you deem worthy of going along with instantaneous Hollandaise sauce, simple syrup and homemade mayo. The Aer Disc Container is, despite its relatively banal appearance, supremely useful and a worthy addition to any well-equipped home bar — coffee, cocktail or otherwise. — WP
- Height: 10.25 inches
- Blade Material: Stainless steel
- Compatibility: Works with any full-sized Vitamix
Norlan Rauk Heavy Tumbler
Since its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, Norlan has sold more than a quarter million whiskey snifters. But the brand's more spacious, thin-lipped second effort, the Rauk Heavy Tumbler, is decidedly different. Made of machine-punched molten crystal, the glass's heavy, four-pointed base keeps it stable while tiny grooves extruding from the inside create friction points for improved cocktail muddling. It's as good as drinking on the rocks gets. — WP
- Material: Leaded crystal
- Capacity: 8.5 fluid ounces
- Weight: 1.25 pounds
Alex Day and David Kaplan, cofounders of the legendary New York City bar Death and Co., teamed up with writer Nick Fauchald for this detailed primer on mixed drinks that aims to be more than a mere collection of cocktails. The book outlines six root recipes that serve as templates for virtually every cocktail you can drum up, and the result is one of the easiest-to-understand reference guides for modern mixology, well, ever. — John Zientek
- Pages: 320
- Publisher: Ten Speed Press
- Dimensions: 9.6 x 1.1 x 10.2 inches
Yeti Tundra Haul
It's been more than a decade since Yeti started seducing fisherman, hunters and college students with its genre-defining hard coolers, but this year, the Austin-based company finally unveiled what its rabid fan base — otherwise known as Yeti Nation — was waiting for: a cooler with wheels. What took so long?
"Over the last ten years, we'd talked about a [cooler] with wheels," said Category Manager Alex Baires, who oversees both hard and soft coolers at Yeti. "It's certainly something that's come up in conversation, we just didn't have the tools or resources to make the product. We knew we needed to make it right."
The irony of this story is that when it actually came time to design a rolling cooler, it didn't take Yeti very long at all. In fact, Baires and his team brought Haul to market in record time — at least by Yeti standards. Most of its products, like Yeti's Hondo Base Camp Chair, take upward of three years to develop, refine and launch. Haul, meanwhile, took half that time.
But the job wasn't nearly as simple as putting a set of wheels on one of Yeti's flagship Tundra coolers. Though Haul shares much of the company's hard-cooler DNA (extra-thick walls, heavy-duty rubber latches, a freezer-grade gasket), Baires and his team designed it from the ground up — starting, naturally, with the wheels.
"They're very low maintenance," Baires said. "We call them NeverFlat because they are [made from] polyurethane foam and there's no need to inflate them." But polyurethane alone doesn't make the wheels unique. According to Baires, the real difference is in their specific density.
"We spent a lot of time making sure they had the right feel," he said. "Even late in the game, we went back and looked at the [density] of the foam we were using. They're dense, so as you're wheeling them around, they're going to feel like wheels, not a piece of plastic."
Geometry, too, separates Haul from Yeti's traditional Tundras. It comes in one size that speaks to the intended use. "We played around a lot with the height of it," Baires said. "We wanted to make sure that it was tall enough to stand up two-liter bottles or even wine bottles. We arrived at a nice size, which is roughly the size of a Tundra 65 in terms of volume, but taller and deeper [from front to back]."
Other notable features on Haul include a welded aluminum handle with minimal moving parts and independent axles connecting the wheels to the body. This second feature not only maximizes the cooler's internal volume but also help it retain ice — a proper through-axle made of steel would conduct heat, making it susceptible to summer rays.
Perhaps Haul's most important quality, though, is that it still feels like a Yeti hard cooler. "The challenge, quite honestly, is that the Tundra line is darn near perfect," Baires said. "We'll definitely continue to see how else we can expand and grow the brand, but hard coolers will always be at the core. We don't want to mess that up."
