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.
Chai 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.
I’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 / vodka360.com
Pomegranate 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.
Looking 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?
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.
B / $20 / crosbylakespirits.com
Much has been written about AnestasiA to date, so I won’t belabor obvious points. This weird and wacky spirit is far from the beaten path. I’m sure there are tons of club kids who’ll find this to their liking. I found it strange to the power of 100.
AnestasiA is marketed as a “Sensational Spirit” which pleasantly tingles in your mouth. Initially I thought this meant it was a carbonated/sparkling vodka, but that’s not the case. In fact it is a flavored vodka that “consists of naturally occurring ingredients and flavorings that are commonly used in the food industry.”
That flavoring primarily appears to be a member of the menthol family. Continue reading
The company that brought us Fluffed Marshmallow vodka is back with more flavors that would have Rasputin rolling in his grave. Here’s what will be haunting beach bars in 2013.
For what it’s worth, my wife enthused about the dessert-drink worthiness of both of these concoctions, and in modest proportions, she might be right, although Smirnoff is really pushing the sugar to the point where I expected to see crystals of the stuff to settle out at the bottom of the bottle. Both are 60 proof.
Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka – Imagine a child’s ultra-sugary birthday cake. Now imagine a child ate that cake and then threw up. The sweetness here is so strong it’s overpowering even to smell. One sip will coat your mouth for 15 minutes or more with the flavor of a white cake that’s been put through a blender and spiked with extra frosting (this is Iced Cake after all). You can’t taste a lick of alcohol. C+
Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka – Caramel is the It Flavor of 2012, and the vodkas are coming out in droves. Equally overpowering on the nose and body, the caramel flavors here are so strong and sweet they will suck the fillings right out of your teeth and leave you quivering in a diabetic coma. As with the Iced Cake version, it’s both uncannily authentic and entirely synthetic. C
$14 each / smirnoff.com
This new flavored vodka brand hails from Poland, is thrice distilled from 100% rye grain, and is small-batch infused (by macerating raw ingredients instead of using flavor extracts), which leaves natural color in the spirit instead of being filtered to the usual clear. The vodkas are then finished in oak barrels, giving a little twist to the way this product is normally made, and the TransAmerica Pyramid-shaped bottle is quite striking.
The initial three flavors include wild cherry, ginger, and chocolate. We tasted the lattermost.
Chocolate infused? Imagine Hershey’s syrup given an alcoholic kick and you approach the way cola-brown Alchemia Chocolate comes across. Room-filling with its cocoa aromas, there’s a hefty vanilla kick to it, too. Everything from the attack to the finish is dazzlingly sweet, which makes it quite the surprise when you realize this is full 80-proof vodka. How much sugar has to be used to sweeten up that much alcohol I can’t fully fathom.
B+ / $29 / alchemiainfusions.com
Our friends at Campari sent us this cocktail recipe in honor of today’s Mars landing. Enjoy with your beanie on!
Red Planet Curiosity
0.75 oz Campari
0.75 oz Skyy Infusions Citrus
0.5 oz Cointreau
0.5 oz Fresh Blood Orange Puree
1 oz Fresh Lemon Sour (2 parts Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice and 1 part Simple Syrup)
1 teaspoon Egg White
Chilled Soda Water
Shake all ingredients, except soda water, until well blended. Strain into a chilled 7 oz. Fizz glass and top with chilled soda water.