Review: Square One Bergamot Vodka

square one bergamot

The bergamot is a type of sour orange, grown mainly in Italy, that often shows up in tea preparations (particularly Earl Grey) — and which is now arriving on the marquee of this new flavored vodka from Square One.

Bergamot is really just the beginning, though. Based on the company’s outline of the infusion bill, there’s quite a bit more to it: “The vibrant taste of organic bergamot citrus is layered with the essential oils of pressed organic mandarin, navel and tangerine oranges and the essences of organic ginger, coriander, and juniper botanicals.”

So, almost a gin? Not at all, really.

The nose is distinctly orange, with clear notes of mandarins and a slightly caramel-infused back end. In between those two, this is quite a gentle, restrained vodka, keeping its sweetness in check while promoting a pretty melange of citrus character. A slight bitter edge evokes the reality that citrus peel is a major component here, but that’s not a slight. This is on the whole a delightfully crafted and mostly straightforward citrus vodka that I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to incorporate into any orange-centric cocktail… or even, on a lark, sip on its own or with a simple soda or tonic mixer.

Don’t let the gothic “bergamot” turn you away — this is your new favorite citrus vodka.

80 proof.

A / $35 / squareoneorganicspirits.com

Review: 12 Smirnoff Flavored Vodkas

smirnoff churros

Smirnoff recently repackaged its vodka lineup — again — which now spans a whopping 39 flavors (not to mention three unflavored expressions). That’s 8 more flavors than you can get at Baskin-Robbins… and with similar ingredient descriptions.

The company sent us a healthy dozen of these flavors — palate be damned! — for consideration. (They’re harmless, for the most part.) So let’s get to it.

All are 70 proof unless noted.

Smirnoff Citrus Vodka – Simple citrus notes, heavier on grapefruit overtones than you’d think. The nose is sweet and driven by navel oranges but the body is milder, bittersweet, and imbued more with citrus peel than juice. B

Smirnoff Peach Vodka – Somewhat artificial and quite sweet on the nose, like a peach candy or a heavily flavored peach tea. The palate is again quite sweet but just on this side of canned peaches. Not disagreeable. B+

Smirnoff Blueberry Vodka -Here the is tougher and evocative of bitter blueberry skins, but the body pushes forward more legit blueberry flavor, at least at first. This fades with the finish, which returns to an ever-so-slightly weedy character. B

Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka – More caramel on the nose than vanilla, with a white cake frosting character on the tongue. This settles into more of a vanilla soda character as the body develops, though the very sweet finish is moderately cloying. B-

Smirnoff Green Apple Vodka – Big, candylike green apple character attacks the senses, with an extreme level of sweetness to manage once it hits the palate. Built for your appletini (and little else), this sweetly fruity concoction is less offensive than it seems like it will be thanks to a clear and unmuddied flavor profile. B

Smirnoff Strawberry Vodka – Far less fragrant than many of the other vodkas on this list, this spirit’s body isn’t clearly strawberry but rather muddier, with a profile more akin to sugary, mixed berries. Nothing special, and more importantly, not much strawberry. B-

Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka – Punchy raspberry candy notes on the nose. Not at all unpleasant, with ample sweetness but not enough medicinal character to give it a little backbone. Some chocolate and vanilla notes in there, too. B+

Smirnoff Watermelon Vodka – As Jolly Rancher as it gets, this candy-coated spirit starts sweet and only gets sweeter as the body takes hold. Tough to imagine imbibing this level of sugar in any significant quantity. C+

Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka – Revisiting this classic concoction, it’s (still) incredibly tough on the nose, just overwhelming with burnt sugar and cake frosting notes. The body is better, with coconuts and more of that vanilla frosting to show off. 60 proof. C+

Smirnoff Cinnamon Churros Vodka – Shut up! Who doesn’t love churros!? Somehow this vodka actually nails the distinct pastry/sugar/cinnamon combination of a churro, That doesn’t make it right, though. This vodka kicks things off with that sweet cinnamon but the finish is so saccharine that it coats the mouth and never lets go. 60 proof. C-

Smirnoff Sorbet Light White Peach Vodka – The first of two low-calorie vodkas here, there’s a weird astringency up front, then a huge flood of candied peach notes. Funky and artificial on the back end, with petrol/chemical notes that are hard to shake. 60 proof. D

Smirnoff Sorbet Light Summer Strawberry Vodka – Quite medicinal, both on the nose and the body, which evokes cough syrup to a far greater degree than Smirnoff’s standard, fruit-flavored expressions. Ugh. 60 proof. D-

Forget this, I’m done.

each $12 / smirnoff.com

Review: Charbay Blood Orange Vodka

charbay 8in72dpi_BloodOrange_AloneCharbay says it takes six months to infuse the flavor into this golden-orange-colored vodka, which is distilled from American corn and rye, then flavored with 100% California-grown blood oranges.