As far as Yeti Nation is concerned, it's a good thing they didn't. — Jack Seemer
- Colors: White, tan, light blue, charcoal
- Dimensions: 28.25 x 19.5 x 18.63 inches
- Fits: 45 cans of beer
Barrell Craft Spirits Infinite Barrel Project
For all the rules that define whiskey-making around the world, the infinity bottle is something of an enigma. These DIY creations are built by amateur enthusiasts who pour a base whiskey into a decanter, then add the dregs of other bottles as they come along. The result is a Franken-whiskey of sorts — free of the strict bottled-in-bond regulations, mash bills and ABVs that govern the production methods of mainstream American distilleries — and also radically different from whiskey produced using the the solera technique, which maintains a small amount of older whiskey in a barrel for the purpose of consistency across time. If traditional blending is conducting a symphony, building an infinity bottle is recording old-school hip-hop — all samples, style and soul.
This meta-blending of different whiskey families is out of reach for just about every brand out there. Every one has their own flavor profile and reputation to worry about. But it was the ideal project for Barrell Craft Spirits, an independent bottler whose very MO has been blending together different liquids to make the tastiest version of a spirit. Up until this year, that mostly meant blending bourbon with bourbon; with the Infinite Barrel Project, each bottle is an example of what happens when you let a professional take a whack at blending disparate whiskeys, like a peaty Scotch with vanilla-rich bourbon and funky Polish rye, to build a whole new type of spirit, time and time again.
"We wanted to make something that's made of different parts, but consistent, almost like a cassoulet," says Joe Beatrice, founder of Barrell. Together with Barrell's Master Distiller, Tripp Simpson, Beatrice has been touted for his unique, maverick approach to bourbon, rye, even rum, piling up awards from around the world.
Barrell's Infinite Barrel Project started with three main ingredients: whiskey from Tennessee and Indiana, plus a Polish rye. (They are unable to provide specific distillery and barrel information due to confidentiality agreements with distillers.) The first bottling also included Tennessee rye, single-malt and single-grain Scotch, as well as Irish whiskey. For the five iterations since, released every few months, Beatrice and Simpson have replenished their depleted stock with a range of whiskeys, including a Western Highlands Scotch.
Many tasters have described bottles of Infinite Barrel as an explosion of flavor. The interplay between different whiskeys is chaotic, but it's also a technical exploration of the way certain flavors mingle, neutralize and amplify each other. By breaking a cardinal rule, Barrell’s giving all types of whiskey a chance to become something greater than the sum of their parts. — Chris Wright
- Distribution: Available in 43 states
- Age of Whiskeys: NAS (no age statement)
- Volume of Bottles: 750 mL
The Bitter Truth Bogart's Bitters
Bogart's Bitters is the stuff of legend — at least in circles that tell tales about mixed drinks. The brand was a favorite of Jerry Thomas, as evidenced by its key role in his 1862 manual The Bar-Tender’s Guide. The recipe, lost since Prohibition, was reverse-engineered by bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck of The Bitter Truth. It even comes in a period-appropriate bottle. — JZ
- ABV: 42.1%
- Notes: Dark spice, chocolatey coffee, herbs
- Volume: 375 mL
W.L. Weller CYPB
CYPB, or Create Your Perfect Bourbon, is a good name for this special release from Buffalo Trace’s wheated whiskey brand, W.L. Weller. After polling more than 100,000 enthusiasts on their ideal bourbon, the distillers used the data to fine-tune everything from the age to the proof, creating a Weller bottle that goes down easily — if you can get your hands on one of the few bottles they released into the wild. — AF
- Proof: 95
- Distribution: National but limited
- Age: 8 years
The Most Important Drink Release of 2018: Empirical Spirits
Distillation, the process that makes liquor, dates back more than 3,000 years, and it's produced some of the most delicious stuff known to humans. Why ruin a good thing, right? Well, the masterminds behind Empirical Spirits, a Danish outfit with ties to the world-renown restaurant Noma, think differently. And their genre-bending spirits, made with a proprietary technique that preserves the flavor of ingredients, just landed in the U.S. They're like nothing you've ever tasted.