Category Archives: Flavored Vodka

Review: Hard Luck Candy Flavored Vodkas

Hard Luck Candy, from Michigan (Temperance, Michigan, actually!), doesn’t mess around with typical lemon, orange, or even coconut vodkas: It goes straight for the jugular, with four candy-inspired concoctions. All are 70 proof, distilled from grain, and, rest assured, give you more than your daily allowance of artificial coloring. Warning: These are all very sweet vodkas, designed for shots, dessert drinks, and frat parties. They are reviewed here not as substitutes for a post-tasting-menu digestif, but with their intended audience in mind.

Hard Luck Candy Orange Dream Vodka – Flavored with orange and vanilla, much like a Creamsicle. That’s a perfect descriptor for this infused spirit, and Hard Luck Candy hits it right on the nose, all the way down to the creamy, mouth-filling body. Easygoing and smooth. A-

Hard Luck Candy Lemon Drop Vodka – I spoke too soon: There is a lemon vodka, lemon drop, rather. Hard Luck gets the sourness just about right, but the antifreeze green/yellow color is off-putting and scary. Quite a harsh finish on this one, too. B-

Hard Luck Candy Red Fish Vodka – Just what you’re thinking, a shocking-red spirit that would taste a lot like cough syrup if it wasn’t so amazingly sweet. Again, an uncanny resemblance to Swedish Fish, but the nose is on the hard side. B

Hard Luck Candy Root Beer Barrel Vodka – Overwhelming root beer soda character on the nose and the tongue. Smooth and authentic, with cinnamon, licorice, and lots of sugar. Surprisingly smooth. I expect fans of actual root beer will be bowled over by this one (though I’m not the world’s biggest root beer fanatic). B+

about $20 each /

hard luck candy vodka Review: Hard Luck Candy Flavored Vodkas

Review: Sub Rosa Spirits Saffron Vodka and Tarragon Vodka

You can keep your citrus, your chocolate, your Asian pear flavored vodkas. Sub Rosa strikes out for more uncommon ground, with two flavored spirits: Saffron Vodka and Tarragon Vodka.

Crafted in Oregon and available in limited distribution domestically, these are unique vodkas unlike anything else you’ve ever tried. All natural, high-end stuff, as Sub Rosa notes, no essential oils are used in the infusion: This is just herbs and spices suspended in vodka. Both come in hot at 90 proof.

Sub Rosa Spirits Saffron Flavored Vodka (Batch 6) – A curious color far unlike the wild orange of Boudier’s Saffron Gin, the light yellow/green color instead recalls Yellow Chartreuse. The nose: Surprisingly mild, vague spice character. On the palate, a shock to the senses: Completely savory, saffron, anise, and licorice notes — and none of the sweet finish, the norm for infused vodkas. The infusion includes far more than saffron — with cumin, coriander, and five other spices, this is closer to a gin than a flavored vodka, and I’d primarily suggest using it as a gin substitute. Not for the faint of heart, the savory character rumbles along with a long and lasting finish, fading away almost like a mild curry. I mean that in the best possible way. A- / $30

Sub Rosa Spirits Tarragon Flavored Vodka (Batch 5) – Slightly greener, with a clearer herbal character on the nose. Clear licorice character on the nose, and stronger on the body. (Fennel and mint are also used in the blend.) Tarragon is a relatively little-utilized herb, and that’s a shame. Here it offers the intrigue of a Thanksgiving meal, plus a return of some of that lightly sweet licorice kick in the end. Quite different than the Saffron vodka but equally delightful. A- / $30

sub rosa bottles Review: Sub Rosa Spirits Saffron Vodka and Tarragon Vodka

Review: Spring44 Vodka and Gin

Spring44 (aka Spring 44) is a new line of vodka and gin out of Colorado. All are distilled five times from a multi-grain blend of wheat, rye, and corn (much like whiskey), filtered through a coconut husk filtration system, and blended with water from a 9,000-foot-high source.

We checked out all three of the distillery’s initial offerings. All are 80 proof.