The nose and body of this vodka both veer more toward tangerine than classic blood orange, which has a bracing bitterness to it. On the nose particularly I get notes of vanilla, almonds, and then a slightly mushroomy, vegetal character that builds as the spirit gets some air.

This vodka starts off just right for a citrus-focused spirit, but over time in glass it develops a funk that just doesn’t feel right. The finish takes on distinct notes of Madeira and sherry — which are a bit at odds with the bracing citrus character that would work more effectively here.

80 proof.

B- / $29 / charbay.com

Review: Kai Lemongrass Ginger Shochu, Lychee Vodka, and Coconut Pandan Vodka

kai

Vietnam’s only vodka comes from Kai, which distills rice into both vodka and shochu (aka soju — it puts both names on the bottles), in a variety of flavors. Kai (slogan: “Taste the pleasure”) sent us three expressions of its Asian-inspired spirits for our investigation. Thoughts follow.

Kai Lemongrass Ginger Shochu/Soju – Very light and fragrant. The shochu starts with lemony notes and a heavy floral character on the nose. The body is moderately sweet, with plenty more of that flower-meets-citrus character throughout. The ginger kicks up at the end, but it’s more candylike than fresh ginger root. At just 24% alcohol, the spirit is lacking in heft but it makes up for it with that punchy, powerful fragrance. 48 proof. B+ / $30

Kai Lychee Vodka – Milder on the nose than expected, but the body is a fruity and largely authentic recreation of lychee fruit. Similar to, but not as sweet as elderflower, it offers perfumy aromatics and a surprisingly chocolaty finish that creeps up on you in time. Some mild astringency keeps this with one foot solidly in the vodkaverse and firmly away from the world of liqueurs. 70 proof. B+ / $35

Kai Coconut Pandan Vodka – Technically this reads “rice alcohol,” not vodka, but it’s really the same thing (and newer bottles appear to be updated to read vodka). Pandan is a tropical, palm-like tree that bears a fruit with some vanilla characters. The pandan gives this vodka a bit of an edge, turning the straight coconut notes into more of a savory, grilled-coconut affair, the equivalent of the coconut flavor you get in a Thai curry rather than an Almond Joy. More almond-focused than vanilla, it’s got a uniqueness you won’t find in other coconut vodkas, or even most coconut rums. 70 proof. A- / $35

kaivodka.com

Review: Infuse Vodka Peach and Orange Clove

infuse vodka Orange_Clove_sm

We encountered Infuse Vodkas about a year ago, reviewing four members of this unique flavored vodka lineup, each featuring solid botanicals suspended inside the bottle. Today we check out the remaining two vodkas in the lineup — though, unfortunately, they are not my overwhelming favorites of the bunch.

Again, all Infuse Vodkas are flavored not with mystery essences but with dried fruits and spices. Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Peach Vodka – The big slices of dried peaches look enticing, but this spirit is just way too medicinal. Suffering from much the same problem as Southern Comfort, Infuse Peach has a raw alcohol overtone to it that the peach notes only serve to enhance, not detract from. Even the peach notes are indistinct and a bit off-putting, more like a vaguely-flavored cough syrup than anything that came from the orchard. C-

Infuse Orange Clove Vodka – Gentle on the nose, almost lemonade-like, with just a hint of baking spice. The body is equally restrained, a layering of easy citrus fruit with clove and some evergreen notes, lending this vodka a quality on the palate that approaches that of many modern gins. The flavor isn’t altogether intense, and the finish is short. It’s pleasant enough as a simple mixer, but it doesn’t really push its component flavors far enough to replace either a solid, citrus-flavored vodka or a fruity gin. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka

Hanson

Hanson of Sonoma — based in, of course, Sonoma, California — distills its vodkas from the most abundant product around these parts: grapes. Using a massive 50-plate column still, it runs its spirits through seven filtering systems before bottling them in snazzy, artisan-looking bottles (all of which are signed and numbered).

Hanson of Sonoma is sold in six expressions (one straight, five flavored with organic infusions — no syrups or concentrates). We tried five of the six vodkas available — all but the boysenberry version.

All expressions are 80 proof, and all are from batch #0123.

