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+

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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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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

Review: Skyy Infusions Natural Wild Strawberry

SKYY INFUSIONS WILD STRAWBERRYWild strawberries, really?

Flavor #11 from Skyy is indeed made with real, wild strawberries, according to the company, a flavored vodka inspired by one of the most popular cocktail flavorings around. (Skyy says the strawberry is “more complex” than you’d think.)

That may indeed be the case. Skyy Strawberry has a solid fruity nose, and on the tongue it is initially sweet and relatively authentic, though perhaps more akin to a vague “mixed berry” character than I’d prefer. That sweetness fades fast, though, leaving behind a rather burly, somewhat raw alcoholic feel. Unlike many of Skyy’s infusions — arguably the best line of flavored vodkas on the market — this one ends with a fairly rough finish. Better with a mixer, where that finish can be mitigated.

70 proof.

B / $16 /

Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies

harvest spirits farm distilleryHarvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka – Another vodka distilled from New York apples, these grown in the company’s own orchards and triple distilled (leaving only the “core” of the spirit… get it?). Clean on the nose, with a caramel note. Slightly sweet, somewhat nutty on the body, with a surprisingly grain-focused finish. Apple character is evident on the nose, but only in passing, as the spirit opens up in glass. Intriguing and unique. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Harvest Spirits Rare Pear Brandy – Double distilled from Hudson Valley pears and aged for two years in American oak. Wood and pear — always a tricky combination — don’t come together well on the nose, here. It’s got a huge medicinal quality to it, vaguely fruity but knocked around by astringency and pungency, redolent of mothballs. The body is less palatable, more of that mothball character with a hint of pear on the finish. Just not drinkable. 80 proof. D- / $35 (375ml)

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack – Named after a veteran cider presser from the company farm, this apple brandy is rested in oak barrels for an unstated length of time before bottling. On the nose: Apples? Sure, but less present than you think: This is surprisingly far more whiskey-like than any applejack I’ve had. The body backs that up, with clear vanilla notes, wood, and a smooth cocoa finish. In a world where you’d probably never dream of drinking rustic applejack unless it was the last bottle left on the back bar, Cornelius challenges what this spirit can be and proves it belongs on the top shelf. 80 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Harvest Spirits Core Black Raspberry Vodka – A flavored vodka, distilled from apples and black raspberries (both local), with a small amount of black raspberry juice added back in afterward, giving it an impossible (yet natural) pink color. Incredibly fruity nose, a perfect complement to that incredible hue. Unlike the unflavored vodka, it has distinct apple notes underneath that big berry character. The body is immensely sweet (though there’s no added sugar), loaded with that raspberry — almost blackberry — character. Toss in some triple sec and you have an instant Cosmo, sans cranberry juice. 80 proof. B+ / $NA

Harvest Spirits Peach Jack – Not what you think. Fresh peaches are pitted and soaked in Cornelius Applejack, then the mix is strained and aged a second time in oak barrels. There’s a lot going on here, maybe too much. The peach is overwhelming in an old school peach brandy sort of way, and combined with the apples it all gets a bit cloying on the palate. The finish feels authentic, but rough to sip on even at a relatively modest 60 proof. I can see how some folks would be fans, though. C+ / $33 [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Absolut Hibiskus Vodka

ABSOLUT HIBISKUS vodkaHibiscus flowers are the improbable Next Big Thing in spirits flavoring, and now Absolut is getting into the business with this new vodka, continuing the succession of equally improbably-spelled liquors.

Absolut Hibiskus is infused not just with hibiscus flower but also with pomegranate, a wise choice that gives this vodka some much-needed sweetness. Absolut’s flavored vodkas, bottled at 80 proof, tend to be a bit burly and rough around the edges, making their flavor components somewhat difficult to perceive well.

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