Spring44 Vodka – I like this spirit a lot. A bracing nose offers light medicinal notes, and the body has astringency to spare. It is however balanced by just a touch of sweetness, giving it an interesting character while still living squarely in the realm of traditional vodka style. Spring44 isn’t a complicated vodka — it wears its medicinal character on its sleeve — but it is authentic and expressive. It’s a wonderful balance of old world and new. A-

Spring44 Honey Vodka – Kind of an odd choice for your first and only flavored vodka, but Spring44 obviously has a jones for honey flavor that it couldn’t ignore. Compared the the relatively restrained flavors of the straight vodka, the Honey version is huge and overwhelming. A light yellow hue indicates that plenty of honey goes into this blend, and while it isn’t immediately evident on the nose, it’s awfully big on the tongue. This honey notes here are earthy and, as is often the case with honey vodkas, on the funky side — not quite honey but not quite vodka, either. Where it lives is an odd middle ground between tradition and fun, and unlike the straight vodka, it doesn’t work as well. B [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Spring44 Gin – Spring44 uses 12 botanicals (including many Colorado natives) in this formula and does not reveal them. The character is also not entirely balanced, heavy on fruit flavors (I presume berries of various ilk are in the mix), with juniper coming up behind. Again, this just doesn’t work together the right way, both sweet and bitter but not in the way you might expect. The finish is off: A lingering flavor of berries left to macerate too long — a bit like an Eastern bloc fruit brandy — and not so much a gin. B-

about $22 each /

spring44 vodka and gin Review: Spring44 Vodka and Gin

Review: Graham’s Texas Tea Flavored Vodka

When absinthe essentially went dark in 2009, it handed over the reins to a replacement in the fad liquor department: Tea-flavored vodkas. These bad boys just keep coming and, thankfully, each is just about as good as the last — a claim which absinthe was never able to make.

This sweet tea vodka from Austin, Texas has a milder nose than most, but the mouthfeel is huge and the taste is, again, authentic — this blend claiming Nilgiri black tea, turbinado sugar, and Hill Country spring water in the mix. Sure enough, the darker sugar notes come through after awhile — especially as the finish lingers. My only complaint is a bit more bite than most of the other vodkas of this ilk — but that’s almost splitting hairs. This is certainly  a quality product and a worthy part of the category — and cheap, too.

70 proof.

A- / $15 /

grahams texas tea vodka Review: Grahams Texas Tea Flavored Vodka

Review: Burnett’s Whipped Cream Vodka

You read that right, and now you have proof that, yes, anything and everything short of asparagus has been used to flavor vodka.

Burnett’s is not exactly an artisan, Square One-style producer of delicately-flavored organic vodkas. It’s a mega-bottle shop best known for its pre-mixed cosmos and mojitos. Now, for its whopping 24th vodka flavor it has gone into the sweet shot: whipped cream.

The spirit, well, it smells exactly like whipped cream. Naturally flavored, it really fills the room when poured into a glass. As you well might expect, it is extremely sweet — on the edge of cloyingly so — but the taste, as with the nose, is authentic, sugary, and just like a fluffy puddle of whipped cream slathered atop your raspberry Napoleon. Outside of chocolate-based dessert drinks I have no idea what you would do with this — the cocktails I tried with it were, to put it mildly, undrinkable — but if you need to put whipped cream flavor into an alcoholic concoction, well, look no further.

Meanwhile, my mind is wandering…. Mmmm, asparagus vodka.

70 proof.

B / $10 /

burnetts whipped cream vodka Review: Burnetts Whipped Cream Vodka

Review: Skyy Infusions Blood Orange

Skyy already makes a fine citrus vodka, so why mess with things by introducing a Blood Orange version? Because it’s even better.

The juicy blood Orange is the king of citrus fruits, and sure enough it makes for a mighty fruit-infused vodka, too. This one if amazingly fruit-forward, really lush with authentic orange notes: Tart and very sweet. That slight hint of strawberry and pineapple adds to the experience, giving this an almost tropical bent to it.

Flavored vodkas are usually hardly anything to get excited about, but this one’s worth stocking.

