Review: Oak by Absolut

absolut oak by absolutTo quote Tom Cruise in Risky Business, sometimes you gotta say, What the fuck?

How big is whiskey? So big that the vodka guys are trying to muscle in on the business.

Oak by Absolut is Absolut vodka rested in oak barrels. Or, more accurately, it is “oak infused vodka, vodka, [and] vodka rested in barrels,” per the label. What any of that means I don’t really know. The mechanics of the oak infusion aren’t disclosed, nor is any information about the type of barrels or the length of time the vodka spends in them. Was the vodka rested at distillation proof or at Absolut’s standard 80 proof? I just don’t know.

The end product looks and tastes exactly as you think it will. As dark as any whiskey (well, almost any whiskey), it certainly looks the part. On the nose it’s tough to parse — notes of vanilla are at the forefront, then cinnamon, raspberry, root beer soda, and marshmallows. It doesn’t really smell like whiskey… but it doesn’t smell like anything else either. A very young brandy? Some kind of flavored Irish whiskey? It’s a chameleon.

The palate pushes on with abandon — sweet vanilla custard, a modest lashing of lumber, and some cherry notes hit first. The main event is a distinct A&W Root Beer character — not a dense amaro bitterness, but a highly sweetened version of the stuff that leaves a hint of rootiness behind for the finish. Here things slowly fade away, offering some notes of prune juice and brown sugar amidst the lingering root beer character.

What’s surprising about Oak by Absolut — besides the fact that it exists at all — is how harmless it is. Those expecting a rank lumber bomb — which often happens if you put rack vodka in a wood barrel — won’t find it here. Whatever Absolut has done to doctor this oddity — and that must be significant — it’s been able to avoid turning it into the disgusting monster you were expecting it to be. At the same time, there’s really no reason, absolutely no reason at all, for it to exist. No whiskey fan in their right mind would pick this even over a $12 bottle of bourbon, and no vodka drinker would ever set foot near it. So why does this exist? As a gateway to whiskey (which Absolut doesn’t make)? Someone lost a bet? You got me.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch B-14.01 (or B-19.01… bad handwriting).

B- / $25 /

Review: Voli Vodka

voli vodkaMade in Cognac, France, this vodka is crafted from French wheat, 5x distilled, blended with local water, and endorsed by Pitbull.

Voli (aka Voli Black) has a hyper-modern profile from start to finish. On the nose, it offers substantial sweetness, with caramel notes and a bit of citrus. The body is as sweet as you would expect, offering overtones of marshmallow, sweetened coconut, and vanilla. There’s none of the citrus hinted at from the nose on the palate, but the finish wraps things up with some baking spice and more brown sugar.

Did I mention the sweetness? Just checking.

80 proof.

B- / $20 /

Review: Far North Spirits Syva Vodka and Gustaf Navy Strength Gin

FNS_Gustaf_wTwo more white spirits from Minnesota-based Far North Spirits, both sporting the company’s exotic Nordic naming scheme. Thoughts follow.

Far North Spirits Syva Vodka – Distilled from rye. Immediately odd nose, with heavy, malty grain notes, some hospital notes, and a nutty, almond character that seems to come out of nowhere. On the palate, the hospital character wins out, but the body has a kind of fruit-driven sweetness to it that mutes what might otherwise offer a fresh and bracing character. Instead, Syva ultimately comes across more like a confused white whiskey instead of a clean and fresh vodka. 90 proof. C / $30

Far North Spirits Gustaf Navy Strength Gin – This is not merely a stronger version of Solveig, but is a different style of gin, particularly a higher-proof London Dry style gin. Distilled from rye, botanicals include Meyer lemon peel, grains of paradise, fennel, cucumber, and meadowsweet (among others). It’s more newfangled than the London Dry moniker would indicate, offering a nose that runs to citrus, some marshmallow, and fennel evident. The body has very little juniper to speak of, including some initial earthy notes that are backed up by sweet citrus, wintry florals, and a lingering perfume character. The finish is long and aromatic, again not at all London Dry in style but rather far more western. 114 proof. B / $40

Review: Corbin Vodka

corbinYou can make vodka out of anything, they say. Potato’s a common base starch. How about the sweet potato, then?

Corbin Vodka, made in Atwater, California, is column distilled from the gold old sweet potato. (Don’t call it a yam!)

