Explore some of our favourite alternative spirits, then check our pick of the best rum, gins, vodka and tequila for more inspiration.


Most of us rarely branch out from our preferred spirits – whether that's rum, gin, vodka, tequila or whisky. But there's an incredible array of other spirits out there to explore that are becoming increasingly easy to find in bars and retailers. Love peaty scotch whiskies? Try a smoky, earthy mezcal instead. Bored of your usual martinis? Swap the gin or vodka for a herbal, caraway-spiked aquavit. The world is your oyster.

On our podcast, olive's drinks writer Hannah guides us through 10 alternative spirits to try, including Axia, derived from the resin of Greek mastic trees, and Baijiu, China's national drink – one of the most widely drunk spirits in the world. Check our more sustainable spirits to try here.

10 alternative spirits to try 2023

QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan Mezcal

QuiQuiRiQui Espadin mezcal against a white backdrop

Mezcal is one of the oldest distilled spirits in the Americas, dating back some 500 years. It's produced from the agave plant, of which there are many varieties found all around Mexico. The word mezcal comes from the ancient Aztec language Nahuatl, and means cooked agave. It's similar to tequila, but whereas tequila can only be made from blue agave, mezcal can be made from many types of agave – with espadin the most commonly used. It gets its characteristically smoky flavour from how it’s made – the agave is traditionally slow roasted in underground pits to convert the starch in the plant into sugar that can be fermented into alcohol and distilled.

QuiQuiRiQui is the go-to for an excellent quality espadín mezcal. Great to sip and also excellent for cocktails – try in a margarita – it should be a staple in every drinks cabinet.

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Axia Extra Dry Mastiha

Axia Extra Dry

Axia is an extra-dry reimagining of Greek mastiha liqueurs. Made from the resin of the mastiha tree on the island of Chios, it’s strikingly herbaceous, with saline, citrus and vegetal notes, and makes a cracking dirty martini.

Avallen Calvados

An apple brandy from Normandy, calvados starts as cider that is distilled and aged for at least two years in oak. It’s been made for centuries but the past few years have seen it creep on to drinks menus. Rich, floral and fruity, it's a great swap for other oak-aged fruit spirits like cognac.

Modern, carbon-negative calvados Avallen – which now comes in an eco-friendly bottle made of 94% recycled paperboard – showcases bright apple flavours and a warming finish. Try it with tonic, or in a sidecar cocktail with 50ml calvados and 25ml each of Cointreau and lemon juice. Or try Bethnal Green bar Coupette’s RTD version of its award-winning Apples cocktail (£4.99/ 250ml, coupette-market.com), a juicy blend of sparkling pressed apple juice and calvados.

Nuet Aquavit

This modern aquavit – from Norway – keeps the traditional flavouring of caraway but adds more contemporary ingredients like grapefruit peel and blackcurrant leaf. The end result is freshly herbal and citrussy with earthy caraway notes. It's delicious in a martini or mixed with tonic water.

Amaro Averna

A bottle of dark liquid with a yellow, red and white label

Amari (or amaro when singular) are bittersweet liqueurs flavoured with botanicals, herbs and spices. They vary greatly in style, taste and flavourings, from sweeter, citrussy Campari to intensely bitter Fernet-Branca. Amari straddle both aperitivi and digestivi categories – some are drunk chilled and neat after dinner, while others are used to lend a complexity to cocktails, or lengthened with sparkling or tonic water.

There are hundreds of amari available in Italy but ones you might come across in aperitif-style cocktails include lower-ABV varieties such as Campari, Aperol, Cynar and Select. Other brands such as Averna, Lucano, Fernet and Montenegro serve stronger, darkly intense, herbal liqueurs, typically sipped after dinner.

This classic Italian amaro was created in Sicily in 1868. Spicy and vibrantly bittersweet, with coffee, chocolate and bitter orange notes.