A / $18 /

skyy blood orange vodka Review: Skyy Infusions Blood Orange

Review: Absolut SF Limited Edition Vodka

For its fifth city-themed, limited edition vodka, our friends at Absolut have brought us something awfully close to home: Absolut SF (because presumably “San Francisco” was too long for the bottle).

Three fruity infusions are added to this special bottling: grape, papaya, and dragon fruit. No huge explanation for the flavoring agents is offered; however, grape is obvious and the papaya and dragon fruit, I am guessing, are a nod to the city’s heavy Far East, Southeast Asian, and Hispanic population. I’d have gone with a little lychee in there, but that’s just my bias.

As for the spirit itself, the grape is hard to miss, but it’s dialed back quite a bit vs. the over-the-top jelly-like vodkas that dominate the liquor store shelves.  Papaya and dragon fruit are elusive but come across more clearly on the nose. The body unfortunately is a bit muddier than that, with the tropical notes at war with the powerful grape essence. Some inharmonious, woodsy flavors, common with all Absolut bottlings, are evident as you sip it.

While the cityscape motif on the front of the bottle is eye-catching, I’m less enamored of the day-glo protest signs that serve as a backdrop (etched on the reverse of the bottle so it’s seen through the glass). I know all too well our activist heritage here, but I don’t want to have to think about it while I’m drinking.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 /

absolut sf Review: Absolut SF Limited Edition Vodka

Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka

How do you cut the calorie level from a flavored vodka? Throttle down the alcohol level and cut out the sugar.

The first idea is probably not a bad thing. The second one is what kills the deal. Firefly Skinny Tea opts for artificial sweetener instead of sugar, and to say that mars the “sweet tea” effect is an understatement. It starts out all right, with a big brewed tea nose and character, but then the artifice comes on, coating the mouth and leaving a cloying finish. I couldn’t shake the aftertaste — literally for several minutes I was tasting this gummy, rubbery gunk that I just couldn’t get out of my mouth. The only solution: Another sip. That’s a vicious cycle you got right there.

With a mixer like lemonade this might be more palatable, but as it stands, it, like so many things in life, it’s a tradeoff that just isn’t worth it. What are you saving for your trouble: In a 1.5-ounce shot, a whopping 27 calories. Kick out a crouton instead and stick with the Firefly classic.

60 proof.

C / $18 /

Fitrefly Skinny Tea vodka Review: Firefly Skinny Tea Flavored Vodka

Review: Pucker “Grape Gone Wild” Flavored Vodka

The Pucker brand of liqueurs has been with us for years — you can’t make the infamous appletini without its Sour Apple — and now Pucker is making its way into flavored vodkas, too: Higher proof level, clear spirit instead of day-glo, spiked with natural flavors.

We tasted the “Grape Gone Wild” version — three others are available: apple, citrus and cherry — to see how the company was making the great leap forward into the world of flavored vodkas.

Results: If you like candy, you’ll love Pucker Flavored Vodka. The grape flavor is Jolly Ranchers all the way — Concord grape jelly with an extra teaspoon of sugar on top. The candy store aroma fills the room when the bottle is opened.

Give Pucker some credit though, for all the tooth-aching sweetness, it has managed to make a flavored vodka with no bitter, medicinal finish, always a problem when the “flavored” part makes its exit and the “vodka” (often the rotgut stuff) inevitably takes hold. Pucker Vodka doesn’t have any real bite or funk to it, the finish more like one of your better cough syrups than Robitussin.

That’s a good thing, right?

70 proof.

B / $17 /

pucker grape vodka Review: Pucker Grape Gone Wild Flavored Vodka

Review: American Spirit Organic Spirit

The folks at Sidney Frank — the company that made billions by giving us Grey Goose — is back at it. Its new vodka is a bit of a curiosity: It doesn’t actually say “vodka” on the label, it says “organic spirit.”

What is an “organic spirit?” It’s organic vodka (column distilled from organic winter wheat and cut with water from the Snake River aquifer and bottled in Rigby, Idaho), flavored with “a proprietary blend of organic ingredients.”

