Category Archives: Vodka

Review: The 86 Co. Aylesbury Duck Vodka and Ford’s Gin

The 86 Co., based in New York, is a sort of negociant of the spirits world. crafting spirits in cahoots with other distillers and distilleries from around the world. The company launched a barrage of four spirits in 2012, including the two we’re profiling below.

aylesbury duck vodka 225x300 Review: The 86 Co. Aylesbury Duck Vodka and Fords GinAylesbury Duck Vodka - Distilled from Canadian winter wheat, bottled in California with a touch of Mendocino well water, then named after, yes, a duck. Modestly filtered only to remove particulate matter. I really like this vodka. The nose has earthy overtones, playing things safe. But the body’s quite a different animal. It’s sweet without being sugary, much in the way an fresh apple is sweet. The character is actually more akin to crisp pineapple, offering tartness and bite with each sip, with a finish that brings across notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Medicinal hints creep up on the very back end of the finish. This is a fun and surprisingly modern vodka that exhibits that rarest of character traits in a world of overblown sugar bombs: restraint. 80 proof. A- / $26 (1 liter)

fords gin 226x300 Review: The 86 Co. Aylesbury Duck Vodka and Fords GinFords Gin – Named because it’s a collaboration of The 86 Co. with Simon Ford, but oddly lacking an apostrophe. Column-distilled from English wheat in London, this is the only gin in memory that doesn’t just outline its botanical bill, but tells you exact percentages of each ingredient in the infusion blend. Here, they are: Italian juniper (49.5%), Romanian coriander (30.5%), Haitian/Moroccan orange peel (3.2%), Turkish grapefruit peel (3.2%), Polish angelica (3.2%), Indonesian cassia (2.1%), Chinese jasmine (3.2%), and Italian/Moroccan orris root (2.1%). There’s only one real eyebrow-raiser there — the jasmine — but these otherwise typical ingredients come together quite well in Fords. Despite the hefty juniper component, this isn’t a particularly green-tasting gin. It’s readily evident on the nose, before offering notes of rose petal, sandalwood, and sage. The body pulls out the cinnamon (cassia) fairly quickly, and the palate grows with more lemony (or grapefruity) notes as the finish builds. Here, that earthiness comes back a bit, alongside straight-up juniper, before finishing clean. The gin is finished with that Mendocino water in California before bottling at 90 proof. A- / $31 (1 liter)

the86co.com

Review: Stumbras Vodka

Stumbras Vodka Centenary 113x300 Review: Stumbras VodkaStumbras hails from a large conglomerate in the Baltic region, one of its concerns being distilling. This Lithuanian vodka comes from a distillery that produces a whopping 13 million liters of 350 different beverages each year. The company is the largest producer of spirits in the region.

Stumbras produces a variety of vodkas, including many flavored varieties. These two are both unflavored versions, distilled from grain and heavily filtered through sand, charcoal, and silver filters. Both are bottled at 80 proof.

Stumbras Centenary Vodka – The picture doesn’t do it justice, but that’s an actual stalk of wheat inside the bottle, not part of a picture on the label. Meant to echo the grain base of the spirit within, I have to admit I don’t get a lot of bready grain character here but rather a wholly Old World experience that feels like the kind of spirit a Siberian ice farmer would knock back by the bottle after a long day. That means big medicinal notes up front, though they’re not particularly pungent or overwhelming. There’s a slight lemon character to both the nose and the body, which gives the finish more of an easiness than you get with burlier Eastern European vodkas, although it still packs an acidic bite. Overall it’s simple, a bit rustic, and straightforward — but in vodka, that can work surprisingly well. A- / $16

Stumbras Pure Vodka – Pure is made in a similar fashion to Centenary, but is additionally filtered through platinum filters and rested for three days before bottling. No wheat stalk, either. I was surprised to discover the differences between Pure and Centenary, figuring these were really just repackaged versions of the same stuff. But Pure is softer and creamier, with distinctly less bite than the Centenary. The lemon is virtually gone here, replaced with touches of vanilla. The overall impact, however, is about the same, with Pure offering somewhat less bracing power but more long-term sippability. A- / $18

stumbras.eu

Review: Infuse Flavored Vodkas

infuse vodka 525x700 Review: Infuse Flavored Vodkas

Oh man, I’m a sucker for a bottle of hooch with something floating around in it. Long shafts of herbs, whole pears… what doesn’t look amazing bobbing around inside a bottle of alcohol?

Infuse’s flavored vodkas all adhere to this conceit, each with something or other inside, proving, ostensibly, that natural elements are responsible for the flavors within the bottle and not chemical sludge out of a test tube.

Infuse Vodkas, made in California, are distilled from Kansas corn, then flavored with actual fruits and spices (everything goes in dried, so shelf life should be quite lengthy) instead of mysterious “natural flavorings.” There are at least six varieties on offer. We sampled four for review. All 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Lemon Vodka – Pale yellow color. Tart lemon notes on the nose, fresh and clear like Limoncello. The body sticks closer to the vodka formula, with bracing medicinal notes cut with a touch of lemon peel. That body feels like it could have more of a fruit element to it to balance out the booziness, but otherwise it’s a solid and authentic rendition of a mild lemon vodka. Of special note: The long strips of lemon peel lose their yellow color over time, leaving what looks like limpid white linguine floating in the bottle. B

Infuse Mango Vodka – Again, a super-fresh and authentically tropical nose on this vodka, a moderately pale yellow spirit with three slices of (dried?) mango in the bottom of the bottle. It’s so fragrant it’s hard to stop smelling it. Fortunately the body doesn’t disappoint. Here the fruit and punchy alcohol notes are in balance, the vodka offering silky mango sweetness with a dusting of bite to back it up. This is nice enough on its own but would be gorgeous in a Cosmo-esque cocktail. A