The nose is fairly neutral, sharp with a moderately medicinal character, but balanced by some notes of brown butter. Interesting undertones of unripened grapes, perhaps gooseberry. On the palate, it’s got a creamy texture that pairs well with a kick of brown sugar and a little baking spice. Just a hint of citrus up front. The finish is long and warming, dusted with light medicinal notes and a kick of sweetness. Nice way to go out.

80 proof.

A- / $30 /

Review: AnestasiA Vodka (2015)


In 2012, a new vodka called AnestasiA hit the market, sporting an insanely avant garde bottle and an even more insane liquid inside. Charitably described as a mouth-numbing, menthol-flavored vodka (and not noted on the label as any such thing), the Oregon-produced vodka was derided by critics and, apparently, shunned by drinkers.

AnestasiA went back to the drawing board. They kept the bottle, but they axed the flavoring agents completely. The new AnestasiA is totally unflavored… a complete 180 from the original.

In fact, the new AnestasiA is one of the most “unflavored” spirits I’ve ever had.

AnestasiA 2015 has an extremely mild nose, with almost no discernable scent aside from some basic, simple medicinal notes. On the palate, it offers very light notes of rubbing alcohol, with a slight wash of both vanilla and brown sugar. The finish is clean, if short of bracing. There’s nothing not to like here, but nothing particularly memorable about the composition, either. For some, that’s what makes for a perfect vodka.

All in all: Smart move, guys.

80 proof.

A- / $29 /

Review: Balls Vodka

ballsWell, at least Balls vodka isn’t trying to take the vodka category too seriously. There’s no story of frost-kissed grapes, diamond-filtration, or crystal decanters to contend with. This is bulk vodka with a pinup model on the label, and, in case you missed it, it’s called BALLS, which appears in great big letters. Even my sample bottle was no little mini but a full 1.75-liter handle of the stuff. How am I going to fit all this Balls in my mouth?

OK, enough of that. Let’s taste this vodka, which is made from non-GMO corn and is 4x distilled, per the label.

The nose is moderately intense: Medicinal, but shy of coming across as industrial, with a touch of sweetness underneath it. The palate is a bit on the sweeter side, offering some marshmallow and vanilla notes on a moderately creamy body. The finish fades quickly, leaving a strong note of vanilla ice cream on the back of the palate. The touch of sweetness isn’t overdone though, and it doesn’t detract from what is an otherwise straightforward, workable spirit that should work just fine as a mixer in sweeter cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 (1 liter) /

Review: Skyy Infusions Texas Grapefruit

SKYY Infusions Texas GrapefruitSkyy turns to the south for this latest flavored vodka: Texas Grapefruit.

It’s very brisk on the nose with fresh grapefruit notes. It’s not overly candied or sweet, but appropriately tart. That carries through to the palate, a modestly sweet vodka that balances its sugar with dauthentic grapefruit notes, appropriately sour and tangy with a touch of lemon-orange character. The finish is lasting and somewhat sugary, but it’s far from overwhelming.

On the whole: Uncomplicated. Which is probably the best praise you can give a flavored vodka, no?

70 proof.

B+ / $15 /

Review: American Star Vodka

AmericanStarVodkaCroppedLook closely at the label — “Star Vodka” is a totally different product — and you’ll see a small “American” in the etching above the “Star” on this exceptionally hard-to-read vodka bottle from Ascendant Spirits (makers of Breaker Bourbon).

American Star is distilled (at least) five times from corn (the bottle just reads “grain”) in Santa Barbara County. A straight expression and three flavors are available. All are 80 proof, and all are reviewed below.

American Star Vodka – Pungent on the nose, with notes melding medicinal notes with some marshmallow character. The body’s a bit muddy, its distinct vanilla character enhancing the vodka’s creaminess on the palate. The finish isn’t sharp or cleansing but rather fades away with a lengthy (but not unpleasant) fade away. Best as a mixer. B

American Star Caviar Lime Vodka – At first I thought this was some kind of terrible typo for Kaffir Lime, but it turns out caviar lime is its own wacky thing. This vodka uses these finger-shaped limes for flavoring, resulting in a quite successful spirit. The nose is distinctively lime — very fresh and not at all artificial smelling, with some floral undertones. On the palate, the citrus sustains, with a touch of vanilla — driven perhaps by the base spirit — to add some nuance. Much cleaner than the straight version. A-