Those “organic ingredients” are not disclosed, but it’s pretty clear from sip one of American Spirit that they include sugar and plenty of it. American Spirit is silky and smooth, and that’s because it is incredibly sweet. Sugar up front and lasting — for a long time — on the finish. It’s a really tricky (and pretty intelligent) move, as the sweetness pummels your taste buds and latches on for good. You get some bite in the mid-palate, but it’s fleeting and fades in a flash.

I hate to use the term “panty peeler,” but those not in the know who try American Spirit will be amazed that vodka can be so exceedingly smooth. The rest of you, well, you’ll either appreciate what a little sugar (organic, of course!) can do for vodka… or you’ll lambast the thing as a dirty trick.

80 proof. Available May 2011.

B+ / $24 /

american harvest organic spirit Review: American Spirit Organic Spirit

Review: Effen Cucumber Vodka

Holland’s Effen expands its line of flavored vodkas — the black cherry version is insanely popular — with this unlikely extension: Cucumber Vodka.

Effen isn’t the first cucumber flavored vodka on the market — Square One makes a good one — but this isn’t half bad. Read the fine print and you’ll see that Effen Cucumber is actually “cucumber and vanilla flavored vodka,” a smart move considering how sharply flavored cucumber can be.

That vanilla gives Effen Cucumber a temperament that it may not otherwise achieve: The cucumber nose and flavor — authentic and crisp — is cut with dessert-like sweetness: The vanilla is distinct but really quite mild, and it’s surprisingly complementary with the cucumber notes.

The finish needs work. It is earthy and bark-like, more evocative of the produce section than I’d like. Certainly worth a try as a mixer — maybe in a Bloody Mary? — as there’s on the whole something worthwhile and charming here.

75 proof.

B+ / $25 /

effen cucumber vodka Review: Effen Cucumber Vodka

Review: Skyy Infusions Dragon Fruit Vodka

Skyy’s latest infused vodka is really reaching deep into the produce aisle: Dragon fruit is the flavor of the day.

I am unsure if, outside of playing Fruit Ninja, I’ve ever consumed a dragon fruit, so it’s hard to say how authentic this flavored vodka is. Skyy notes it is also known as the “strawberry pear,” and those seem like apt descriptors. The vodka is naturally flavored with actual dragon fruit, according to the company.

Skyy Dragon Fruit is quite sweet and strawberry is indeed the overwhelming characteristic. Cherry is pretty hefty here, too, giving the vodka a bit of a medicinal tone, but at least it’s not overwhelming. The finish is surprisingly rough for a 70-proof vodka, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. That doesn’t really balance the sweetness, though: The two are quite at odds with each other as they squabble for dominance.

Probably a great vodka for a punch or a novelty drink (“Dragon martinis all around!”), but not Skyy’s best infusion. (That’d be Passion Fruit.)

B / $13 /

skyy dragon fruit infusion Review: Skyy Infusions Dragon Fruit Vodka

Review: Absolut Wild Tea Vodka

Absolut flavored with elderflower and black tea. Hmmm, where have we heard this one before? Ah yes, about a year and a half ago, when it was first released as the limited-edition Absolut Boston.

Absolut must have had a hit on its hands with Boston, and I can back that up: It’s the only one of the “city” Absoluts that has been completely consumed here at Drinkhacker HQ. While not a stellar vodka for sipping straight, it was a peerless mixer, and I regularly turned to it when a party guest would ask to be surprised with a cocktail they’d never tried before. To date, it’s the only one of the city vodkas to be reissued by the Swedish company.

Absolut Wild Tea works because it’s the best of both worlds: Fruity from the elderflower and bitter and earthy from the tea. The elderflower hits you first, but lightly, while the tea finish lingers. I’m not sure if Absolut has tweaked the recipe, but the medicinal notes and harsh bitterness I commented on with Boston is muted here. Now, the black tea is pleasant, refreshing, and authentic, a solid counterpoint to not just the elderflower but also the toughness of straight Absolut.

I’m rating this a touch higher than Boston (whether it’s changed or I’ve changed, who knows), but there’s more to like here, too: The price has dropped considerably, making Absolut Wild Tea a bargain to boot.

