Review: Vodka DSP CA 162 – Straight and Flavored

vodka dsp 162 straight

In 2010, California-based Craft Distillers sold its highly-regarded Hangar One Vodka line to Proximo Spirits. (You may not have even realized this, but now you know.) At the time, Craft signed a strict non-compete agreeing not to make vodka for three years. Well, the three years are up, and Craft is now back at work with some vodkas which incorporate flavors that might sound a bit familiar.

No frills here, and that’s by design to keep the focus on what’s in the bottle; the brand name refers to an old federal designation for the distillery. The scientifically-named spirits are distilled in the company’s copper cognac still from a wheat base, and the flavored vodkas are made with real macerated fruits. They’re filtered, but these spirits do still have a slight yellow tint to them. All of the botanicals are grown in the rare-fruit orchards of John Kirkpatrick in the San Joaquin Valley.

Each vodka is 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Vodka DSP CA 162 Straight – This vodka takes the wheat-base spirit and blends it with vodka made from wine grapes (riesling and viognier). You can smell the pot still character right from the start. Mineral notes play with a bit of grainy character, marshmallow, and nougat on the nose. The body is silky with a pungent character common to grape-based vodkas, balanced by modest sweetness and, curiously, some stronger cereal notes on the finish. You’re left with a character that is, surprisingly, not unlike a white whiskey or a blanche cognac. B

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Hystrix – Flavored with Malaysian limes and their leaves. Brisk lime character on the nose, like candied lime peel. Bracing on the body, with crisp lime balanced with the right amount of sweetness. The lasting finish really brings out the leaf component, with just the right of grassiness poured over the tart body. The old Kaffir Lime vodka was always the most popular Hangar One flavor (at least in my experience in the field), and the company hasn’t strayed far from a successful formula. Big win here. A

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis – Flavored with Buddha’s Hand citrons. The aromatics are somewhat muddier than my memory of the crisp Hangar One Buddha’s Hand, but otherwise it’s very aromatic and unusual — almost perfumed — on the nose. The body has a creaminess to it — like lemon meringue pie — with a vaguely tropical character going on. Herbal notes or rosemary and sage emerge over time, particularly on the nose. A-

Vodka DSP CA 162 Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine – Flavored with tangerine and tangelo. A pretty orange nose recalls mild mandarines, but the body pumps it up with a brightness that almost hits a Tang-like quality. Sweet but not sugary, this is probably the most “modern” vodka in the lineup, but it’s also the most approachable on its own. Cosmo lovers would be calling this vodka all night long, but I doubt many cosmopolitan drinkers could pronounce the name. A-

each $38 /

Review: Skyy Infusions Vanilla Bean Vodka

Skyy Vanilla Bean Bottle Shot“Vodka infused with vanilla bean and other natural flavors,” so you really are getting real vanilla in this latest flavored vodka from Skyy.

The nose isn’t so much vanilla bean as it is vanilla cake frosting. One whiff gave me flashbacks of my son’s 8th birthday party. With vanilla, what are you gonna do, I guess? Blown right out of the bottle with amped-up sugar, this might as well be one of Smirnoff’s dessert-like vodkas, overflowing with liquefied sweetness and punctuated with kisses of what seems to be vanilla.

Simultaneously saccharine and inoffensive, Skyy Vanilla Bean will surely find a home as a cola mixer and in any number of dessert/frou-frou drinks — places where a little flavor and a huge burst of sweetness are called for. However, since I don’t mix up many of either of those things at the present, its utility in my own bar is decidedly limited.

70 proof.

C / $18 /

Review: Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka

deep eddy CRAN-1For its fourth vodka, Texas-based Deep Eddy Vodka steps out of the south and adds New England cranberries and cane sugar to the mix. As with its prior flavored vodkas, this spirit keeps the color of the fruit in the infusion instead of filtering it out. The result is a colorfully deep crimson.

On the palate, you’ve got a Cape Cod in a glass. The nose offers that slightly Sucrets-like character that only cranberries can offer, a vaguely medicinal but also fruity character that somehow manages to comes across as authentic (at least for a cranberry). The palate is considerably sweeter — there’s clearly plenty of sugar in here — which any cranberry juice drinker knows is a basic requirement for drinking any quantity of the stuff. That sweet body leads to a fruity — and quite tart — finish, just about right for this vodka’s intended purpose as a versatile mixer.

70 proof.

B+ / $16 /

Review: Prairie Organic Gin and Cucumber Vodka

Prairie_GinPrairie Organic Vodka, a clean, corn-based spirit from Minnesota, has been with us for the better part of a decade. At last the company is out with two line extensions, a gin and a cucumber-flavored version of the original spirit, both organic releases. Thoughts on both follow forthwith.

Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka – Take Prairie’s corn-distilled vodka and add “garden-fresh cucumber flavor” and you have this spirit. Cucumber is becoming increasingly common as a vodka flavor, and this rendition is both straightforward and perfectly credible — largely authentic with almost nothing in the way of secondary flavor notes at all (aside from some subtle sweetness). Nothing shocking, just a quiet recreation of cucumber sandwiches, hold the sandwiches. 70 proof. B / $26

Prairie Organic Gin – Prairie doesn’t publish its botanical list, but alludes to mint, sage, and cherry (!) on its bottle hanger, along with the usual juniper. On the nose I get a lot of floral, almost perfumy notes, along with touches of cinnamon and mulled wine. The body is a bit more traditional: Juniper comes up first (barely), with citrus peel notes… but there’s also gingerbread and honey on the finish. Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t quite muster enough in the body department for my tastes. 80 proof. B / $26  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Kinky Blue Liqueur

Kinky-Blue-originalBarely a year ago, Kinky, a hot pink Alize knockoff, first crossed our desk. Now, the club-friendly concoction is out with a second version, Kinky Blue. Which is not pink, but blue.

