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+

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) /

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 /

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 /

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 /

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

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+

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Review: UV Candy Bar and Salty Watermelon Vodka

UV Salty WatermelonThe insanity of increasingly unlikely and unnatural vodka flavors continues courtesy of UV, which brings us these new offerings: Candy Bar and Salty Waltermelon. Thoughts follow. Both are 60 proof.

UV Candy Bar Vodka – OK, it’s a candy bar, we get it. But which one? A Caramello doesn’t taste anything like a Payday. “Candy Bar” is just too vague. In truth, UV Candy Bar doesn’t taste specifically like any candy bar I’ve ever tasted, coming across with more of a vague marshmallow/milk chocolate character that doesn’t really seem particularly candy bar-like at all, but rather is more along the lines of many an indistinct dessert-focused spirit we’ve tried in recent months. Is it Toasted CaramelIced Cake? Who knows? It’s relatively innocuous for the category. For my money, I’d say its closest candy cousin is the Reggie! bar. C+

UV Salty Waltermelon Vodka – Nuclear fuschia in color, this flavored vodka tries to jump on the “salted watermelon” bandwagon (try it if you haven’t already!), strangely choosing to go with “salty” as the descriptor instead. Taste this stuff and you’ll soon see why. It may smell watermelon-candylike, but after one sip you’ll be knocked over by the amount of salt that’s somehow been jammed into this bottle. In truth, “salty” is a far better way to describe this stuff than the nuance that “salted” implies. Gag-inducing and wholly undrinkable. F

Making Our Own Aquavit with Spiced Spirits

The ZingyAquavit is a flavored Scandinavian vodka that has as many variations as there are countries in Europe. Finding aquavit stateside is difficult, though. The few bottlings imported here are mass-produced stuff that is, unfortunately, usually not very good.

Why not make your own, then? Sounds good, but the number of spices required will probably fill a shopping bag — if you can find them — and empty your wallet. And, again, you’ll need to roll the dice when picking a recipe.

Isn’t there an easier way!? to the rescue, aquavit fans. This website does one thing and one thing only: It sells bags of pre-mixed spices that you dump into spirits to flavor them. While it offers ale and mead spices, it’s the vodka ones you’re probably looking for. (You can also put them into rum.) At present, eight varieties are available (plus an option to add oak chips). The names range from “The Crazy” to “The Symphonic” — and each offers its own approach to aquavit. (You can learn more about each one on its website.) Total price, $6 to $9 a pack. (Shipping is $3 to anywhere in the world!)

SpicedSpirits sent us three to try out. We followed the instructions — 7 to 14 days of steeping required, depending on the variety you buy — then sampled the resulting concoctions. Thoughts follow, but overall this is a great way to go if you want to experiment with spicing your own vodka at home.

The Sweet – Made with lemon peel, juniper, cinnamon, and “secrets.” Inspired by an Italian recipe. Lovely gingerbread character on this, touched with allspice… plus a hearty dose of juniper underneath it. I could have done with less juniper character (which gives the finish a bitter edge) and more cinnamon and ginger notes, but overall this is a festive and surprisingly sippable beverage. B+ / $8

The Zingy (pictured) – Made with ginger, peppermint, and “22 secrets.” One of those secrets is clearly caraway, which floats to the top of the aquavit and ends up in your first few glasses. (Filter this one for best results.) Not as much depth in this one, but a little mint on the nose and the finish is what earns this product its name. But the primary character here is more akin to licorice, with a slightly weedy finish. A bit more classic stylistically when placed in the aquavit canon. B / $7

The Symphonic – 25 secret herbs and spices, dang! The company calls it “hard to describe,” and that’s somewhat fair. It has light sweetness, some orange notes, and a bit of that licorice note, too. It’s not nearly as sweet as “The Sweet,” but it does offer better balance, with very light bitterness — akin to a very mild amaro — on the finish. Frankly, I’m not one to drink much aquavit, but if I am going to get all Scandi and go to aquatown, well, this is a pretty good one to visit. B+ / $9