Category Archives: Vodka

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) - Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013′s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream gin 135x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka - Pau Maui Vodka ($30) - An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Bottle and Packaging 2012 port finish 300x200 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) - Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH206 VODKA BOTTLE 114x300 Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and MoonshineSeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206′s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: New Amsterdam Citron and Coconut Vodkas

New Amsterdam Coconut 750ml 89x300 Review: New Amsterdam Citron and Coconut VodkasI can’t explain why our review of New Amsterdam Gin is one of the most popular pages on the site, but the Modesto-based company has continued expanding its spirit lineup, first with a straight vodka, and now with a few flavors. New Amsterdam now has four flavors available, with Citron (citrus) and Coconut the most recent arrivals. As always, tasting notes follow. Both are 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Citron Citrus Flavored Vodka - Alcoholic notes prevail on the nose, its grain neutral spirit base dominating. Lemon peel makes for a modest secondary character in the aroma. The body is on the thin side, with simple lemon peel and a touch of orange oil flavoring a relatively raw and simple spirit base. There’s really just not enough flavor here, particularly given the uninspired character of the base spirit: The finish is largely medicinal, not well balanced, and quickly forgotten. C+ / $13

New Amsterdam Coconut Flavored Vodka - Very tropical on the nose, almost more pineapple than coconut, with no real hint of vodka. The body’s much bigger on the coconut front, with that telltale harshness making an appearance right in the middle. The finish turns bitter, almost rubbery at times. If you’re out of Malibu, I suppose this would work in a pinch in a faux Pina Colada… but I’d get to the store the next day. B- / $13

newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitch 62x300 Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete LineupMade 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+

ivanabitch.com

Review: Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka

Beluga Gold Line Leather Case 525x1050 Review: Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka

For those of you who write and ask, “What’s a really really expensive bottle of vodka I can get for my best friend for Christmas?”, your search has ended. No further search required. This is the vodka.

Beluga Gold Line Noble Vodka — commonly referred to as “Beluga Gold” — is ostentatious and shrieks expensive from start to finish. After you open the leather case, you find a bottle of vodka encrusted with a metal shield of sorts. This isn’t just a strip of aluminum stamped on top of the bottle. It’s a very fancy 3D design, complete with a sturgeon practically leaping off the label and multiple metallic finishes. (Even the alcohol warning is engraved into the label, not printed.) Go to open the bottle but… you can’t! Why not? Because the stopper is encased in wire mesh embedded in clay. To get the clay off you have to break it apart with a hammer. Lucky for you, one is included, a cute little number with a mallet on one end and a brush on the other. It’s like a little archaeological dig, only there are no bones at the end, just booze. Hammer away. (This is super fun, but do your hammering outside… you’ve been warned.) Finally you’re into the spirit… and fortunately for you an elaborate metal-clad shot glass is also included so you can get to drinking right away.

OK, now you’re drinking vodka that costs about $125 a bottle. $100 to $200, actually, depending on where you find it. It’s grain-based spirit from Russia, lightly flavored with “rice extract and rhodiola rosea extract,” among other additives. I don’t have a clue what those add to the spirit (rice extract?), but once they’re in, the vodka is “matured” for 90 days, which I presume means it is rested in a neutral vessel before bottling.

Sorry, now you’re drinking $125 vodka.

The nose is unique, lightly medicinal with a marshmallow back end. The balance between savory and sweet is actually quite effective, and enticing. On the palate, Beluga Gold is fairly sweet, a bit floral (perhaps that’s the rhodiola rosea extract?), and offers a moderate and easy finish with a pleasant sweetness that complements the moderately thick body. It’s easy to sip straight, but it stops short of being a sugar bomb like so many modern vodkas. Altogether it’s a milder version of Beluga’s standard-grade (and $30) spirit, which is a little strange, because I’d expect it to be the other way around.

80 proof.

B+ / $125 (shop around) / vodka-beluga.com

Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

2bar moonshine 525x525 Review: 2bar Spirits Vodka and Moonshine

Seattle-based 2bar Spirits is a craft distillery named after a ranch that was part of the owners’ family for generations… before they decided to trade South Texas for Washington and hooves for hooch. The company makes two spirits, both unaged. We got ‘em both. Thoughts follow.