80 proof.

A- / $19 (750ml) or $23 (1 liter) /

absolut wild tea Review: Absolut Wild Tea Vodka

Review: Vodgria

Is this sangria-flavored vodka? Or vodka-infused sangria?

The world may well debate it forever, but while you noodle over that one, we turn our attention not to Vodgria’s name but its very essence.

At 30 proof, it’s a touch stronger than most wines (and considerably stronger than most sangria, which is wine cut with fruit juice and spices). The color is dark red, and it’s unmuddled with pulp and herbal bits, the usual hallmark of actual sangria.

In the glass, the semi-syrupy liquor looks more like juice than wine, and the taste follows through on that. Wine character is vague and overpowered by strong cherry and a touch of orange citrus and grape juice flavors. The effect is more like a punch than a sangria, and it while it doesn’t have a lot of nuance, it’s considerably more exciting and palatable than cherry infused vodkas.

I prefer real sangria — or even the bottled stuff — to Vodgria, but I imagine a younger crowd would find this more to their liking. They would also be far less likely to be paralyzed by the name, too.

B- / $13 /

vodgria sangria vodka Review: Vodgria

Review: James River Plantation Sweet Tea Vodka

Tea-flavored vodkas appear to be a category that’s difficult to get wrong. Small Wisconsin distillery James River Plantation (the real James River Plantation is in Virginia, by the by) may not be a household name, but its rendition of tea-infused vodka is about as good as anything else I’ve tried.

The flavor is typical of this category: Intense, sweetened, brewed iced tea flavor, with nary a hint of vodka’s bite. There may be a touch more fruitiness (peach, maybe?) in this spirit than in its competition, and the body feels a bit thick. Those are pretty minor quibbles/comments, however. Most drinkers will find this every bit as good as Firefly and Jeremiah Weed.

70 proof. Naturally flavored.

A- / $20 /

james river plantation tea vodka Review: James River Plantation Sweet Tea Vodka

Review: 42 Below Honey Vodka

The only honey-flavored vodka I’m encountered, 42 Below’s Honey Vodka is flavored with Manuka honey, which uses honey from bees that feed on New Zealand’s native Manuka bush. I don’t know what Manuka honey itself tastes like, but I can at least report on the vodka made using it.

The nose on this clear vodka is leathery, earthy, and not really honey-like at all — it’s only there in hints. The honey does however come through when you take a sip. First you get a traditional, medicinal vodka bite, then comes a rich and warmly sweet honey character. It gets earthy and a bit muddy again in the end. The ultimate effect is nothing like the sugar bombs of the legion of whiskey+honey liqueurs out there. The effect here is ultimately more muted, a more restrained — and authentic — expression of honey than any liqueur offers. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly refreshing, coming across more like a rustic, “frontier vodka” of sorts, rather than a playful, modern infusion.

84 proof.

B- / $25 /

42 below Honey vodka Review: 42 Below Honey Vodka

Review: Stolichnaya Stoli Wild Cherri Vodka

It’s an old story but I’ll tell it again: Cherry is the toughest flavor in the universe to pull off in a spirit.

People keep trying, though, and the latest out of the gate is Stoli, with a “Wild Cherri” vodka.

This naturally-flavored concoction (actually from Latvia, not Russia) starts off OK. It smells pretty good, like fresh, dark cherries. And on first sip, it even seems like it’s going to taste pleasant. Then you swallow and all hell breaks loose. Your instinct is to cough — because cherry is inextricably sewn up in the mind with cough syrup — but while that can be suppressed, the grimace cannot. The bite is moderately harsh, and the promise of sweet cherries fades away as a medicinal character overwhelms the fruit. That’s a combination of earthy, herbal Old World vodka and the sad reality of nearly all cherry-flavored spirits; the flavors just don’t come together in the right way, through no fault of their own.

Think of it as shrimp and chocolate. I love ‘em both, just not at the same time.

75 proof.

