Category Archives: Vodka

Review: Belaya Rus Vodka

Belaya Rus Premium Belarusian Vodka from Belarus 220x300 Review: Belaya Rus VodkaThis Belarusian vodka dates back to 1993, and hails from a 100-year-old distillery in Minsk. Distilled six times “for your pleasure” from a blend of 75% rye and 25% winter wheat, this budget brand offers lots of quality plus Eastern European street cred.

Belaya Rus (literally “White Russian”) is surprisingly easy, especially considering its birth in a former Soviet nation. The nose offers a bracing medicinal character balanced with sweetness — more like a sweet cream than typical sugar. On the tongue, more of the same, but leaning more toward the sweet side. The finish brings in some vanilla notes, and some slight nuttiness.

Those anticipating a bracing, Stoli-like character will find this a far different experience, milder, sweeter, and easier to both sip on and mix with. At all of 11 bucks a bottle, that’s a tough value to ignore.

80 proof.

A- / $11 / belayarusvodka.com

Review: Real Russian Vodka

real russian vodka 300x243 Review: Real Russian VodkaI once heard a story about a guy who had trademarked “Ice Cold” Vodka. Ice Cold was the brand name. Makes sense. Basically the same thing Miller did with the Lite brand.

Real Russian Vodka is either brilliant branding or incredibly misleading or both. It is made from an “authentic family recipe born over 100 years ago in Russia”… in Gurnee, Illinois.

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Review: General John Stark Vodka

General John Stark vodka 229x300 Review: General John Stark VodkaFlag Hill, based in the great state of New Hampshire, makes a wide variety of fruit wines as well as various spirits.

That includes John Stark Vodka, which is made from — wait for it — apples and is triple distilled before bottling. Who’s John Stark? A Revolutionary War general from New Hampshire and the originator of the phrase “Live Free or Die.” Probably not a vodka man, but a patriot nonetheless.

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Review: 666 Vodka

666 vodka 166x300 Review: 666 Vodka666 Vodka has a name to live up to — even invoking “pure evil” on the front of the label. Made in Tasmania, Australia, this vodka is triple pot-distilled from Tasmanian barley, blended with water sourced from the pristine region here called Cape Grim. The finished product is charcoal filtered before bottling.

For all its uniqueness, 666 is typical of Australian vodkas, very mild on the nose with some hints of dessert-like sweetness, particularly light overtones of chocolate. The body is tailor-made for the sweet tooth. It is sugary but not overpowering, with a lightly bittersweet finish. That chocolate reappears here, along with some caramel notes. Very light herbal notes are here too, on a buttery body.

That said, the only real sense you get of vodka here is some light medicinal character that comes along as the spirit fades. It’s altogether very easy drinking, though vodka fans who love the funky hospital notes of Eastern bloc spirits will be dissatisfied.

80 proof.

A- / $28 / 666purevodka.com

Review: Milano Green Vodka

milano green vodka 200x300 Review: Milano Green VodkaItaly seems to be a hotbed these days — not for wine, but rather for vodka.

Milano Green is made from wheat in the north of Italy and blended with spring water from the Italian alps. Production methods are sustainable, per the company, but the producer does not claim that the product is organic.

This vodka has a very modern profile: Neutral on the nose, with only mild medicinal notes. The body has ample sweetness to it and a short, simple finish. Just a hint of black pepper on the finish, and maybe the lightest touch of baking spice. No frills here, this is an easy and refreshing vodka that works well on its own or in pretty much any cocktail.

80 proof.

Note: Milano Green’s website features an older bottle design.

A- / $30 / milanogreenvodka.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Hophead Hop Vodka

hophead hop vodka 129x300 Review: Anchor Distilling Hophead Hop VodkaCigarette smoke.

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

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

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

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Review: Seraphine Chai Tea Vodka

seraphine chai tea vodka 112x300 Review: Seraphine Chai Tea VodkaChai tea is one of the “it” flavorings of the ’10s, and Yahara Bay, which produces the V Bourbon we reviewed a few days ago, takes a different tack than the various chai liqueurs on the market.

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

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

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Review: Absolut Vodka

absolut vodka 226x300 Review: Absolut VodkaOnce in a while we like to head into the archives and take a fresh look at a classic — particularly when we need a palate cleanser. Today we turn to that icon of the vodka biz, Absolut, a brand which was in many respects the first premium vodka to be sold.

Absolut has always had a light charcoal note on the nose for me, along with traditional hospital character, and that’s still true. But served straight up, the Swedish superstar is considerably sweeter than memory offers, with brisk caramel notes to balance out its medicinal underpinnings. The finish is short and uncomplicated, fresh with some grassy as well as lemon hints, but mostly offering a sweet, somewhat dessert-like feel.