American Star Strawberry Vodka – Tinted pink, flavored only with organic strawberries. Along with fresh berries, the nose offers floral notes and hints of whipped cream. It’s an enchanting lead-up, but the body is less successful. Here we find the vibrant fruit overwhelmed by astringency, sour elements, and a finish that comes across as artificial and unpleasant. Unfortunate. C-

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka – The infamous ghost pepper (hardwood smoked here) finds a home in this lightly yellow-colored vodka. The nose doesn’t offer many hints, but the body is hot as all get-out. Searing red pepper attacks the palate almost immediately, but later on the smokier elements, and just a touch of sweetness, offer some relief from the heat. Not much, though. Tread with caution. B

each about $33 /

Review: Tigre Blanc Vodka

TIGREBLANCgold4CYou’re not wrong to be suspicious of a $90 vodka. It’s vodka, amirite?

Tigre Blanc is a new spirit that hails from the Cognac region of France. It is distilled six times in alembic copper pot stills and is made from 100% French wheat grown in Cognac. The bottle is ostentatious, an oversized gold-encrusted number with a suspicious, egg-like protrusion on the top. (The white frosted bottle on the Tigre Blanc website is a different product not on sale in the U.S.) A portion of proceeds go to the Panthera Organization, dedicated to aiding and preserving wild cats. (Tigre Blanc, get it?)

So how about a tasting…

The nose is quite clean. Lightly medicinal, with just touches of pepper on the nose. On the tongue, the vodka offers some sweetness, which grows as the palate evolves. This isn’t sickly sweet at all, just a gentle cane sugar character that carries with it a hint of vanilla and a touch of chocolate. Surprisingly, this melds well with that spicier nose. A little punchy up front, then a sweet little massage on the back end. All of this is done in a very gentle fashion, nothing heavy-handed about it, simple and seductive from start to finish. It’s a vodka that’s both clean and balanced, offering mild flavor notes that enhance the experience instead of detract from it.

80 proof.

A / $90 /

Review: 8 Poliakov Flavored Vodkas


Poliakov may look and sound Russian, but this is a French product (from the same company that distributes Label 5 Scotch), and it’s a big, low-cost seller in that country. Little is known about its production except for a vague “triple distilled” label. While there is a straight, unflavored version, we only received a passel of flavors — excuse me, “flavours” — to review.

Some are completely clear, some are slightly tinted in color, and some are quite colorful — as the photo above will demonstrate. Thoughts on eight varieties follow.

All are bottled at 75 proof.

Poliakov Lemon Vodka – Pretty citrus nose, with a little mint. There’s less going on on the palate, though, which offers a vaguely bitter/sour profile with some cleaning fluid notes on the back end. B-

Poliakov Peach Vodka – The nose has chemical overtones, and the body is quite astringent. Peach by way of disinfectant. C-

Poliakov Mandarin Vodka – Clear orange, veering toward mandarins, on the nose — with some woody notes underneath it. The body is punchier with orange character than the lemon version is with its citrus. Perfectly pleasant, with an uncomplicated finish. B+

Poliakov Green Apple Vodka – Overly sweet on the nose, with distinctly artificial apple notes. The body is sweet and sour, with a chewy, woody back end. Undistinguished. C

Poliakov Strawberry Vodka – Bright red/pink in color. Very, very sweet up front. The nose is easily mistaken for cherry, and the body could just as well be melted hard candies. Inoffensive, but usable mainly as a sweetener rather than a flavoring agent. C+

Poliakov Cranberry Vodka – Cranberry is a very difficult flavor to work with, and this one has clearly been doctored up the way most cranberry juice has, too. That’s not such a bad thing, as what’s in the bottle is a curious and compelling blend of tart cranberry and slightly sweet cherry/red berry notes, which together create a balanced and compelling little mixer. B+

Poliakov Vanilla Vodka – This one’s pushed right to the edge of the dessert cart, and just about falls over. Smells and tastes like a bakery confection, with chocolate and coconut notes backing up the vanilla. Some charred wood elements infect the nose, but that actually helps to add a little balance to the concoction. B-

Poliakov Caramel Vodka – Another colored vodka, this one an amber brown. As expected, it’s pushy with sweetness on the nose, but the palate is gentler than you’d expect, offering some touches of sweet tea, coffee, licorice, and other unexpected nuances. Again that characteristic char is here, giving a bottle of erstwhile panty peeler a little something extra. B-

each about $10 (likely) /