Both spirits are 80 proof.

2bar Spirits Vodka – Distilled from local Washington wheat, this vodka has a strong white dog character to it, full of grainy cereal notes on the nose. But the body is balanced by a silky body and some sweetness — think of a very lightly sweetened breakfast cereal — giving it a touch of marshmallow character. The finish brings on some of the lighter medicinal notes that vodka fans will find familiar… while fading out with a return to light notes of grain. The overall impression is closer to a white whiskey than a vodka, and maybe that’s OK. White lightning is often too harsh and overpowering for easy consumption. Here things are dialed back enough to make it easier to sip on, while still residing in the vodkaverse. 80 proof. B+ / $33

2bar Spirits Moonshine – Distilled from local corn instead of wheat. Very easygoing nose, slightly sweet. The body is downright shocking: It’s milder and sweeter than the Vodka, a little flabby in its construction, the palate offering an easy mix of Corn Pops cereal and the lightest dusting of honey. This is a much more easy-to-sip spirit, and while it isn’t the most complex of things, its light notes of licorice and milk chocolate add nuance to what is often a straightforward and unsatisfying category. With its moonshine, 2bar proves that white whiskey can be engaging and fun, leaving the drinker with nary a grimace to be made. A- / $30

2barspirits.com

Review: The Bay Seasoned Vodka

the bay vodka 525x732 Review: The Bay Seasoned 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) / thebayvodka.com

National Vodka Day Recipes

October 4th is National Vodka Day, a celebration of one of the world’s biggest selling spirits. Why October 4th? According to the official website:

While October 4th seems well documented as National Vodka Day, we have not found the origins of why, but it works for us. No harm celebrating responsibly on other days as well. October 4, 2013 is a Friday!

And there you have it. Here are a few recipes sent to us courtesy of Skyy to help you celebrate this weekend.

LiveMule 241x300 National Vodka Day Recipes“Live” Mule
1.5 oz. SKYY vodka
3 oz. ginger beer

In a rocks glass full of ice, pour SKYY Vodka and Ginger Beer. Stir and finish with sliced lime wedge and 4-5 drops of bitters.

The Savoy
2 oz. vodka
2 red grapes
2 white grapes
SaltyKitten 300x225 National Vodka Day Recipes1 oz. lemon juice
½ oz. agave syrup

In a rocks glass, muddle two red grapes and two white grapes. Shake vodka, lemon juice and agave together with ice and strain over muddled grapes. Garnish with a skewer of four to five grapes.

Salty Kitten
1.5 oz. SKYY vodka
.5 oz. Campari
2 oz. grapefruit juice
.5 oz. honey simple syrup
2 oz. Cava sparkling Rosé

In an empty shaker glass, pour SKYY Vodka, Campari, Grapefruit Juice and Honey Simple Syrup. Add ice to shaker and shake. Open shaker and add Cava Rosé. Strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Finish with sliced grapefruit and a pinch of hibiscus & rosemary infused Himalayan Pink Salt.

Review: Purity Vodka (vs. Grey Goose, Blind!)

purity vodka 192x300 Review: Purity Vodka (vs. Grey Goose, Blind!)Sweden’s Purity Vodka thinks it has something special going on, and it’s itching to prove it. Recently the company sent out “tasting kits” — well, two mini bottles — so media could compare its vodka with that titan of the industry, Grey Goose. Taste the two blind and see which you prefer. Purity promises it will win the Pepsi Challenge.

They aren’t wildly dissimilar based on their specs: Purity is made from organic winter wheat and malted barley (unusual) and distilled a claimed 34 times. Grey Goose is made from French wheat, also in column stills.

So I put the two vodkas side by side and put them through their paces. Here are the (blind) tasting notes. (Bear in mind my original notes on Grey Goose, linked above, are more than five years old now.)

