Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH 206 VODKASeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206’s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: New Amsterdam Citron and Coconut Vodkas

New Amsterdam Coconut 750mlI can’t explain why our review of New Amsterdam Gin is one of the most popular pages on the site, but the Modesto-based company has continued expanding its spirit lineup, first with a straight vodka, and now with a few flavors. New Amsterdam now has four flavors available, with Citron (citrus) and Coconut the most recent arrivals. As always, tasting notes follow. Both are 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Citron Citrus Flavored Vodka – Alcoholic notes prevail on the nose, its grain neutral spirit base dominating. Lemon peel makes for a modest secondary character in the aroma. The body is on the thin side, with simple lemon peel and a touch of orange oil flavoring a relatively raw and simple spirit base. There’s really just not enough flavor here, particularly given the uninspired character of the base spirit: The finish is largely medicinal, not well balanced, and quickly forgotten. C+ / $13

New Amsterdam Coconut Flavored Vodka – Very tropical on the nose, almost more pineapple than coconut, with no real hint of vodka. The body’s much bigger on the coconut front, with that telltale harshness making an appearance right in the middle. The finish turns bitter, almost rubbery at times. If you’re out of Malibu, I suppose this would work in a pinch in a faux Pina Colada… but I’d get to the store the next day. B- / $13

newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitchMade in the Netherlands, the Ivanabitch people have gone out of their way — way out of their way — to simultaneously give Ivanabitch an Old World back story (it involves a “half-mad” Russian in the 1600s named Dmitri Ivanabitch) and a hip/fresh look with a modern (or at least ’80s) bottle design and a name, well, that has “bitch” in it. (It’s tough to believe, but some people actually think this mad Russian story is true.)

This “vodka with attitude,” as the slogan goes, is made from an unspecified mash, distilled five times, and charcoal filtered. The straight vodka is 80 proof. The flavored versions are 70 proof each. Thoughts follow.

Ivanabitch Vodka – Instant sugar rush on the nose. Sweet on the palate, too, with notes of caramels and butterscotch. Simple and uncomplicated, and, er, did I mention how sweet it is? I’m not sure I’d call this vodka with “attitude,” but I guess “vodka with sugar” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. An easy mixer. Skip it straight. B

Ivanabitch Cherry Vodka – Surprisingly easy and straight-up with a cherry candy nose and body. Almost a cherry cola kick to it, with some hints of strawberry. Not at all bad, this would be a decent mixer in any number of beach-tinis. Alt Singapore Sling, maybe? B+

Ivanabitch Blackberry Vodka – Harsh on the nose, medicinal. The body is vague and indistinct. Blackberry? Blueberry? Tastes more like a mixed cobbler dipped in rubbing alcohol. The finish finally brings along some blackberry character, but it’s a long time coming. C

Ivanabitch Dutch Apple Vodka – Apple Jolly Ranchers on the nose. Sweet and sour and easily identifiable. The body’s tailor-made for classic(?) Appletinis, but surprisingly it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, featuring a touch of Granny Smith tang to balance things out. I’d drink it. B+

Ivanabitch Coconut Vodka – Unlike the rest of the vodkas in the lineup, this one is slightly tinged a pale yellow. Smells like Malibu, sweet and coconutty and might-as-well-be-on-the-beach. Very sweet, which masks any sense of alcohol. But the coconut character is solid, infused with just a hint of peanut character. Not bad, but I’d rather have rum. B

Ivanabitch Peach Vodka – Bigger peach notes on the body than the nose, but both are reasonably authentic, though more in the vein of canned peaches in syrup than a fresh peach. SoCo fans will probably find this to their liking, but it’s one of those flavors where I struggle to figure out how to use it. B-

Ivanabitch Lemmon Vodka – A complicated story on the back of the bottle references “Lemmon Island,” which does not exist. What does exist: Sugar! There’s plenty of that here, along with intense lemon oil/lemon custard notes, with a long, sweet finish. Lemon drops, anyone? Just add ice, I guess. B

Ivanabitch Red Berry Vodka – Much like the Blackberry vodka, this one has less sweetness and more vaguery — though the strawberry and chocolate notes here are a little more easygoing. The finish heads into strawberry shortcake character, as that familiar sweetness comes on more strongly in the end. Harmless. B

Ivanabitch Orange Vodka – Not triple sec, but you’d never know it from the taste. Hefty Valencia oranges on the nose and palate, with a lightly bittersweet orange peel character on the finish. Surprisingly light and easygoing, it’s a quick Cosmo shortcut if you’re out of orange liqueur. B+

Ivanabitch Vanilla Vodka – Also translucent, a slightly darker brown than the Coconut flavor. Overwhelming birthday cake on the nose, a powerhouse that punches you in the gut on the palate. And yet, it manages to turn bitter on the finish. A weak entry. C-

