Review: Pervak Vodka Homemade Rye and Homemade Wheat

pervak

Pervak hails from the Ukraine, and in its rustic-looking bottles with a swing-top-closure, it certainly feels very “Old World” from the get-go. Seriously, Old World: One of the core bottlings in the Pervak lineup is garlic-flavored vodka.

While the two vodkas reviewed below are both straight spirits — one made from rye, one from wheat — both carry on their labels a notice of “natural flavor added.” And yet, there appears to be no flavoring agent in either of these. Is that just an unfortunate spillover from the garlic (and horseradish!) vodka? Perhaps no one thought to change the fine print on the label? Who knows.

In any event, that may be what the label says, but I’m treating them both as unflavored spirits for the purposes of categorization. Thoughts follow.

Both are 80 proof.

Pervak Vodka Homemade Rye – The starter spirit, a single distillation of rye — which should in theory retain more of the residual flavor of the base grain. It’s surprisingly gentle for a single-distilled spirit, moderately medicinal on the nose but rounded on the body with a touch of cracked black pepper, rosemary, and a touch of burnt caramel on the finish. Fairly mild on the whole, it finishes with a lick of sweetness that doesn’t really offend. B+

Pervak Vodka Homemade Wheat – A double-distillation of wheat. Sweeter, with very mild medicinality on the palate. Quite neutral, with a touch of honey on the finish, along with a bit of a floral element. Otherwise it’s a very straightforward and almost simple vodka, a definitive mixer and quite a pleasure on its own, too. A-

each $22 per 1 liter bottle / pervak.com

Review: Vikre Vodka, Gin, and Aquavit Lineup

vikre spruce white bkgrdDuluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the home of Vikre Distillery, which takes a localvore approach to making a wide range of (mostly white) spirits, using local grains, herbs, and water from the lake next door to make its craft spirits. The six spirits below — 1 vodka, 3 gins, and 2 aquavits — represent the bulk (but not all) of Vikre’s production. Who’s ready to take the plunge into the production from this neighbor from the Great White North?

Join us.

Vikre Lake Superior Vodka – Distilled from malted barley. Very mild, clean, and fresh. The nose is gentle but hints at hospital notes. On the palate, light sweetness starts things off, but the overall impression is surprisingly clean and pure. Only on the finish do some secondary notes start to emerge… a dusting of bee pollen, some thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of cinnamon. Surprisingly well done and nearly perfect in its balance. 80 proof. A / $35

Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin – Purportedly a traditional dry gin, including standard (local) botanicals plus rhubarb. One whiff and this is anything but traditional — quite sweet on the nose, at offers heavily fruity notes and an intensely floral/rose petal undercarriage. The body hones in on that sweet-and-sour rhubarb, confectioner’s sugar, a mild slug of juniper, and chocolate notes on the finish. I know what you’re thinking: What a random collection of flavors. And so am I. Calling this a “Juniper Gin” leaves me a bit bewildered. 90 proof. C / $35

Vikre Boreal Spruce Gin – Spruce is the primary botanical here, as you might expect. The overall impact is a lot closer to a traditional gin than the Juniper Gin above, though again it carries with it a sweetness that is unexpected. Piney notes mingle with brown sugar and, again, more indistinct florals and perfume notes. Here, the balance is a bit more appropriate, as the spruce character is brought up to where it needs to be, and the sweeter elements are dialed back. Still, it’s an unconventional gin that will need the right audience. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin – This one was fun because I’m allergic to live cedar, so I was excited to see if I would break out in hives from drinking a gin flavored with cedar wood (along with wild sumac and currants). I didn’t, and I wasn’t in love with the gin, either. The nose is much different than the two above gins — musty and mushroomy on the nose, with a medicinal note and some evergreen beneath that. Again, the body is quite sweet — the currants are distinct — with a slurry of notes that include ripe banana, fresh rosemary, and some nutty characteristics. Pumped up evergreen on the body tends again to give this a more balanced structure, but the overall character is, again, a little out there. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Ovrevann Aquavit – It’s actually Øvrevann Aquavit, but I have no idea if that’s going to render properly online. Caraway, cardamom, and orange peel are infused into this traditionally-focused aquavit, which is a more savory, herbal meditation on gin. Appropriately Old World, it layers exotic, caraway-driven, Middle-Eastern-bazaar notes with touches of licorice, juicy citrus, seaweed, and light sandalwood notes. Credible on its own, but it probably works best as a substitute for gin, cutting a profile that was probably along the lines of what Bombay Sapphire East was going for. 88 proof. B / $35

Vikre Voyageur Aquavit Cognac Cask Finished – The above aquavit, finished (for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give the spirit a gentle yellow hue) in used Cognac casks. I like the combination a lot. The nose features a fruitiness that Ovrevann doesn’t have, plus a touch of barrel char that adds mystique. This leads to stronger licorice notes on the nose, plus notes of cloves, raisins (a clear Cognac contributor), menthol and spearmint, and a lingering, herbal finish. The Cognac balances out the sweet and savory notes in the spirit, giving this a well-rounded yet entirely unique character that’s worth exploring. 86 proof. A- / $57

vikredistillery.com

Review: Khortytsa Platinum Vodka

khortytsaIts distillery built in 2003, Khortytsa is a Ukrainian vodka that is now pushing 6.4 million cases of spirit each year, according to the company. Distilled from unspecified grains, Khortytsa is filtered through schungite (“a unique natural mineral”), birch and alder-tree charcoal, and quartz sand from the Crystal Mountains of the Urals near Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Khortytsa is a fine, if unremarkable vodka expression. The nose is appropriately astringent with subtle caramel notes, the body is medicinal at first but also layered with moderate sweetness. This takes the form of a bit of vanilla sugar and a squeeze of citrus, but it’s otherwise largely indistinct.

