Sorry, Easter egg hunters, AVIV 613 Vodka is not named after the area code for Ottawa, Canada. It is rather named for the city in which it is made — Tel Aviv, Israel — and a purported 6/1/3 proportion of ingredients used in its production. I wouldn’t dare try to explain this unique process, so I’ll let AVIV 613 do the job:
Yossi Gold, our master distiller, arrived at the precise formulation of AVIV 613 after three years of trial and error. He begins with wheat and barley distilled three times. To that he adds thrice-distilled alcohol from a mash made from olives, figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates. He tweaked the quantities of the ingredients, along with the proportions of the alcohol, until he reached the exact flavor notes and strength of each he wanted.
Remember that the distinctive sweet finish of AVIV 613 comes from flavors that are not added to the vodka, but which evolve from the perfect blending of grain and fruit alcohol. Water from the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater source in the world, contributes to it’s unique taste and smoothness.
Distilling AVIV more than 4 times removes too many of its natural flavors. We distill the grains 3 times and the fruits 3 times before they’re blended and distilled 1 more time. Then AVIV goes through 6 filtration processes to make it ultra clean and smooth.
The nose is not any more clearly distinctive than any number of modern, moderately sweet vodkas. You can smell sugar up front on the nose, alongside mild charcoal and flinty earth notes. The sweetness fades with some aeration, leaving behind some more generalized hospital notes. The palate is less sweet than you’d think, with a pleasant silkiness to the body. Given all that goes into the mash, there’s strikingly little flavor to contend with — and certainly no olives or pomegranates. Rather, it arrives alongside quite mild notes of butterscotch, licorice, and a bit of cake frosting on the finish. It’s apt enough for stirring into a cocktail, but hardly something you’d expect to have come from the Sea of Galilee.
B+ / $35 / avivvodka.com
Donner-Peltier Distillers, the Louisiana-based company behind the Rougaroux line of rums, has a little bit of everything in its stable including, of course, two white spirits: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin.
Oryza Vodka is distilled from local rice, 17 times, they say, in a copper (column) still. The vodka has a rustic quality to the nose — a touch earthy and vegetal, but with a frosting-like sweetness atop it. The body largely follows suit, exhibiting some forest floor notes that ultimately turn a little salty and sweaty as the vodka opens up in the glass. Sweetness builds alongside the finish, but it has a somewhat saccharine character to it, something that just doesn’t play well with that funky saltiness up front. 80 proof. B- / $30
Oryza Gin is made from the same base as Oryza Vodka, and is flavored with an exotic blend of botanicals that includes juniper, satsuma, lavender, orris root, cantaloupe, coriander, pink peppercorn, angelica root, paradise seed, orange peel, and lemon peel. Yes, cantaloupe! The tagline of this gin includes the phrase “Distinctively Citrus,” and that’s easily the strongest element here. I couldn’t peg the oranginess as satsuma by any stretch, but it’s got an indistinct citrus fruit character that’s definitive on the tongue (more so than on the somewhat muddy nose). What’s lacking here is just about everything else. I don’t catch any juniper at all, and aside from a touch of spice and just a hint of melon, none of the other components in the botanical bill make an impact. If I’d tasted this blind I’d have told you it was a workable orange-flavored vodka, and discriminating drinkers should probably approach it as such. (My rating considers it on that scale, not as a true gin.) 96 proof. B / $30
If there’s one thing the South is known for it’s… vodka, amirite!?
Made by Chicken Cock Distillers in Charleston, South Carolina (see also our reviews of Chicken Cock whiskeys), this vodka is made from GMO-free South-friendly corn, 6x distilled, and filtered through an authentic Confederate flag. OK, I made up that last part. Actually, it is treated with the “TerrePURE” process, which uses “ultrasonic energy and oxygenation to enhance drinkability by reducing impurities in the distillate.” I think the flag idea sounds better, though.
The vodka itself is well made but not distinctive. Lightly medicinal, with hints of pastry cream and lemons on the nose. The body follows suit, with few surprises. It offers a gentle creaminess and a lightly sweet touch on the palate, touches of hospital character, and a pleasant, moderate finish. It drinks just fine on its own, but it’s neutral enough to work in any cocktail you want to throw at it.
80 proof. Flavored expressions (including black pepper — what!?) not reviewed.
B+ / $20 / islandclubbrands.com
Bluewater Distilling in Everett, Washington makes a variety of spirits (including an aquavit!), but it’s best known for two major staples, a gin and a vodka, both organically produced and crafted in a classic copper pot still — not a column still, which is by far the norm for most vodkas and gins.