80 proof.

B+ / $16 / absolut.com

Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn Vodka

360 Buttered Popcorn vodka 161x300 Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn VodkaI’ve been resisting even opening this bottle for several months, for reasons which must be obvious. Liquid popcorn? I’ve been scared.

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

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

70 proof. Naturally flavored (inexplicably).

C- / $13 / vodka360.com

Review: Pomacai Vodka

Pomacai vodka 103x300 Review: Pomacai VodkaPomegranate and acai have developed strong “superfruit” reputations, which have led to many a boozemaker attempting to use these products to make new spirits. But the fact remains that neither of these taste particularly good, which is why most pomegranate juice drinks are stuffed full of sugar or other, sweeter, juices. Acai, based on the few times I’ve tried it in berry form, is pretty nasty, too.

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

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Review: Absolut Tune

Absolut Tune bottle 158x300 Review: Absolut TuneLooking for something different for a sparkling wine this New Year’s than that bottle of Freixenet? Absolut Tune is not that wine.

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

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Review: Kinky Liqueur

Kinky liqueur 88x300 Review: Kinky LiqueurTechnically a flavored vodka (5x distilled), Kinky is a bright pink “liqueur” flavored with mango, blood orange, and passion fruit, a clear shot across the bow of Alize, Hpnotiq, and its ilk.

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

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

34 proof.

B / $20 / crosbylakespirits.com

Review: FAIR Vodka and Cafe and Goji Liqueurs

FAIR. Products US 300x249 Review: FAIR Vodka and Cafe and Goji LiqueursYou have to appreciate a company that wants to do some good in the world, even while it’s getting people liquored up. FAIR (technically “FAIR.” with a period) bills itself as the first Fair Trade-certified spirits manufacturer. Based in France, the company offers a vodka and two liqueurs. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.

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Review: AnestasiA Vodka

anestasia vodka 200x300 Review: AnestasiA VodkaMuch has been written about AnestasiA to date, so I won’t belabor obvious points. This weird and wacky spirit is far from the beaten path. I’m sure there are tons of club kids who’ll find this to their liking. I found it strange to the power of 100.

AnestasiA is marketed as a “Sensational Spirit” which pleasantly tingles in your mouth. Initially I thought this meant it was a carbonated/sparkling vodka, but that’s not the case. In fact it is a flavored vodka that “consists of naturally occurring ingredients and flavorings that are commonly used in the food industry.”

That flavoring primarily appears to be a member of the menthol family. Continue reading

Review: Karlsson’s Gold Solist 2009 Single Vintage, Single Potato Vodka

Karlssons Gold 2009 solist vodka 161x300 Review: Karlsson’s Gold Solist 2009 Single Vintage, Single Potato VodkaThis spring we were fortunate to try a new concept in vodka from Sweden’s Karlsson’s Gold: Single vintage, single potato variety vodka. Tasting various vintages and various potato varieties among each other, the differences were shocking. And now Karlsson’s is back, with a 2009 vintage made from a different potato: The Solist variety. Continue reading

Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale Liqueur

Ppunzone vodka and liqueurs 300x234 Review: PunZone Vodka, Lemoncino, and Originale LiqueurunZone (accent on the e) is a new Italian brand that produces vodka and a pair of spirits, all organically. The vodka is actually the newest part of the equation. The liqueurs are old family recipes — blends of vodka, sangria, and fruit essences. We tasted all three spirits. Thoughts follow.

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Review: Platinka Vodka

Platinka vodka bottle 100x300 Review: Platinka VodkaBelarus: It’s not Russia.

Not any more, anyway.

Platinka is a super-premium vodka made from 100% rye and five-times distilled. The twist comes from the filtration, which is done first through charcoal and then through a platinum filter — hence both the name and the giant “Pt” elemental table block on the label.

The results are adequate to good. Light to moderate medicinal notes on the nose, with a sweet undertone. The body is clean and lightly herbal — think green savory spices, plus light notes of mushroom, pine needles, and forest floor. Lots going on, which is rather uncharacteristic of multiple distillations and a heavily-filtered spirit.

That’s all OK, but there’s a long finish here that comes across is slightly bitter, a lasting aftertaste that fans of super-clean vodkas may not thrill to. Overall, a fair vodka, and characteristic of eastern Europe. Mostly I’m just curious how they can afford platinum filters for a vodka that runs 25 bucks.

Currently available in Tennessee and Minnesota. More states coming in 2013. 80 proof.

B / $25 / platinka.com

Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

You’re full of meat and pie and perhaps meat pie. Now it’s time to think of your loved ones. Were they naughty? Nice? Do they deserve a fancy tipple when the giving season arrives?