Infuse Cinnamon Apple Vodka – The most visually appealing of the bunch, a whiskey-brown spirit with numerous apple slices floating at the top of the bottle. The nose is pure apple, with touches of cinnamon, just like grandma used to bake. Smooth as silk on the body — the vodka is really only evident on the finish, as the sweet, dessert-like character of the product takes center stage. Not exactly a mainstream combination that you’ll turn to nightly, but a fun change of pace to be sure. A-

Infuse Chili Pepper Vodka – Three lonely chili peppers float at the top of this (again) pale yellow vodka, the only hint that something spicy’s going on. Even the nose is not particularly pungent, the most clearly vodka-like — medicinal, but tempered with some sweetness — of the bunch with just a hint of red pepper on the nose. The hospital notes hit you first on the tongue, then the pepper arrives. It’s a pleasant heat — moderate, a little more biting than gentle, particularly if you take an especially large sip, which gnaws a bit at the back of the throat. I’ve never been a huge fan of pepper vodkas, but Infuse’s rendition is as good as any. Spicy Bloody Mary? Sure. Beyond that, I’ve no idea how to use it. Grows on you, though. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila

vodquila 300x300 Review: Red Eye Louies VodquilaIt’s another spirit mashup that I’m unclear who’s been clamoring for: Vodquila is… wait for it… vodka and tequila. That’s it.

There’s nothing surprising in the construction here: The bright idea was to mix 100% agave Highlands tequila with premium, imported, grain-distilled vodka. And to be honest, the whole idea baffles me. If you like premium tequila, you’ll dislike the idea of watering it down with vodka — essentially turning it into a mixto. On the other hand, if you’re a vodka kinda guy, well, you’re just going to hate having tequila in it.

The overall impact is about what you think it will be. The nose is heavy on the agave, lemony, with an undercurrent of sugar. On the palate, it’s that vodka-fueled sugar that hits you first. Your brain doesn’t know whether to prepare for a sweet, modern-style vodka experience or something else, but before you get the chance to make up your mind, the tequila hits. At first, it offers a strong herbal agave character, with more of that lemon, but then along comes a lightly spiced finish that’s absolutely loaded with sweetness — almost like a slice of cinnamon toast.

Vodquila grows on you over time. Or rather, it becomes more harmless and innocuous, much like any well-sweetened mixto tequila does, simple enough but probably regrettable later. Of course, Vodquila does have one trick up its Frankenbooze sleeve: At a price that undercuts every 100% agave tequila I’m aware of, it seems to be destined to find a home in novelty shots over sipping straight, which sounds about right to me.

C+ / $18 / vodquila.com

Review: Zing Red Velvet Vodka

Zing Lights Master Red Velvet 198x300 Review: Zing Red Velvet Vodka

This is begging for an animated GIF.

Some facts.

Zing is sold with a light on the bottom that either flashes or emits a steady red glow, making it immediately the most striking and most ostentatious bottle of flavored vodka you can have on your shelf. (It’s a frosted white when it’s turned off.)

Zing is sold in two and only two varieties: Straight/unflavored, and red velvet. Yeah, red velvet.

Zing’s creative director is Chris Brown. Yes, that Chris Brown. I guess he likes red velvet cake and red LEDs.

Made from a corn and wheat base in Rochester, New York (the holy land!), Zing is 4-times column distilled and “rigorously” filtered. The red velvet variety is artificially flavored.

The aroma of cake frosting and vanilla are striking right out of the gate. Whether this is red velvet or white buttercream is impossible to say, but it is hugely sweet and heavily flavored. The back end offers some light hospital notes typical of grain vodkas, with a vaguely lime-like finish. This all comes together in a sort of bizarre way, a bit like eating a handful of candy alongside the cake at your son’s birthday party. A bit much for me. Pass the crudite-flavored vodka, please.

70 proof.

C / $27 / zingvodka.com

Review: Marquis Vodka

Marquis vodka 225x300 Review: Marquis VodkaReal Polish vodka is becoming harder and harder to come by, but this new brand is the real thing, hailing from a distillery built in 1895 outside of Warsaw. Made in a 100-year-old copper column still from local rye, it is cut to proof with the distillery’s own water from a limestone aquifer. The black-frosted bottle is striking and a little off-putting with its gothness.

There’s a lot of character behind the black glass. The nose offers lemon, grass and heather, and — most curiously — notes of fresh carrot. On the body, it’s a mix of Old World and New: A modest medicinal character (nothing overwhelming) backed with quite a bit of sweetness. Vegetal notes, however, are what linger the longest, with the finish taking on a somewhat mushroomy and brooding character.

Interesting and unique, but that finish pushes me a bit too far into the savory for comfort.

80 proof.

B / $35 / marquisvodka.com

Review: Willa Vodka

willa vodka 224x300 Review: Willa VodkaA craft vodka made with Italian grain and water from Nantucket, where this vodka is created, Willa is part of the “low-cal” spirits trend. What that means in practical terms is it’s lower in alcohol — 70 proof vs. the standard 80 in the industry.

Very little about Willa enchanted me. The nose is charcoal and chalk, a kind of powdered mineral character that doesn’t really hint at anything of substance. On the body, it’s somewhat unctuous and sweaty, both in its structure and the aromas and flavors that develop as you sip it. The finish is thin (the 70 proof doesn’t help there), leaving a salty and unsatisfying aftertaste. Not much bite (which is the point, really). Pass on this one.

D+ / $30 / willavodka.com

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