Thoughts on both of these spirits follow.
Bluewater Organic Vodka – Pot-distilled from organic wheat. Immediately enticing. Classic, old-world nose, with rich light medicinal character and undertones of old wood and wet earth. This intriguing aroma leads you into an even more engaging palate. The body is surprisingly mild and easygoing, yet it’s quite punchy with flavor. It kicks off with notes of toffee and butterscotch, then develops fruit and acidity as it builds on the tongue. Within a few seconds, it’s pummeling the palate with lemongrass and grapefruit, black pepper, and some pine tree/cedar notes. The finish is both silky and sharp, but lacking in the expected astringency. One of those vodkas that’s easy to sip on at length, even at room temperature. 80 proof. A / $27
Bluewater Halcyon Organic Distilled Gin – Note that the “Bluewater” is very small on the bottle here. You’ll most likely find it listed under “Halcyon” instead. The wheat-based distillate on this London Gin style gin is crafted with a classic 24-hour infusion of juniper, orange, lemon, coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice root, and cassia bark. The intense nose features lots of fruit, modest juniper, and some spongy, earthy notes driven by a few of the root-based ingredients. Unlike with the vodka, there are few surprises on the palate here. Lemon and orange remain strong, and the juniper is a bit more present on the tongue than the initial nosing would indicate. All in all it is stylistically on par with many a UK-crafted gin and a versatile spirit that works in all kinds of classic cocktails. 92 proof. A- / $30
New Amsterdam’s gin and vodka lines are becoming increasingly commonplace thanks to their very low price point and upscale bottle design. These new flavors are fairly natural extensions to the line, bringing the total number of New Amsterdam flavors up to six. Intriguingly, both represent a major departure from (and improvement over) the more pungent and booze-forward notes that are characteristic of New Amsterdam’s recent attempts at flavored vodka, upon which I’ve remarked in the past.
Thoughts follow. Both are 70 proof.
New Amsterdam Orange Vodka – Fresh and juicy on the nose, but sweet to the point of being almost candylike. Tangerine notes emerge with time, the overall impact being very sweet and uncomplicated. Looking for some high-test orange zest to add to your cocktail? New Amsterdam Orange will get the job done without making things complicated. This isn’t a complex spirit nor is it anything like biting into an actual piece of fruit, but it’s a considerably more drinkable spirit than the lemon-focused New Amsterdam Citron, for example. B+
New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka – Again with the candy, but this vodka is stuffed with tropical notes — not just pineapple but coconut and maybe some guava, too. So sweet and powerful with candylike fruit notes, it’s like drinking a cheap but functional beach cocktail straight from the spigot. Again, New Amsterdam has dialed back that alcoholic funkiness by pushing the sugar content to epic highs, and it’s an approach that has its merits. I hate to be one to encourage such shortcutting, but drop a little of this into a blender with some Coco Lopez and some ice and you’ve got a credible and super cheap Pina Faux-lada without ever having to crack into a can of pineapple juice. Sophisticates can safely snub it, but your mom will eat it up. B+
both $13 / newamsterdamspirits.com
What happens when one of the biggest vodka producers in the world decides to go hyperlocal? Our/Vodka, that’s what.
Absolut’s audacious Our/Vodka project, 3 1/2 years in the making, began rolling out earlier this year: The idea, to produce a number of “glocal” renditions of the iconic spirit. It works like this. Absolut selects a city, where it funds and builds a distillery, then hands the reins over to a local entrepreneur distiller. They then take the brand and run with it, making vodka using a recipe provided by Absolut but using only local ingredients and water. Bottles are small (just 350ml) and feature a generic label indicating the city the vodka came from. The idea (in part) is to see how each city’s vodka compares — essentially looking at how terroir impacts “neutral” spirits. Up first: Berlin (reviewed here) and Detroit.
By the way, depending on which bottle you get, you’ll notice the label says it is “vodka with a flavor.” Says Absolut: “The thing with the German label is that when we first did them, we didn’t know for sure if our patented yeast (that has been developed by the Pernod Ricard research center) and that can carry flavor fractions through fermentation, would pass without having to put “flavor” on the bottle. Now we know that we don’t need it.”