Ivanabitch Tobacco Vodka – Already much maligned as “the end of flavored vodkas,” I figure if “Electricity Flavored Vodka” can exist, why not Tobacco? (Note: there’s no tobacco or nicotine in the vodka.) This is funky stuff. The nose is of fresh leaves, not burning ones or smoking cigarettes. The body, however, is something altogether different. Sort of vanilla, sort of cinnamon, very very sweet, and overwhelmingly off-putting with a funky, sweaty, indescribable finish. By the nose I thought I was in for a unique, even passable, treat. You don’t need to sip it for long to realize that’s not the case. D

Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Vodka – Of course there’s a menthol version! The nose is familiar, not terrible distinctive vs. the standard Tobacco version. It is, perhaps, even more powerful though. The body isn’t quite as bad. The addition of mint to the cauldron of flavors here improves things a bit, though that isn’t saying much. After the vanilla and Sweet-N-Low portion of the spirit wears off, you’re left with a vague peppermint character on the back of the throat. It’s hard to shake. In a bad way, I mean. D+

ivanabitch.com

Review: The Bay Seasoned Vodka

the bay vodka

I like a shrimp boil. I grill fish all the time. Crabs? You bet. What do I rely on? Old Bay seasoning.

When do I not rely on Old Bay? When I’m drinking vodka. And thus, when faced with Philadelphia Distilling’s “The Bay” Seasoned Vodka — no relation to Old Bay — I found my brain not quite ready to process.

Well, let’s step back a bit. This isn’t that wild an idea. It’s clearly designed with Bloody Mary cocktails in mind, something that any number of competitors, from Absolut Peppar to Bakon Vodka were also specifically built for. In that context, The Bay sounds like a pretty good idea.

Trying it straight, The Bay offers an immediate sweet-and-spicy-and-salty character that is unmistakable. The list of “traditional Chesapeake Bay seasoning” ingredients includes celery seed, black and red pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom (among other secret ingredients), but what comes through the most clearly is salt. Black pepper also hits you as you sip, along with a kind of gingerbread sweetness that is unexpected. But it’s really that salt the shines, through and through, so thick you can taste the iodine… though perhaps that is really just the sea.

As for the Bloody Mary, as expected it works quite well, bringing ample salt and some pepper to a drink that can always use more of both. For sipping straight while the crabs come in, I’d probably pass. As a go-to vodka for a memorable Bloody, sign me up.

80 proof.

B+ / $26 (1 liter) / thebayvodka.com

Review: Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka

crop meyer lemonCrop is a big name in the organic vodka space, and the latest release — Meyer Lemon — from the Princeton, Minnesota-based company is a standout.

The nose is clean, with that unmistakable mix of orange and lemon notes that can only be the elusive Meyer lemon. Intense and fruity, it masks any sense of alcohol on the nose.

On the tongue, it’s somehow even better: Very crisp Meyer lemon character, tinged just so with pineapple and marshmallow sweetness, with a modest to light medicinal underpinning to remind you you’re drinking vodka and not liquid candy. Loaded with mixing possibilities, it also drinks wonderfully well on its own. If you’re looking for a lemon-fueled vodka to add to the back bar, you’ve found it.

A / $26 / cropvodka.com

Cocktails follow…

California Cosmo
1 ½ parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
¾ part imported triple sec
¾ part cranberry juice
½ part fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Lemon Blossom
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
3/4 part lemon juice
3/4 part simple syrup
1/2 part elderflower liqueur
Chilled club soda

In an ice-filled collins or highball glass, combine everything except the club soda. Stir until mixed, top with club soda, and garnish with lemon wheels.

Citrus Cobbler
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
1 1/2 parts freshly squeezed and strained orange juice
1/2 part simple syrup
1 dash lime juice
Orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker combine all ingredients except for the bitters, fill with ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass, garnish with a dash of bitters, and decorate with mixed citrus fruits.

Lemon Meringue Cocktail
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 egg white
2 parts Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part French aperitif wine

Shake first two ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and rest of the ingredients. Shake vigorously for twenty seconds and strain into a martini glass.

Review: Absolut Cilantro Vodka

Absolut_Cilantro_1L_whiteWhat an odd little concoction. The name alone should cue you in that you’re in a whole new world here — cilantro and Sweden aren’t two words I typically associate with one another. But here we are, an inevitability, perhaps, given a world we live in where multiple cucumber flavored vodkas can be had: Cilantro Vodka.

First off, check the fine print: This is “vodka with cilantro and lime flavor.” Absolut surely realized from the start that straight up cilantro vodka would have been disastrous, and I’m hard pressed to argue with that.

