Review: Purity Vodka

purity vodka 2

So a funny story about Purity Vodka. I was all set to review Purity in 2010, and then the sample bottle disappeared. My housekeeper stole it, a testament to how pretty the bottle is. I ended up firing her, and forgot all about the Purity review… until now, when at last a new bottle of Purity has appeared on my doorstep, at last ready to review. My current housekeeper doesn’t drink, so this bottle survived unscathed.

Purity hails from Sweden, where its claim to fame is being column distilled 34 times. Those numbers don’t mean a lot in column stills, which tend to be continuous, but you get the idea. Purity, made from a mash of organic winter wheat and malted barley, is supposed to be pure — as neutral as vodka can get. Bottles are numbered and identified by batch.

Purity certainly lives up to its promises. The nose is very slight, with gentle hospital notes touched lightly with sugar, marzipan, and a touch of herbs. The palate is very clean, sweeter by a hair than the nose would indicate, with notes of lemon peel and some macadamia nut notes. The finish stays on the ultralight track, adding some vanilla to the mix.

Final analysis: As vodka goes, it couldn’t be an easier sipper and works easily as a versatile mixing ingredient.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #87.

A- / $28 / purityvodka.com

Review: VDKA 6100 Vodka

Here’s the bullet points on VDKA 6100. It hails from New Zealand (the 6100 refers to the 6,100 miles from the U.S. (where the vodka was envisioned) to NZ, where it is made). It is triple distilled from a mash made not using potatoes, corn, or wheat but from whey — yes, whey, the by-product of milk production. Finally: Robert de Niro is an investor in the product, and “helped with the design, packaging, branding, and positioning of the product.”

The vodka is one of the lightest out there. The nose is lightly sweet, with just a mild touch of hospital character, but otherwise very clean and very neutral. The palate follows suit: Thin, almost watery at times, with very gentle notes of simple syrup, fresh cream, and a touch of lemongrass. Is the whey-cream connection all in my head? At times the vodka seems like it drinks a bit like melted vanilla ice cream.

The use of whey as a base for vodka has been getting a terrible rap in the press, and if you’re looking for a spirit with power and character, I can see why one would complain. This is vodka lite, with all the connotations that entails. For those looking for a truly neutral base spirit that can blend in with whatever mixers you throw at it, well, here it is.

80 proof. Aka VDKA6100.

B+ / $25 / vdka6100.com

Review: Stolichnaya Gluten Free Vodka

Stoli Gluten Free

At the risk of angering my gluten-free readership even further, I’m about to review another gluten-free beverage that’s arriving in the form of Stoli Gluten Free.

It’s becoming increasingly popular for manufacturers to claim that various liquor products are gluten free, but it’s commonly known that gluten does not survive the distillation process. By and large (so they say), all distilled spirits are gluten free, unless they are flavored with some kind of gluten-containing product.

The catch: That fact doesn’t actually matter. Per the TTB, you can’t put “gluten free” on your label unless the product was made from start to finish with gluten-free ingredients. Distill from wheat and you can’t claim the product is gluten-free… even if it actually is gluten-free due to the processing.

For Stolichnaya, that’s a problem, because its standard bottling is made from a mash of wheat and rye. Rather than reformulate the original product just to please a few anti-glutenites, it’s launched a whole new version of Stoli: Stolichnaya Gluten Free. Made from a mash of 88% corn and 12% buckwheat, it’s gluten-free right from the start.

Nosing Stoli GF doesn’t indicate anything out of the ordinary. It’s sharp and moderately medicinal, classically Old World in its aroma, with hints of black pepper and pine needles. On the palate, the vodka doesn’t depart much from the expected profile: Hospital notes first, followed by very mild sweetness, a hint of cracked grains, and a bit of a charcoal note on the back end. It’s a very neutral vodka without much in the way of secondary aromas or flavors, its quite crisp finish further ensuring than any additional flavor notes that did survive distillation and filtering are quickly whisked away.

The bottom line: Whether or not you buy in to the gluten-free craze, Stoli’s figured out how to make a “completely” gluten-free vodka that tastes just as good as the “real” stuff. Feel free to sub it in freely for any other top shelf vodka.

80 proof.

A- / $17 / stoli.com

Review: Bet Vodka

bet vodka

Bet, long E. Rhymes with “beet.” In fact, it sounds exactly like “beet.” And that is all because this new vodka is made with beets as its base.

Made in partnership with the distiller 45th Parallel, Bet Vodka is a Minnesota-born spirit that uses only locally grown sugar beets in its mash.

The results are perfectly fine, if not entirely earth-shaking. The nose starts off a bit musty, just hinting at the sweetness that a sugary base can provide. I catch a few gentle, winey notes here as well, unusual for a vodka.

