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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Review: Three Olives “Loopy” Vodka

three olives loopyNot getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.

Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.

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Review: Anchor Distilling Hophead Hop Vodka

hophead vodkaCigarette smoke.

That was the first thing that hit me when I took the sniff of Hophead Vodka, Anchor Distilling’s highly talked-about spin on the classic spirit.

Hophead doesn’t smell like cigarettes, though. It just reminds me of them. The hops-infused vodka smells exactly like what it proclaims on the bottle — hops and vodka — and there’s something about that combination that makes my mind run back to many a dive bar I’d encountered before everyone started banning smoking in them.

Hophead is “Hop Vodka,” or “Vodka with hops,” both noted on the label. What’s that? It’s flavored with hops in the same way that gin is flavored with juniper, as a botanical used as an infusion during the production process rather than as a vial of “hops flavoring” that’s poured into the vodka before it’s bottled. It may still be a flavored vodka (which gin is too), but it’s clearly done in an artisanal way that San Francisco’s Anchor can be proud of and call unique.

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Review: Seraphine Chai Tea Vodka

seraphine chai tea vodkaChai tea is one of the “it” flavorings of the ’10s, and Yahara Bay, which produces the V Bourbon we reviewed a few days ago, takes a different tack than the various chai liqueurs on the market.

Instead, the company flavors vodka with chai to create a unique (and more powerful) spirit.

The color of whiskey, Seraphine smells big and chai-like, with that unmistakeable cinnamon/allspice+tea character on the nose. There’s raisins, cardamom, and nutty notes in there. It’s altogether a lot of fun. The body is a different animal, though, and wholly unexpected. Instead of that big, creamy rush, what comes along is a surprisingly thin, and not entirely flavorful animal.

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Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn Vodka

360 Buttered Popcorn vodkaI’ve been resisting even opening this bottle for several months, for reasons which must be obvious. Liquid popcorn? I’ve been scared.

360 Buttered Popcorn, in reality, is more harmless than you might expect. The nose is sickly sweet — more like a glazed doughnut (a vodka flavor which 360 also makes) or cotton candy than anything you’d expect from popcorn. The recent Smirnoff Iced Cake vodka has a lot of similarities with this one.

The popcorn component is a bit more of an afterthought. Somewhere in the finish there’s a vague corny character — something like you get in very young Bourbon — along with that distinct chemically sludgy taste that comes with movie theater popcorn butter. The funky aftertaste recalls cardboard and ashes… or perhaps another part of the movie theater: The floor.

70 proof. Naturally flavored (inexplicably).

C- / $13 /

Review: Pomacai Vodka

Pomacai vodkaPomegranate and acai have developed strong “superfruit” reputations, which have led to many a boozemaker attempting to use these products to make new spirits. But the fact remains that neither of these taste particularly good, which is why most pomegranate juice drinks are stuffed full of sugar or other, sweeter, juices. Acai, based on the few times I’ve tried it in berry form, is pretty nasty, too.

Enter Pomacai Vodka, a spirit flavored with, you guessed it, pomegranate and acai. The product is grape Kool-Aid purple (artificial colors are added), lightly colored but mostly transparent.

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Review: Absolut Tune

Absolut Tune bottleLooking for something different for a sparkling wine this New Year’s than that bottle of Freixenet? Absolut Tune is not that wine.

Immediately curious — it’s a blend of Absolut Vodka and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand, then fizzed up with carbonation — this is a bold experiment for both the vodka biz and the wine world. What better way to sell vodka to a vino snob than to blend it down to an alcohol level comparable with wine? (14% in the case of Absolut Tune.) And what better way to push wine to a vodka lover than to slap the Absolut name on it?

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Review: Kinky Liqueur

Technically a flavored vodka (5x distilled), Kinky is a bright pink “liqueur” flavored with mango, blood orange, and passion fruit, a clear shot across the bow of Alize, Hpnotiq, and its ilk.

The look and taste are actually heavily reminiscent of pink lemonade. Of the three fruits named in the mix, the passion fruit is the most present, but it’s mostly vague, lemony citrus that dominates. It’s sweet and sour, actually not at all bad to sip on and not nearly as saccharine as the neon color would indicate.

That said, it’s not the most complex spirit, but it’d make a great addition to a fruity cosmo-class drink, or as a topper to a glass of sparkling wine.

34 proof.

B / $20 /