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

Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

Review: Praga Vodka

praga vodka

This new vodka brand comes to us from — wait for it — Prague, where it is distilled from winter wheat.

It’s a sweeter style of vodka, though it isn’t blown out as some other new world vodkas tend to be. You get the sugar on the nose, along with a gentle graininess and a slightly musty, mushroom note. On the palate, white sugar again dominates, backed up by a slight lemon character, some caramel, and a touch of candle wax. The body is pretty clean, and the finish is short — not all that brisk, but not cloyingly sweet either.

All told, this is a fair enough choice for mixing, but that’s about as far as it goes.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / pragavodka.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Coastal Cranberry Vodka

SKYY_COASTALCRANBERRY_750ML_RGBCranberry flavor is one of the simplest mixers to add to anything — cranberry juice doesn’t even have to be refrigerated when you buy it — so why both adding it to a vodka as a flavoring agent?

The increasingly vast Skyy Infusions lineup now includes this flavor — not just regular cranberry, Coastal Cranberry — so let’s see how it fares.

The nose is quite fragrant — not particularly cranberry in nature, but closer to a mix of Maraschino cherry, orange juice, and cane sugar. The palate is plenty tart — somewhere in the neighborhood of cherry and cranberry cocktail — but it’s doctored with enough sugar to temper the incredible sourness of the cranberry flavors within. (If you’ve had pure, unsweetened cranberry juice you know what I’m talking about.)

On the whole this vodka impressed me more than I expected. That’s not saying a lot, but there’s enough of a cran-something kick here to merit at least a raised eyebrow or two. What to do with it? Put it in your cosmo, of course. Is anyone still drinking those? Page me.

70 proof.

B+ / $15 / skyy.com

Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 Vaccinium Macrocarpon Cranberry

162 vodka CranberryWhen last we left Vodka DSP CA 162, the brand was still a new idea — the former producers of Hangar One Vodka had sold the company, then had to wait for their noncompete to expire before getting back into vodka. Eventually DSP CA 162 came to pass, and at long last the company’s out with a new flavor: cranberry.

This bright red vodka offers a nose not just of cranberry but rather one that blends citrus — in which DSP CA 162 is well versed — into the mix. The body however pushes those orange notes aside rather quickly, showcasing ultra-tart cranberry in all its glory. While it’s vaguely describable as “sweet and sour,” the emphasis is on mouth-puckering sour. The vodka really showcases the essence of cranberry while eschewing the apple, grape, and other suffixes that typically ride along with the humble cranberry. Lightly bitter notes — think orange peel and licorice root — endure on the finish.

All of which makes me wonder: Are cosmos making a comeback?

80 proof.

B / $38 / craftdistillers.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Pervak Vodka Homemade Rye and Homemade Wheat

pervak

Pervak hails from the Ukraine, and in its rustic-looking bottles with a swing-top-closure, it certainly feels very “Old World” from the get-go. Seriously, Old World: One of the core bottlings in the Pervak lineup is garlic-flavored vodka.

While the two vodkas reviewed below are both straight spirits — one made from rye, one from wheat — both carry on their labels a notice of “natural flavor added.” And yet, there appears to be no flavoring agent in either of these. Is that just an unfortunate spillover from the garlic (and horseradish!) vodka? Perhaps no one thought to change the fine print on the label? Who knows.

In any event, that may be what the label says, but I’m treating them both as unflavored spirits for the purposes of categorization. Thoughts follow.

Both are 80 proof.

