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: 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: Pinnacle Cinnamon Roll Vodka

Pinnacle Cinnabon Vodka_750Those of you afraid that vodka flavors are losing their edge, rest easy, here’s a flavor that’s sure to strip the enamel straight off your teeth: Cinnamon roll, produced in conjunction with (or at least, with a picture and logo from) Cinnabon.

Unbearably sweet — though that’s not far from the source — the overall impression of this vodka is akin to vanilla cake frosting. Big butter (ok, margarine) notes just add to the fat bomb impression, and at least give it some sense that there’s a pastry somewhere in there. Cinnamon is — oddly enough — the weak link in the puzzle. While readily detectable, it’s dialed back to the point where its addition seems to come across as an afterthought. Bizarre.

Picking up a bottle to satisfy your boozy sweet tooth? God help you, dear reader.

70 proof.

D+ / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 / pearlvodka.com

Review: Smirnoff Peppermint Twist

Smirnoff Peppermint Twist Bottle Shot (HIRES)Ho ho ho! What’s Santa want next to the fireplace? Not another peppermint candy but rather a peppermint-flavored vodka. Smirnoff Peppermint Twist isn’t just a mint-flavored spirit, it’s all wrapped up and ready for your holiday partying.

Let’s give this flavored vodka a holiday-centric spin, shall we?

The nose is all candy canes, and that’s not just the bottle wrap telegraphing things: fresh peppermint, with subtle sweetness underpinning the racy spice. The body’s a smooth operator, offering sweet peppermint candy with a gentle warmth to it. It’s simple and uncomplicated — which is probably what you want from a bottle designed to look like a holiday candy. The finish is quite lasting and appropriately evocative of wintertime. Peppermint flavored spirits aren’t a tough nut to crack, to be honest, but with Peppermint Twist, Smirnoff’s got as good a handle on it as anyone.

P.S. Don’t miss the scratch-and-sniff bottle wrap!

60 proof.

B+ / $15 / smirnoff.com

Review: Svedka Vodka, Svedka 100, and Svedka Grapefuit Jalapeno

SVEDKA GrapefruitJalapeno Bottle

Sweden’s Svedka is one of the top global vodka brands, driven by an affordable price point and some amazingly successful marketing. 5x distilled from Swedish winter wheat, it’s widely available to the point of ubiquity. Let’s look at three of the company’s expressions, including a couple of new monsters.

Svedka Vodka – This is the standard Svedka bottling — presumably the one that that robot lady likes so much. The nose melds marshmallow notes with hospital overtones, but ultimately it’s the sweeter notes that carry the spirit. The palate is quite simplified, with a modest sugar component and just a wisp of astringency that attempts to provide some balance. It never quite gets there, though, leaving this best suited as a mixer. 80 proof. B- / $14

Svedka 100 Vodka – This is the 100 proof version of Svedka, but otherwise unflavored and made the same way. The nose is strikingly similar — offering that same mix of sweetness and medicinal character. Where things diverge is on the tongue, with Svedka 100 building up to a rather pungent and punchy character that is, primarily, driven by its alcohol content. This has the welcome side effect of tempering the sugar in the vodka and giving the spirit some much needed gravitas. A considerable improvement and only a buck more expensive. B+ / $15

Svedka Grapefruit Jalapeno Vodka – Svedka makes 14 varieties of vodka, including 12 flavors. This new one is arguably the strangest, unless Swedes are munching jalapenos and swilling Squirt left and right without my knowledge. This flavored expression is all fruit on the nose — but more grapefruit candy than sour grapefruit juice. On the tongue it’s more of the same — remarkably sweet and sugary, offering citrus but nothing that’s particularly grapefruit focused. But what about that jalapeno, Drinkhacker? Well, the finish offers a little but distinct burn, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. That said, I couldn’t tell you whether it came from a pepper or a vat of mysteriously spicy chemicals, and you don’t care anyway. 70 proof. C- / $12

svedka.com