Hanson of Sonoma Vodka – Shockingly fruity. I would have thought this was a flavored vodka, it’s so full of mixed berries — strawberry, blueberry, and hints of citrus. Super light bodied and refreshing, it’s like a distilled pink lemonade. An easy mixing vodka with fruit-centric cocktails. Not a martini vodka. A-

Hanson of Sonoma Mandarin Flavored Vodka – Sweet orange on the nose — the essence of orange Chuckles. The body’s got more grip to it, a medicinal character that overtakes the citrus notes quickly. As the orange fades into the background, a drying, neutral finish takes hold. Fine for your cosmos, I’m sure, but the original, unflavored expression would do the job just as well. B+

Hanson of Sonoma Ginger Flavored Vodka – Very mild ginger on the nose — it could easily be mistaken for lemon or maybe grapefruit. That said, it’s the berry notes of the straight expression of the vodka that come through the clearest, particularly on the palate, though this expression is much drier than the Original. B

Hanson of Sonoma Cucumber Vodka – Another sweeter vodka style, which is a little jarring next to the light cucumber notes here. In fact, the nose has more of a lime zest character to it, while the body is clearer on the vegetal cucumber notes. It eventually comes together on the finish with some crisp spa-water essence, but it’s never distinct enough to merit crafting a cocktail around it. B

Hanson of Sonoma Espresso Flavored Vodka – The big finish always goes to coffee. This is the only non-clear expression of Hanson of Sonoma. Notes of a very dark espresso roast on the nose. The body is pungent, almost bitter with heavily-charred espresso beans. Imagine the darkest, blackest cup of coffee you’ve ever had, then filter that through the lens of a fruity vodka. This one was by far my least favorite expression of the bunch, particularly thanks to its tannic, chalky finish. C-

hansonofsonoma.com

Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

refind Gin-Vodka

Distilled from grapes in Paso Robles, California, Re:Find is a boutique distillery that turns its “neutral brandies” into a variety of straight and flavored spirits. Distilled “from grapes” has certain connotations, but Re:Find is careful to note its vodka is not grappa, a specific type of brandy that is distilled from a by-product of winemaking. Re:Find is rather made from “free run” juice called saignee that is bled off during pressing, before red wine grapes are fermented — so it’s closer to an unaged brandy in composition. These are high-end grapes, which just so happen to be used to make wine at Villicana Winery — which is under the same ownership.

Mostly available only in California, we got a look at four of the spirits in Re:Find’s lineup. All four spirits reviewed below are 80 proof.

Re:Find Vodka – A bit grappa-like on the nose, with some of that funky, twig-‘n’-stem character you see on this spirit, but it’s undercut with the lightest aromas of honey and marshmallow. The body offers more in the way of hazelnuts, banana, and vanilla cookies, which makes for an interesting counterpart to the funkier nose (again, much like a good grappa). There’s a lot going on in this spirit and while it’s initially a bit much when sipping straight, it does show lots of nuance and character, and it merits exploration both on the rocks and in more complex cocktails. A- / $35

Re:Find Cucumber Vodka – Interesting choice for your first flavor, but damn if a nose full of Re:find Cucumber doesn’t smell like you’re headed to a day at the spa. Crisp and authentic, this vodka offers pure and refreshing cucumber flavor through and through, with just the lightest dusting of sweetness on the finish to offer some balance against the vegetal notes up front. You get none of the earthy grappa character in the unflavored vodka here, just fresh cukes from start to finish. Impressive considering this is legitimately flavored with fresh cucumbers. Seasonally available. A / $25 (375ml)

Re:Find Gin – Triple distilled and infused with (mostly local) juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon & orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender. This is an engaging gin, juniper-forward on the nose, with hints of lavender underpinning it. On the palate, things get a bit switched up. Here the lavender picks up the ball and runs, with the citrus notes coming on strong. It’s quite a trick, as the nose sets you up for a big evergreen bomb, then the body lets you down easy with a more sedate character suitable for the tropics. Re:Find Gin could benefit from a bit more complexity — maybe grapefruit peel or black pepper, or both — but as it stands it’s an engaging and quite drinkable little spirit. A- / $43

Re:Find Limoncello – Pale in color in comparison to many commercial limoncellos and translucent, Re:Find’s Limoncello looks and smells more like pure, fresh lemon juice — much more so than the stuff you typically see from Italy. Heavy on sour juice and bitter zest, this is intense stuff. If you’re looking for a sweet and lightly sour limoncello that will pair well with your berries-and-whipped-cream dessert, this isn’t the liqueur for you. If intense, almost raw, lemon character is your bag, give it a go… though you’ll have to visit Re:Find’s distillery to get some. B+ / $NA (375ml)

refinddistillery.com

Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois Vodka Berry Martini HI Res Glamour Photo (1)

Menage a Trois is known for its cheap wines, but the company now also makes cheap vodka. (!)