Again, this is technically not a liqueur but a flavored vodka, 5x distilled and flavored with blue things — “tropical and wild berry flavors,” according to the bottle.

The nose, however, is not nearly so distinct. Deep whiffs reveal almost nothing — it could be any berry-flavored vodka… raspberry? Schnozzberry? The body is equally vague. Many a flavored vodka has this same bittersweet note of Kool-Aid powder and tonic water, though few are quite this blue. There is a hint of pineapple on the finish that brings on a touch of interest, but it’s a long way to go for flavors that are done better in other, less silly spirits.

34 proof.

C- / $20 /

Review: UV Sriracha Vodka

UV_Sriracha_BottleAs we reported in December, the world of flavored vodka has delved into the full-on lunatic, with the launch of UV’s Sriracha-flavored vodka.

Officially notated as a “chili pepper flavored vodka” made with all-natural flavors, the spirit really looks the part, bottled in imitation of the iconic condiment, packaged in a red bottle with a green stopper. (That said, unlike actual sriracha, the vodka itself is clear. The bottle is what’s tinted red here.) Now, chili-flavored vodkas aren’t a new thing… but sriracha? Let’s see whether UV has managed to recreate a boozy version of the real deal.

The nose is surprisingly engaging — lightly spicy, with notes of tomato juice, olives, pickles, and — oddly — fresh lettuce. On the palate, sweetness arrives (much like in actual sriracha) to balance an initial rush of heat. The body retains a lot of that Bloody Mary character you get on the nose with peppery tomato juice up front, but the sweetness here is a little distracting, coming off as artificial, failing to integrate well with the hot side of things. That said, I think actual sriracha has a bit of the same problem, too.

Overall, UV Sriracha doesn’t exactly aim for the stars, and the vodka is a qualified success. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered quite this collection of flavors in a single product. It may not exactly be sriracha with a boozy base, but it’s probably as close as it comes if you’re one of the legions of fanatics who love the stuff. And since it’s not much more expensive than a real bottle of sriracha, anyway, it’s arguably worth the investment for novelty value alone.

60 proof.

B / $12 /

Review: Exclusiv XO Napoleon Brandy-Flavored Vodka

exclusiv brandy vodkaFlavored vodka gets a whole new whaaaaaa? factor with the release of Exclusiv XO Napoleon, a brownish-colored vodka that is made “with natural brandy flavor and caramel added.” This may look like brandy — and that big “XO” on the front has to earn the award for the most misleading liquor designation of all time — but rest assured it’s really a flavored vodka, colored brown.

The company offers this by way of an explanation, “This is the first vodka of its kind, which uses 5-18 year old brandies to create an authentic XO flavor. Our goal in creating this product was to give our brown spirit drinkers an affordable taste alternative.”

Sadly, Exclusiv, which makes a perfectly credible straight vodka in its Moldova home base, has created a misguided monster with XO Napoleon. It certainly looks the part, a lovely iced tea-brown in color, but from there things just get weird. The tea character carries over into the nose, which comes across like weak Lipton spiked with Sweet’N Low. That’s a close approximation of the body, too — plus a little bit of dried leaves, a bit of sweetener, and a bit of rubber. There’s literally nothing here that resembles brandy in even its most simplistic, basic rendition. If you told me this was another tea-flavored vodka (a trend which seems to be winding down), I’d believe you, but I’d tell you I’d had better. For something that’s meant to approximate a brandy — no matter what the price — this simply doesn’t work.

While Exclusiv’s idea of bringing brandy, or at least the idea of it, to the masses for $10 a bottle has some semblance of a good idea within, its execution is basically a disaster. The fundamental flaw with XO Napoleon: There are plenty of $10 brandies on the market that are actually made out of brandy and which are far more interesting than this.

70 proof.

D / $10 /

Review: Zing Red Velvet Vodka

Zing Red Velvet

This is begging for an animated GIF.

Some facts.

Zing is sold with a light on the bottom that either flashes or emits a steady red glow, making it immediately the most striking and most ostentatious bottle of flavored vodka you can have on your shelf. (It’s a frosted white when it’s turned off.)

Zing is sold in two and only two varieties: Straight/unflavored, and red velvet. Yeah, red velvet.

Zing’s creative director is Chris Brown. Yes, that Chris Brown. I guess he likes red velvet cake and red LEDs.

Made from a corn and wheat base in Rochester, New York (the holy land!), Zing is 4-times column distilled and “rigorously” filtered. The red velvet variety is artificially flavored.

The aroma of cake frosting and vanilla are striking right out of the gate. Whether this is red velvet or white buttercream is impossible to say, but it is hugely sweet and heavily flavored. The back end offers some light hospital notes typical of grain vodkas, with a vaguely lime-like finish. This all comes together in a sort of bizarre way, a bit like eating a handful of candy alongside the cake at your son’s birthday party. A bit much for me. Pass the crudite-flavored vodka, please.

70 proof.

C / $27 /

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

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