Vodka A – Slightly sweet, with lemongrass notes, both on the nose and the palate. The body offers touches of pepper, with a warming, soothing finish. The slightly syrupy, overblown texture is the only drawback here, as it just so slightly coats the mouth when it should be cleansing. Overall it’s completely drinkable and versatile. B+

Vodka B – Significantly less character — much, much cleaner and more neutral. There’s more of an eastern European feel to this, with a light medicinality and more pepper on the back end. As with Vodka A, there’s a subtle lemon character, which comes along with time in the glass and exposure to air. A very good vodka, but the lighter body, which is mouth cleansing instead of coating, makes it not just a good mixer but a good choice for sipping straight. A-

Vodka A was Grey Goose, Vodka B was Purity. These are both very mild vodkas, yet they’re significantly different. It’s almost unfair to put the Grey Goose — which suffers based on its lightly gummy body next to the brisk Purity — next to the clean and crisp Purity. But both are honestly good spirits. That said, Purity made a bold claim and, at least on the palate of this reviewer, backed it up.

80 proof.

$39 / purityvodka.com

Review: Krome Vodka

krome vodka 300x300 Review: Krome VodkaThis “world’s greatest vodka” is made in Bend, Oregon, where it is distilled from locally grown corn and blended with water from the Cascades. It’s bottled in a distinct, opaque black bottle. Thoughts follow.

You’ll find caramel notes on the nose, but otherwise it’s a very simple and clean spirit. The finish — driven, the company says, by the corn in the mashbill — offers light chocolate, some vanilla, and other mildly dessert-like notes, but otherwise it’s quite easygoing. Light medicinal notes are laced throughout the experience, from the nose to the finish, but the denouement returns to the sweet stuff for a last gasp on the tongue. Overall: Quite versatile and worthwhile.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / kromevodka.com

Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina Whiskey

topo piedmont gin 208x300 Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina WhiskeyTop of the Hill Distillery, affectionately “TOPO,” promises its spirits are “100 miles from grain to glass.” That’d be more comforting if I was closer to North Carolina, where TOPO is based. Good luck finding these farther afield. Fortunately, I was able to sample the full lineup of three unaged spirits from way out here in California. Thoughts on these organic spirits follow.

TOPO Vodka – Made from organic Carolina wheat. Whew, pungent on the nose, redolent of a typical white whiskey, with lots of grain aromas filling the nostrils. On the tongue, it belies that funky nose with a brisk sweetness, almost marshmallow-like in character, with a pungent medicinal character underneath. Kind of a strange combination. There’s a lot going on here, and those that like their vodka on the more rustic side will find plenty to enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re looking for balance and refinement, TOPO’s definitely got some growing up to do. 80 proof. B- / $29

TOPO Piedmont Gin – Also an organic wheat spirit. Piedmont, I’m guessing, refers not to Italy but to a big swath of area that runs along the eastern seaboard and crosses straight through central North Carolina. (Now you know!) But whatever the nomenclature, it’s an American style gin flavored with ample juniper, cardamom, coriander, star anise, and organic cucumber. On the nose there’s ample juniper, so much so that you might think TOPO Gin is going to be a one-trick pony. Take a sip and you’re in for a surprise: The juniper fades. Sweet licorice notes, floral snippets, and hints of orange peel arise in its wake. What’s most surprising is the kind of candied flower finish. Either that, or that my tasting notes bear no resemblance to those of TOPO’s. 92 proof. A- / $29

TOPO Carolina Whiskey – Like the above, this is young whiskey based on organic Carolina wheat. It has a lot in common with the vodka, too, as you might expect. It is, however, considerably more pungent (distilled fewer times and likely more pot-distilled spirit than in the vodka, I’d guess), full of deep grain and traditional fuel-driven notes on the nose. The body is of greater interest, loaded with chewy sweetness, plus plenty of cereal notes. The effect is not unlike a good granola bar, breakfast and dessert all in one package. It’s not overblown, but surprisingly well balanced among its various characteristics. As white whiskeys go — which is often a Bad News Bears situation — it’s one of the better ones around. 84 proof. B+ / $22

topodistillery.com

Review: Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka

crop meyer lemon 163x300 Review: Crop Organic Meyer Lemon VodkaCrop 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 / cropvodka.com

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: Pau Maui Hawaiian Vodka

Pau Maui Vodka Medium 93x300 Review: Pau Maui Hawaiian VodkaIt’s hard not to fall in love with something made in Hawaii. Macadamia nuts. Hula girls. All the good stuff comes from these cool little islands.