La Diablada Pisco

La Diablada Pisco

Pisco is a brandy made from young, just-fermented wine in Peru and Chile, using grape varietals such as Quebranta, Moscatel and Torontel, depending on the country of origin. In fact, geography is key when it comes to this spirit. A pisco from Peru is a very different creature from one made in Chile (the countries hotly contest who first invented pisco), with important differences between how they are made.

The range of flavour profiles in pisco is diverse, running the gamut from floral and fruity to herbaceous, earthy, spicy and funky. Accordingly, this makes it a versatile spirit to play around with when it comes to cocktails. Many of us are familiar with a pisco sour – made with lime juice, egg white, simple syrup and bitters – but you can also try a chilcano, pisco with ginger ale and lime juice, and it also makes a rather lovely martini, particularly if you use a 2:1 ratio of pisco to semi-dry white vermouth

La Diablada Peruvian pisco made with a blend of Italia, Quebranta, Torontel and Moscatel grapes. It’s delicately complex, with floral and herbaceous notes, grape fruitiness and a spicy edge.

Yaguara Organic Cachaça

A bottle of sugarcane-based spirit against a white backdrop

Brazil’s national spirit, cachaça, is made from fresh sugarcane juice. Popular in its home country, it’s one of the most widely produced spirits in the world. Try it in a caipirinha.

Yaguara is an organic Brazilian cachaça that’s bracingly herbaceous and aromatic.

Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin

A bottle of Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin

Produced in Haiti by predominantly small rural distillers, clairin is made from raw sugar cane juice. It’s usually rustic and characterful in nature.

Earthy and peppery with wasabi-like notes, sales from each bottle of Saint Benevolence directly fund charitable works in Haiti, from medical services to education.

Available from:
Master of Malt (£41.95)
Harvey Nichols (£48)

Micil Irish Poitín

Poitín is an Irish spirit, traditionally made in rural areas from ingredients like potatoes and barley. This full-bodied example, warming and spicy, with lighter floral and fruity notes on the palate, is made with malted barley and a Connemara botanical, bogbean.

Available from:
The Whisky Exchange (£28.95)

Empirical Spirits Soka and Symphony 6

If you’re looking for new and creative spirits that defy categorisation innovative Copenhagen distillery Empirical will be just the ticket, with a free-wheeling approach to ingredients and processes that yield remarkably rich results. Their latest releases, Soka and Symphony 6, are perfect examples. Soka, made with fermented fresh sorgum juice and syrup, is full of fresh, fruity notes of pear, melon and apple, with a deeper honey and hay back note. Try in a daiquiri or long with soda water.

Symphony 6 uses mandarin, coffee, blackcurrant and fig leaves alongside ambrette seeds and vetiver. Intensely floral and fruity, with notes of blackcurrant, citrus and fig leaf, alongside a rich, perfumed muskiness. Drink with tonic water.

Available from:
The Whisky Exchange (£34.95, Symphony 6)
The Whisky Exchange (£34.95, Soka)

Try Hannah Guinness' recipes here:

Paloma cocktail

The margarita's softer, breezier cousin – this tequila-based cocktail makes a great sip for the summer months, starring refreshing grapefruit.

Two peach-coloured cocktails in short glasses with salted rims and a wedge of grapefruit

Margarita cocktail

Shake up this classic tequila cocktail then check out our refreshing twists for summer.

Margarita in a glass with copper cocktail shaker and a plate of limes behind

Singapore sling

This gin-based treat from Singapore is made with an array of punchy ingredients, including cherry brandy and Cointreau.

A pair of tall Singapore sling cocktails garnished with pineapple wedges

Tom collins cocktail

This classic is essentially a sour cocktail, lengthened with sparkling water. Winningly simple to mix, it makes for a deliciously refreshing aperitif in the summer.

A highball glass filled with a cocktail, garnished with a red cherry and set against an orange background

Piña colada

Transport yourself to the tropics with our perfect piña colada recipe. This creamy rum-based cocktail is best sipped on holiday, next to the pool – ideally from a pineapple.

Piña colada cocktail in a glass, with pineapple wedge garnish


Hannah Guinness olive magazine portrait
Hannah GuinnessSenior sub editor and drinks writer

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