“Ultimate Perfection,” as the label states, may be pushing things a bit far, but at this price, Khortytsa certainly isn’t a letdown. It’s fine for the well.

B / $15 / khor.com

Review: Pinnacle Cinnamon Roll Vodka

Pinnacle Cinnabon Vodka_750Those of you afraid that vodka flavors are losing their edge, rest easy, here’s a flavor that’s sure to strip the enamel straight off your teeth: Cinnamon roll, produced in conjunction with (or at least, with a picture and logo from) Cinnabon.

Unbearably sweet — though that’s not far from the source — the overall impression of this vodka is akin to vanilla cake frosting. Big butter (ok, margarine) notes just add to the fat bomb impression, and at least give it some sense that there’s a pastry somewhere in there. Cinnamon is — oddly enough — the weak link in the puzzle. While readily detectable, it’s dialed back to the point where its addition seems to come across as an afterthought. Bizarre.

Picking up a bottle to satisfy your boozy sweet tooth? God help you, dear reader.

70 proof.

D+ / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com

Review: Score Vodka

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The grain in Ukraine falls mainly on the vodka producers, one of which is the maker of this new spirit, Score Vodka.

Score is distilled from organic winter wheat, distilled seven times, and run through a “unique milk-based filtration,” which sounds pretty crazy but, hey, it’s Ukraine, amirite?

The vodka itself is clean and very lightly oily, an interesting balance between old world and new world styles. The attack is lightly sweet — cotton candy through a lemonade filter. On the tongue, a little rush of sugar gets things going, then a big, astringent, hospital note hits hard, largely washing all of that sweetness away. The finish arrives quickly and is quite bittersweet, an interesting melding of the two styles that come before it.

One comment must be reserved for the bizarre closure, which is not a traditional screwcap but rather, is a plastic top that, when twisted, causes a controlled-pour spout to emerge directly from the top of the cap. Twist it the other way and the spout descends back down. A little flap of plastic works as a rudimentary cover for the affair (which, improbably, is actually watertight). Wild stuff, but exactly what you’d expect from Eastern Europe, I guess.

80 proof.

B / $NA / scorevodka.com

Review: HKB Baijiu

hkb baiju

Pundits love to pontificate about “what’s next” in the world of whatever it is they’re experts about. When it comes to spirits, one word is increasingly bubbling up to the top: Baijiu.

Baijiu is a Chinese distillate of fermented sorghum, though other grains like rice and wheat are sometimes used, depending on where it is made. Unlike most shochu, baijiu (white alcohol in Chinese) is typically quite strong — on par with vodka, a spirit for which it is often substituted (and which is largely produced in a similar fashion).

HKB — short for Hong-Kong Baijiu — is a newer brand of baijiu that is slowly making inroads in the U.S. It is distilled in China from a mash of five grains — sorghum, rice, sticky rice, corn, and wheat — and is blended in Italy by a grappa producer after aging (in large, neutral terra cotta urns) for two years.

The results are unlike any white spirit you’ve likely had, though grappa is the closest analogue. Intensely aromatic on the nose to the point of filling the room after simply pouring a glass of the stuff, HKB is punchy with overripe tropical fruits, coconut, and camphor. The palate is also very, very fruity, pungent as it starts off with a fermented pineapple character and loading up some oddball secondary notes, including rosemary, cloves, lemongrass, rhubarb, and more. The finish is epic in length, punchy with bitter-sour camphor/mothball notes, pure ethanol notes, and the aftertaste that comes with off-brand citrus-flavored candies. As a baijiu newbie, I was wholly unprepared for the sensory assault that is contained in that opaque red bottle, and as I write this after sampling the product, I’m still unprepared for another go-round.

That said, I can see how this could be an interesting cocktail ingredient (in the same way that a white whiskey, cachaca, or heavily flavored vodka can be). On the other hand, I’m not necessarily ready to go there myself whole-hog. All in all, it’s a category to keep an eye on as it winds its way into the American market.

86 proof.

C+ / $50 / baijiuamerica.com

Review: 4 Pearl Vodka Flavors – Lime Basil, Strawberry Basil, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Pumpkin Spice

pearlIntroducing four new flavors from Luxco-owned Pearl Vodka (which recently rebranded all its bottles with a more streamlined design) — two fruity/basil blends, two dessert-focused for winter sipping. Let’s give them all a sample.

All are 70 proof.

Pearl Vodka Lime Basil – Gentler than you’d think. Heavy on candied lime peel, with just a hint of racier, Thai-style basil on the back end. Modest in structure, pure in its flavor elements, and offering a crisp body with a short finish. It’s a fine alternative to Hangar One Kaffir LimeA

Pearl Vodka Strawberry Basil – Somewhat chemical-smelling on the nose, a common problem with strawberry vodkas. There’s no hint of basil in the aroma, but on the palate it offers a heat more akin to black pepper than any kind of herb. A heavily sweetened finish washes that away, though, leaving behind a bit of a medicinal character. B

Pearl Vodka Chocolate Hazelnut – So, Nutella vodka! Nails it on the nose — though it’s heavier on hazelnut than chocolate. The palate isn’t far off, either. Cinnamon is a distinct secondary character but otherwise this vodka exudes lovely hazelnuts dusted with cocoa powder. Some vanilla marshmallow notes emerge on the finish. Dessert-focused vodkas like this are often largely undrinkable, but this is a surprising winner. A-

Pearl Vodka Pumpkin Spice – Far more restrained than I’d expected, with classic brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and clove notes. The sweetness is at first dialed back, but it doesn’t take long to start building up on the palate. As it begins to coat the mouth, it leaves behind a saccharine character that eventually becomes too much and hangs around for far too long. B-

each $13 / pearlvodka.com