Finally, let’s look at Our/Vodka Berlin — aka “Local Vodka by Our/Berlin” — the first product to come from this project. The nose is extremely mild, just hints here and there of bananas, walnuts, orange candies, and cherries. Nothing major, but enough to make things interesting. The body is even less punchy. Very simple, some mild fruit flavors — again those lightly sweetened orange candies — are the most evident secondary characteristic, but on the whole Our/Berlin comes across as simple to the point of being almost too clean. Our/Vodka is bizarrely bottled at just 75 proof, which is part of the reason why the flavor is so neutral — almost like sipping on water, which makes it go down much too easily. That’s both a good and a bad thing, but it does set an interesting starting point for this series. Hopefully we’ll be able to compare it the vodkas that come from Detroit and elsewhere down the line.
A- / $18 (350ml) / ourvodka.com
According to Woody Creek Distillers, it’s the only company in the U.S. that “controls every element of its 100% potato vodka production.” Woody Creek grows its own potatoes (Rio Grande russet, Chepita and Lady Claire varieties) on its own Colorado farms, processes them, and distills them into vodka. Unlike so many other “distilled 80 times” spirits, Woody Creek is distilled just once, in a custom column still. Local water from the Aspen area is used to bring it down to proof for bottling.
Despite the fascinating story, Woody Creek doesn’t reinvent the wheel — which is not a bad thing. The nose is indistinct, adding a slight earthy element to the hospital character base. The body is modest in texture, the astringency of the alcohol balanced by notes of marshmallow, vanilla wafer, mandarin oranges, and marzipan. Some slight red pepper notes on the finish, but on the whole, there’s very little in the heat department throughout the spirit.
All in all, it’s a unique vodka with a traditional makeup and a classic appeal that both straight sippers and cocktail hackers will amply appreciate.
A- / $37 / woodycreekdistillers.com
Lotus is a new vodka that hails from Italy. Rather, it’s a slight rebranding of an older vodka colloquially known as White Lotus Vodka, its bottle slightly revised to add a pop of color but otherwise keeping things clean.
In the company’s own words, “Lotus Vodka is made from select European corn and is triple distilled through reverse osmosis and charcoal filtering. It is infused with natural herbs, ginseng, and guarana (also known as Brazilian cocoa).”
In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to peg this vodka as containing any flavors or infusions. The body is silky-sweet like so many modern vodkas, offering light notes of white flowers, marshmallow cream, and maple syrup. Only the floral element is unexpected over what you’d normally see from a modern vodka, and even that is held in restraint. This is a surprisingly gentle vodka all around, drinking neatly and ending up clean, not harsh or bitter.
With its fresh, modest body and light, refreshing finish, Lotus is a vodka worth experiencing whether you’re looking for a mixer, a “straight” sipper, or something with just a touch of exoticism to it. The only question that remains is: Is it straight or is it a flavored spirit? Eh, what does it matter?
A- / $26 / lotusvodka.com
Imported from Siberia, this new vodka’s bottle is imprinted with a dog paw pressed into the glass. It’s distilled from (unspecified) grain and distilled five times before bottling. But is this vodka ruff? Er, rough? Ahem. Hey, the company donates $1 from each bottle sold to local dog rescue shelters, so your martinis are helping the canines of the world.
The nose is simple, and more modern than I’d expected. Vanilla marshmallow hits first, followed by the more expected hospital character. The body is a bit more traditional, with a brisk and clean character that offers notes of black pepper, orange peel, and ample medicinal character. Nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here, aside from a little touch of salted caramel on the finish.
B+ / $24 / husky-vodka.com
79 is the atomic number for gold. It’s also the proof level for the spirit that bears the numerical name of 79. Perhaps, it’s also a veiled reference to its owner, rapper Rich Dollaz.
The spirit begins by distilling a mash from Idaho wheat and then flavoring it with caramel and vanilla. Bearing a whole gaggle of alternative names, you might find this liqueur listed under 79, 79 Gold, 79Gold, Au 79, 79 Gold Au Wheat, or some combination of the above. Frankly I’m not sure what to call the stuff, or even whether it’s a flavored vodka or a liqueur. I’m going to hedge and call it both.
Light gold in color with visible cloudiness swirling in the bottle, 79 offers a nose of caramel candies and cake frosting. The body is sweet as expected, offering a moderately rich spirit, offering the expected notes of pancake syrup, sugar cookie batter, and melted caramels. There’s an undercurrent of smokiness here, though not really enough to give 79 any kind of special nuance. 79 offers interesting possibilities as a dessert drink mixer, but at 79 proof it’s probably a bit on the powerful side for most drinkers looking for something to splash into their coffee. Use with appropriate levels of caution.
Now available in Atlanta.
B / $NA / 79caramel.com