Pervak Vodka Homemade Rye – The starter spirit, a single distillation of rye — which should in theory retain more of the residual flavor of the base grain. It’s surprisingly gentle for a single-distilled spirit, moderately medicinal on the nose but rounded on the body with a touch of cracked black pepper, rosemary, and a touch of burnt caramel on the finish. Fairly mild on the whole, it finishes with a lick of sweetness that doesn’t really offend. B+

Pervak Vodka Homemade Wheat – A double-distillation of wheat. Sweeter, with very mild medicinality on the palate. Quite neutral, with a touch of honey on the finish, along with a bit of a floral element. Otherwise it’s a very straightforward and almost simple vodka, a definitive mixer and quite a pleasure on its own, too. A-

each $22 per 1 liter bottle / pervak.com

Review: Vikre Vodka, Gin, and Aquavit Lineup

vikre spruce white bkgrdDuluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the home of Vikre Distillery, which takes a localvore approach to making a wide range of (mostly white) spirits, using local grains, herbs, and water from the lake next door to make its craft spirits. The six spirits below — 1 vodka, 3 gins, and 2 aquavits — represent the bulk (but not all) of Vikre’s production. Who’s ready to take the plunge into the production from this neighbor from the Great White North?

Join us.

Vikre Lake Superior Vodka – Distilled from malted barley. Very mild, clean, and fresh. The nose is gentle but hints at hospital notes. On the palate, light sweetness starts things off, but the overall impression is surprisingly clean and pure. Only on the finish do some secondary notes start to emerge… a dusting of bee pollen, some thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of cinnamon. Surprisingly well done and nearly perfect in its balance. 80 proof. A / $35

Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin – Purportedly a traditional dry gin, including standard (local) botanicals plus rhubarb. One whiff and this is anything but traditional — quite sweet on the nose, at offers heavily fruity notes and an intensely floral/rose petal undercarriage. The body hones in on that sweet-and-sour rhubarb, confectioner’s sugar, a mild slug of juniper, and chocolate notes on the finish. I know what you’re thinking: What a random collection of flavors. And so am I. Calling this a “Juniper Gin” leaves me a bit bewildered. 90 proof. C / $35

Vikre Boreal Spruce Gin – Spruce is the primary botanical here, as you might expect. The overall impact is a lot closer to a traditional gin than the Juniper Gin above, though again it carries with it a sweetness that is unexpected. Piney notes mingle with brown sugar and, again, more indistinct florals and perfume notes. Here, the balance is a bit more appropriate, as the spruce character is brought up to where it needs to be, and the sweeter elements are dialed back. Still, it’s an unconventional gin that will need the right audience. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin – This one was fun because I’m allergic to live cedar, so I was excited to see if I would break out in hives from drinking a gin flavored with cedar wood (along with wild sumac and currants). I didn’t, and I wasn’t in love with the gin, either. The nose is much different than the two above gins — musty and mushroomy on the nose, with a medicinal note and some evergreen beneath that. Again, the body is quite sweet — the currants are distinct — with a slurry of notes that include ripe banana, fresh rosemary, and some nutty characteristics. Pumped up evergreen on the body tends again to give this a more balanced structure, but the overall character is, again, a little out there. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Ovrevann Aquavit – It’s actually Øvrevann Aquavit, but I have no idea if that’s going to render properly online. Caraway, cardamom, and orange peel are infused into this traditionally-focused aquavit, which is a more savory, herbal meditation on gin. Appropriately Old World, it layers exotic, caraway-driven, Middle-Eastern-bazaar notes with touches of licorice, juicy citrus, seaweed, and light sandalwood notes. Credible on its own, but it probably works best as a substitute for gin, cutting a profile that was probably along the lines of what Bombay Sapphire East was going for. 88 proof. B / $35

Vikre Voyageur Aquavit Cognac Cask Finished – The above aquavit, finished (for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give the spirit a gentle yellow hue) in used Cognac casks. I like the combination a lot. The nose features a fruitiness that Ovrevann doesn’t have, plus a touch of barrel char that adds mystique. This leads to stronger licorice notes on the nose, plus notes of cloves, raisins (a clear Cognac contributor), menthol and spearmint, and a lingering, herbal finish. The Cognac balances out the sweet and savory notes in the spirit, giving this a well-rounded yet entirely unique character that’s worth exploring. 86 proof. A- / $57

vikredistillery.com