Three expressions — one straight, two flavored — are on offer. All are distilled from corn and brought down to proof with “pristine California water.” The catch with the flavored vodkas: They’re all “triple flavored” with three different botanicals. Three! Get it!? Sure ya do.

Some thoughts follow. All are 80 proof.

Menage a Trois Vodka – Quite neutral, a touch sugary on the nose but the body is quite plain, with touches of marshmallow, a hint of popcorn, and some odd peanut notes that emerge on the finish. Otherwise, not a whole lot to it. Probably fine for making cosmos or punch. B

Menage a Trois Citrus Vodka – Infused with lemon, lime, and orange. Lime, lemon, orange — in that order. Extremely bright and quite sweet — but the finish takes things to an astringent, chewed-up-aspirin note. B-

Menage a Trois Berry Vodka – Infused with raspberries, cranberries, and pomegranate. So… healthy? Intensely cranberry, with raspberry notes building strongly on a finish that recalls cough syrup — but, I mean, really really drinkable cough syrup. B-

each $16 / menageatroisvodka.com

Review: Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka

Crop Spiced_Pumpkin_Final‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin… which brings us to our first pumpkin spice-flavored vodka here at Drinkhacker, from (of all people) Crop Organic.

Crop has a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of high-end organic spirits, and despite the novelty nature of anything pumpkinesque, Crop somehow hits another home run with this hip flavor.

Appropriately burnt orange in color, Crop Spiced Pumpkin offers a quite sweet nose with a fragrant, cloves/cinnamon/vanilla spice to it. The body has the inimitable pumpkin spiciness to it — difficult to put into words, but distinctly nodding toward holiday tipples. That said, it is extremely sweet, to the point where you’ll have no idea whether you’re drinking a flavored vodka or a dense, sugary liqueur. From the orangey appearance, observers would be well justified in assuming you’re sipping on Grand Marnier.

Clearly one would never do that — save your intrepid critic — as this is a mixer through and through. With that in mind, Crop has provided a number of recipes for your enjoyment. See below.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / cropvodka.com

Recipes!

Crop Organic Pumpkin Ginger Cooler 
(Arley Howard, Top of the Hub) 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 lemon slice
Nutmeg
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part sour mix
Ginger ale

In a highball glass, muddle brown sugar with lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Add ice, Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka, ginger liqueur, and sour mix. Shake contents and then top with ginger ale.

Plymouth Rock Julep 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Rye whiskey
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1/2 part cinnamon syrup
5 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Swizzle all ingredients with ice and then top with crushed ice.  Garnish with a candy-corn pumpkin and grated cinnamon.

Pumpkin Cocktail 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
5 dashes bitters

Top with pumpkin ale.

Pumpkin Collins 
(Nick Nistico, Premier Beverage Company) 
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel dusted with cinnamon.

Review: New Amsterdam Orange and Pineapple Vodkas

new amsterdam orange

New Amsterdam’s gin and vodka lines are becoming increasingly commonplace thanks to their very low price point and upscale bottle design. These new flavors are fairly natural extensions to the line, bringing the total number of New Amsterdam flavors up to six. Intriguingly, both represent a major departure from (and improvement over) the more pungent and booze-forward notes that are characteristic of New Amsterdam’s recent attempts at flavored vodka, upon which I’ve remarked in the past.

Thoughts follow. Both are 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Orange Vodka – Fresh and juicy on the nose, but sweet to the point of being almost candylike. Tangerine notes emerge with time, the overall impact being very sweet and uncomplicated. Looking for some high-test orange zest to add to your cocktail? New Amsterdam Orange will get the job done without making things complicated. This isn’t a complex spirit nor is it anything like biting into an actual piece of fruit, but it’s a considerably more drinkable spirit than the lemon-focused New Amsterdam Citron, for example. B+ 

New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka – Again with the candy, but this vodka is stuffed with tropical notes — not just pineapple but coconut and maybe some guava, too. So sweet and powerful with candylike fruit notes, it’s like drinking a cheap but functional beach cocktail straight from the spigot. Again, New Amsterdam has dialed back that alcoholic funkiness by pushing the sugar content to epic highs, and it’s an approach that has its merits. I hate to be one to encourage such shortcutting, but drop a little of this into a blender with some Coco Lopez and some ice and you’ve got a credible and super cheap Pina Faux-lada without ever having to crack into a can of pineapple juice. Sophisticates can safely snub it, but your mom will eat it up. B+

both $13 / newamsterdamspirits.com