On the palate things diverge considerably, with a rush of sugar hitting the tongue first, bringing along rapid-fire hits of marshmallow, cotton candy, and marzipan. The back end takes these flavors and offers them up in a gently scorched rendition, with more of a toasted marshmallow tone. Things are clean, though still lightly sweet, on the finish, after which a touch of charcoal emerges (and grows) as the primary elements of the vodka fade.

All told, Bet doesn’t strike a whole lot of new ground — except, of course, in the realm of creative pronunciation.

80 proof.

B / $35 / betvodka.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Frey Ranch Vodka and Gin

Frey-Gin-Bottle (Jeff Dow)

Nevada-based Frey Ranch produces its spirits with an intense estate focus — just about everything that goes into the products is produced on the Frey Ranch estate. As the company likes to say, “When you purchase a bottle at our distillery, it is the first time any of these quality ingredients have ever left Frey Ranch.”

We tasted Frey Ranch’s home-grown vodka and gin. (A whiskey, not reviewed here, is also produced.) Thoughts on both of these follow.

Frey Ranch Vodka – Triple distilled from a blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The nose is quite corny, almost like a white whiskey, with some unfortunate mothball notes. The palate is sweeter, the granary note fading into a sweet corn character that’s underpinned by some nutty brown rice notes, scorched sugar, and mushroom. On the whole, this is an atypical vodka that will likely be divisive to vodka lovers. It’s not entirely to my taste, but your mileage may vary. 80 proof. C+ / $40

Frey Ranch Gin – Presumably made with the same base as the vodka, this gin is flavored with estate-grown juniper and sagebrush (not the same thing as sage, by the way), plus a mix of imported (and unstated) botanicals. This comes together more effectively than the vodka, its heavy aromatics hitting on the nose with a combination of camphor, herbal sage, and juniper — in that order. The body is heavy with all things herbal — no citrus overtones on this one — pushing those green notes even further as it attacks the palate. The finish is all herbs, pungent with a touch of cucumber and a dusting of black pepper. If you like your gins with a heavy vegetal note (and I know some of you do), this one’s for you. 90 proof. B / $33

freyranch.com

Review: Hangar 1 Vodkas (2016)

hangar_one

Hangar One was an icon of the independent spirits world, a trailblazer that was founded by small time St. George Spirits in 2002 and which grew to become one of the most beloved vodka brands around, at least amongst cocktail connoisseurs.

We reviewed them all formally in March 2010. In April 2010 the company was purchased by one of the industry’s giants: Proximo Spirits — best known as the owner of Jose Cuervo. While the vodka is still made in Alameda (it recently moved across the street from its original home), for many the shine wore off the day Hangar One went corporate.

Today, Hangar One has refreshed its labels and bottle design and even put a spin on its name to turn “One” into a numeral, though the production methods (still pot-distilled from a blend of wheat and viognier grapes) and the core flavored versions remain the same.

Here’s how they acquit themselves in 2016. All are (still) 80 proof.

Hangar 1 Straight Vodka – Notably “winey,” with dry, herbal aromatics and hints of lemon peel. The body is surprisingly thin, but the lack of unctuous oils keeps things clean and the finish lively, with a slight hint of black pepper. I really have no complaints. This remains a top-notch mixer and a solid all-around team player in the vodkaverse, though some drinkers might be forgiven for looking for a little more power on the palate. A-

Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka – Famously flavored with Thai Kaffir limes, this is Hangar 1’s most iconic version. The nose is intensely heavy with lime, including a smattering of herbal notes that recall rosemary and, especially, bay leaves. The palate is quite sweet and comes off a bit more candylike than I recall, with a duskiness on the finish that evokes lots of black pepper along with some earthy elements. I get hints of anise. Less of a thrill than it was back in the day — perhaps simply because after 14 years it’s no longer a novelty — but still one of the best flavored vodkas on the market. A-

Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka – The creepy Buddha’s Hand is the basis for this spin on lemon vodka. Oddly enough, I now grow Buddha’s Hands myself and they are tons of fun to look at. (Less so to try to cook with.) Here we find that intensely sour lemon base taking on all kinds of kooky secondary notes. Today I get chocolate, raspberry, and vague herbal notes, which linger provocatively, outlasting the hardcore lemon notes even. As with the Kaffir, though, it’s drinking a touch sweet for me today. A-

Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka – This is, as with the prior version, a milder expression of orange vodka, which is never unappreciated in a world where hefty flavoring agents tend to beat you over the head. Decidedly floral, to the point of being perfumy, this is a true expression of oranges still on the tree rather than ones  skinned and juiced. It’s pastoral at times with some earth notes — a common theme with this year’s releases — but balanced by intensifying tropical notes that emerge on the nose as the spirit opens up in the glass. The finish: Pure flowers. Blossoms, that is. All told, it’s arguably my favorite this year — surprising even me. A

$35 each / hangarone.com