On the nose: Lots of lime. Herbs are there, but vague and indistinct. Could be rosemary or thyme. Take a sip and that lime citrus character hits hard. It’s not too tart (there’s some sugar at play here), but not quite a margarita in a bottle, either. The cilantro is mainly evident in the latter half of the experience. Well, it’s tough to peg it as cilantro specifically. As with the nose, it’s more of a vague herbal character. Slightly spicy, slightly vegetal, slightly woody. If you told me this was sage vodka I’d probably believe you… and I eat a lot of cilantro.

All of that said, I kind of like this vodka. The herbal and lime elements come together pretty well — as indeed they should — and the overall effect is pleasing, surprisingly for a full 80 proof flavored vodka. What anyone would do with this — aside from use it in lieu of tequila to make the most unexpected margarita ever — I’m not sure. But I’m willing to listen.

B+ / $21 / absolut.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Moscato Vodka

SKYY INFUSIONS MOSCATO GRAPE Hi-ResDriven by the club crowd, Moscato is the hottest wine grape on the planet, with sales of Moscato wine up 73% in 2012. Naturally, now it’s making its way into other products in the industry, and perhaps the splashiest arrival is in Skyy’s new Moscato-flavored vodka.

As a flavoring agent goes, Moscato’s a pretty easy one: Just squeeze some grape juice into the vodka and you should be good to go.

Sure enough, Skyy Moscato comes across like the real deal. The nose is tropical and ultra-fruity, a cross between pineapple and tangerine in character. On the tongue, more of the same. Here the vodka character is more pronounced, with a somewhat tough back-end that’s common in flavored vodkas, a kind of rough, charcoal-like character. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not like drinking a glass of Moscato, either.

As flavored vodkas go, Skyy Moscato is a serviceable product but also one that could do double duty in cocktail recipes that call for orange-flavored or pineapple-flavored vodka (or any number of other citrus vodkas, too, now that I think of it). Hard to tell if this is going to be a hit with the club crowd — as sweet as it is, it’s nowhere near as sweet as actual Moscato is — but kudos to Skyy for hopping on a trend whole hog like this.

70 proof.

B- / $18 / skyy.com

Review: Deep Eddy Vodka and Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka

deep eddy ruby red grapefruit vodkaWe previously raved about Texas-based Deep Eddy’s Sweet Tea Vodka, and now we’re taking a step back, looking at its original, unflavored vodka, as well facing the future, with a look at a new flavor that’s based on Texas-favorite Ruby Red grapefruit.

Thoughts on these two vodkas follow.

Deep Eddy Vodka – Stylistically modern. A mild, lightly sweet vodka with just a touch of herbs underneath. A moderate and pleasant mouthfeel leads to a short and simple finish, which offers some fruity hints of green banana and apple. Fine as a mixer, but not enough going on for sipping straight. 80 proof. B+ / $16

Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka – Made from real grapefruit juice mixed with the above — and it looks the part, with a bright pink color that “scums over” if you leave the bottle undisturbed for a long while. Huge grapefruit notes on the nose are followed by a rush of them on the tongue, with plenty of the sweetness from Deep Eddy’s standard vodka percolating up to meet it. A bit of mushroomy savoriness on the back end. Completely drinkable, particularly ice cold and with something sparkling as a mixer. 70 proof. B+ / $16

deepeddyvodka.com

Review: Iceberg Vodka Lineup

iceberg vodkaWe last encountered this Canadian vodka — made with pure iceberg water, it’s said — last year. Now the company has expanded its lineup to include three flavored vodkas. Fresh thoughts on the original plus the three new offerings follow.

Iceberg Vodka – Clean, Euro-styled vodka with a lightly medicinal backbone. Some sweetness develops as you sip — caramel and maybe a little banana, too — but a bit of bite comes back on the end, a touch salty, too. A nice change vs. so many of today’s modern vodkas, which pour on the sugar until you choke. 80 proof. B+

Iceberg IceFusion Cucumber Vodka – Surprisingly, not the first or second cucumber vodka we’ve reviewed. This one’s got authentic cucumber notes on the nose, but quite sweet underneath — a necessity to make a vodka this vegetal more palatable to its obvious target market. That makes it much more drinkable on its own, but quite a bit less serious. That hint of banana from standard Iceberg creeps through in the end. 70 proof. B+

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Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete Lineup

LiV espresso vodkaWe’ve covered Long Island Spirits’ straight vodka before. But recently we received a fresh bottle… along with everything else Long Island makes. Yowza.

That primarily includes a long line of liqueurs bottled under the Sorbetta brand. These are simple, natural liqueurs available only in 375ml bottles. They’re all crafted from LiV Vodka (of course), fresh fruit, and sugar.

We’re also taking a look at Long Island’s coffee-flavored vodka.

To complicate things further, Long Island also makes three whiskies, which are in our queue to be reviewed separately. Stay tuned.

Thoughts follow.

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