C / $26 /

stoli wild cherri Review: Stolichnaya Stoli Wild Cherri Vodka

Review: Jeremiah Weed Country Peach Sweet Tea Vodka and Sweet Tea Bourbon

We’ve discussed at length the obliviatory powers of Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, and now the company is back with a couple of extensions to the line. Get ready to rock, tea-sip style.

Both are 70 proof.

The first is unsurprising: Jeremiah Weed Country Peach Sweet Tea Vodka. I’ve never much understood the connection, but peaches and tea have gone hand in hand for decades, so it makes sense they’d be conjoined here in a flavored vodka. Like standard Jeremiah Weed, the Country Peach version looks like tea and smells a lot like it too. The difference: It’s considerably fruitier on the nose, though the peach is hard to peg, and on first taste it doesn’t scream tea leaves but very sweet fruit. I found the original Jeremiah Weed considerably more satisfying — its tea character is powerful and quite delicious — as the peach isn’t 100% convincing and leaves a lingering aftertaste that coats the mouth. B+ / $18

And now for something completely different… If you can flavor vodka, why not flavor Bourbon? Jeremiah Weed figured it would take two great southern tastes and put them together with Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka & Bourbon Whiskey. The result: A winner. The nose is muted, giving few clues to the experience ahead, but the body offers the best of both worlds: Big sweet tea character, and a touch of bourbon’s sweetness and wood. To be honest, the overall effect is not dramatically different from Jeremiah Weed’s standard vodka, as the tea component is by far the strongest part of the blend and it still has vodka in the mix. For something just a little bit different, though, it’s a hit. A / $18

Review: Rokk Vodka

The noble country of Sweden brings us this new vodka, Rökk — a name meant to invoke “on the rocks,” the way it might best be consumed, but which doesn’t really mean anything in Swedish.

Distilled from unspecified grains, it is available straight and in a variety of flavors. Its claim to fame: A “freeze filtering” process that takes the vodka to sub-zero temperatures before charcoal filtering the near-frozen vodka.

We tried all five expressions. The flavored versions are each 70 proof.

UPDATE: This just in from Rokk: The name is derived from Rok, the largest rune-stone and earliest known documentation of Swedish literature; Rokk is also crafted with European wheat.

Rokk Swedish Vodka is a standard 80-proof neutral spirit with a quality that belies its budget price. The aroma evokes pine needles and feels almost Christmasy — and I mean that in a good way. On the body you’ll find a honey-like character, more evergreen notes, and a pleasant, smooth finish. Very surprising to get such balance and smoothness — yet some interesting character — from a vodka this affordable. A-

Rokk Citrus Vodka has notes of lemon, tangerine, and grapefruit on the nose, and the palate is quite pleasant. Follows through on the palate, with a bit of lemon peel bite on the back-end. B+

Rokk Orange Vodka is not to be confused with Rokk Citrus. The nose again has tangerine in it — more so than straight Tropicana orange — but lacks that lemon kick. The body is more candy-like, with pleasant sweetness that the Citrus version lacks. A-

Rokk Apple Vodka has huge green apple notes on the nose and the body. I was skeptical at first that this could be any good, but it’s an impressive and authentic flavor. A bit of bite on the back end is my only complaint. B+

Rokk Raspberry Vodka is, as one might expect, the fruit bomb of the bunch. But the flavor is genuine and, while it’s very sweet, the overall effect is actually pretty pleasant. Definitely a Cosmo vodka. A-

each $13 /

Review: Ketel One Oranje Vodka

Take Ketel One‘s standard wheat-based, pot-distilled vodka from Holland and add some orange distillate. You now have Ketel One Oranje, a clear spirit at 80 proof with the Cosmo croud distinctly in mind.

Ketel One Oranje is old-school orange-flavored vodka, meaning it’s more bitter than sweet. Oranje is orange peel all the way, and it’s definitely a mixer. Anyone drinking this on the rocks will find it closer to an after-dinner tonic than a fruity libation fit for the beach.

That said, I enjoy Oranje’s pedigree and its authenticity. This is an honest orange-flavored infusion, in the end. It’s just not a very versatile one.

B / $22 /

Ketel One Oranje vodka Review: Ketel One Oranje Vodka