For your most favored loved ones, Drinkhacker offers this collection of our favorite spirits from 2012, just a small sampling of the most worthy products on the market. Dig through the category of your choice for other ideas, and please chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Want our gift guide in glorious, full-color, printable-magazine style, complete with the original reviews for all of these products? YOU GOT IT!

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition 192x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Four Roses Small Batch 2012 ($90) – This bad boy’s been topping “best of” lists all season, and for good reason. Perhaps the best Small Batch from 4R since the distillery re-entered the U.S. market, it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Can’t find it (don’t be surprised…), try Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old ($130), Woodford Reserve’s unique Four Wood ($100), or Smooth Ambler Yearling ($62), straight outta West Virginia.

Scotch – The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130) – I’d love to pick Glenfiddich 1974 or Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 here, but both are long gone from the market and were absurdly expensive, to boot. You’ll have better luck with the new, older DoubleWood — which, by the way, is replacing the highly-beloved Balvenie Peated Cask on the market — which is in wide distribution now. More ideas? I love Arran Malt’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl ($130) and Ardbeg Galileo ($95). But my real connoisseur’s pick is a stealthy one: Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood Cote Rotie Finish 1991 ($80). Yes, it’s available, and yes, this is pretty much the only thing I want for Christmas.

greenhook gin 200x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGinGreenhook Gin ($33) – No knockouts this year, unlike 2011. Greenhook’s elderflower kick makes it a lot of fun. Cardinal ($29) is also a creamy, delicious gin. Update: And due to a tragic oversight, I failed to note the quality of The Botanist ($33).

VodkaSquare One Vodka ($33) – Rock solid, though hardly new to the market. Other excellent choices: Belvedere Intense Unfiltered ($40) or Bully Boy Vodka ($28).

Rum – Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 ($130) – My pick for the most exciting rum of 2012 isn’t sold in the country, but this vintage agricole from Rhum J.M. makes an exquisite gift, too. Lots of great options out there for lower budgets, too, including Blackwell ($30), Ron Fortuna ($22), and Plantation 3 Stars ($24).

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO 214x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial ($130) – There’s never much new brandy coming out in any given year, and the good stuff costs a pretty penny. At the top of the list for 2012 is this Armagnac, with Camus’ Extra Elegance ($395) close behind. For more affordable selections, check out Camus’ Ile de Re series.

Tequila – t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino ($40) – In a year of top tequila and absurdly expensive bottlings, these two affordable blancos stood out. t1 looks a little snazzier, if you’re giving a gift. The amazingly balanced Z Tequila Blanco ($30) will save you 10 bucks. Many excellent choices out there this year, as usual.

Liqueur – Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Method ($25) - Turn the Grand Marnier fan in your household on to this, the best orange liqueur on the market and a pittance at just $25 a bottle. For a different fruit effect, check out Germain-Robin Pear de Pear ($24, 375ml), a spirit that will quickly make you forget about lackluster Poire Williams.

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

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

Review: Smirnoff Iced Cake and Kissed Caramel Vodkas

The company that brought us Fluffed Marshmallow vodka is back with more flavors that would have Rasputin rolling in his grave. Here’s what will be haunting beach bars in 2013.

For what it’s worth, my wife enthused about the dessert-drink worthiness of both of these concoctions, and in modest proportions, she might be right, although Smirnoff is really pushing the sugar to the point where I expected to see crystals of the stuff to settle out at the bottom of the bottle. Both are 60 proof.

Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka – Imagine a child’s ultra-sugary birthday cake. Now imagine a child ate that cake and then threw up. The sweetness here is so strong it’s overpowering even to smell. One sip will coat your mouth for 15 minutes or more with the flavor of a white cake that’s been put through a blender and spiked with extra frosting (this is Iced Cake after all). You can’t taste a lick of alcohol. C+

Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka – Caramel is the It Flavor of 2012, and the vodkas are coming out in droves. Equally overpowering on the nose and body, the caramel flavors here are so strong and sweet they will suck the fillings right out of your teeth and leave you quivering in a diabetic coma. As with the Iced Cake version, it’s both uncannily authentic and entirely synthetic. C

$14 each / smirnoff.com

Review: Tallarico Vodka

tallarico vodka 107x300 Review: Tallarico VodkaTallarico is the brainchild of Giancarlo Tallarico, a Beverly Hills-based entrepreneur with his eyes on his own vodka (and a $45 price tag). Distilled from common rye and white winter wheat, this vodka (tagline: “Imbibe Elegantly.”) comes in a monolithic and mostly opaque, black decanter that fades to clear at the bottom.

On the nose, it’s a classic blend of Old World and New — lightly medicinal, but with hints of something spicy and sweet beneath.

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