So does vodka. Pau isn’t the first vodka I’ve had that’s made in Hawaii, but it is the first I’ve encountered that’s made from Hawaiian pineapples. Blended with Hawaiian spring water in “up-country” Maui, it’s as unique a vodka as you’ll be able to find to plop on your home bar.

The real question: Does a vodka distilled from something as distinctive as pineapple retain the character of the fruit from which it was made? No, not really. The pineapple’s sweetness is evident, but not overwhelming. The primary character on the nose is more medicinal, with underpinnings of citrus fruit. On the palate, think strawberry shortcake — complete with a little whipped cream — maybe with a dollop of caramel sauce. This is understated, however. I review a lot of extremely sweet vodkas that taste like they’ve been intentionally flavored with all loads of artificial junk. Pau is a more refined and reserved vodka, albeit one that plays its hand more toward the sweet than the savory. Not a bad thing.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / paumaui.com

Review: Schramm Organic Vodka

schramm vodka 130x300 Review: Schramm Organic VodkaPemberton Distillery in British Columbia, Canada, makes this vodka from local organic potatoes grown just a few miles away. Charcoal filtered and blended with water from the nearby Coast Mountains, Schramm bottles the finished product at 80 proof. Schramm is made by a Scotland-trained distiller, and you’ll find plenty of of those fingerprints all over this spirit.

What an unusual and intriguing spirit (the company calls it “assertive”). The nose comes across almost like a white whiskey, heavy with earthy notes, and a character that recalls bundled wood. On the tongue, it’s hot stuff, again full of the essence of the earth — and even a little hint of raw potato. Lots of fruity notes within, plus spicy red pepper, bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and some floral notes. That’s a lot going on, but the finish, which brings out some burlier, tannin-like characteristics. It winds up somewhere between medicinal and pastoral… and I’m still trying to make sense of it.

Give this one a try, especially if you’re looking for something wholly unique in the vodka world.

B+ / $44 / pembertondistillery.ca

Review: Absolut Cilantro Vodka

Absolut Cilantro 1L white 101x300 Review: Absolut Cilantro VodkaWhat 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 / absolut.com

Review: Thatcher’s Organic Artisan Vodka

thatchers vodka 90x300 Review: Thatchers Organic Artisan VodkaThatcher’s has long been a purveyor of some tasty liqueurs, but now it’s expanding into harder stuff, namely vodka.

As the name indicates, Thatcher’s is an organic vodka. Made from North America grains in Barrington, Illinois, no additional data is provided on distillation (column, one presumes) or filtration.

Nice little vodka. Sweet, but not overly so — driven by ample fruit character, actually. There’s significant apple and elderflower character throughout this spirit. The nose is mild but offers hints of both of the above. The body drinks easy, with that apple character fading to some mildly earthy/vegetal notes — there’s almost a hint of green pepper, with just a little bit of bite, on the back end. I also get hints of vanilla here and there, particularly up front, after it spends some time opening up with exposure to air. Lots going on, and for the most part it works together harmoniously — though it’s a far cry from your Eastern Bloc style of vodka-making.

All in all, it’s a very nice and affordable vodka. I’d apply it primarily toward more fruit-based cocktails.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / thatchersorganic.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Moscato Vodka

SKYY INFUSIONS MOSCATO GRAPE Hi Res 74x300 Review: Skyy Infusions Moscato VodkaDriven 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 / skyy.com

Review: Deep Eddy Vodka and Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka

deep eddy ruby red grapefruit vodka 204x300 Review: Deep Eddy Vodka and 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

deepeddyvodka.com

Review: Iceberg Vodka Lineup

iceberg vodka 300x170 Review: Iceberg Vodka LineupWe 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 vodka 77x300 Review: Long Island Spirits Vodka and Liqueurs Complete LineupWe’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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