If nothing else, give Virus Vodka the award for packaging of the year. An Erlenmeyer flask? Genius, even if its footprint does take up more than its fair share of shelf space.
Virus is bottled in North Charleston, South Carolina, but aside from a goofy story about ancient vampire/zombie/werewolf viruses, there’s not really any information available on how it’s made. Six-times distilled, they say, from what? Who knows. (Presumably that means grain neutral spirits are the beginnings of the spirit, but that’s just an assumption.)
The vodka has a simple, basic structure. The nose: Sweet, with marshmallow and vanilla notes and a touch of ethyl alcohol underpinning. The body is equally sweet, just this side of “sugary,” with notes of over-ripe banana, coconut, and vanilla ice cream. The finish is, as expected, on the sweet side, but it fades quickly and relatively cleanly.
Ultimately, it’s fine as a mixer. Not a contender for straight sipping. And doesn’t taste like zombies.
“It’s time to hack the cocktail!” Now that’s a slogan I can get behind.
Unfortunately, Skyy Barcraft — essentially lower-proof flavored vodka designed to be mixed with your favorite mixer (soda, ginger, what-have-you) and consumed on the rocks — isn’t really hacking anything. Unless you consider water and those inimitable “natural flavors” to be a hack. Meh.
Each of the three expressions is 60 proof. All were tasted with a splash of club soda. (Skyy suggests a 2:1 mix of soda to spirit, which I don’t recommend at all.)
Skyy Barcraft White Sangria – Fresh, with lots of peach overtones, followed by citrus. Doesn’t exactly scream sangria — as there’s no wine element on the palate to speak of — but it does come off as a capable rendition of a lower-cal peach vodka. B
Skyy Barcraft Margarita Lime – Makes for an ugly margarita. Starts off with piney, evergreen notes, then segues into hospital overtones. The finish is drying and medicinal, not at all like any margarita I’ve ever had (possibly because you make a margarita with tequila, not vodka). D-
Skyy Barcraft Watermelon Fresca – About what you’re expecting — Jolly Ranchers dipped into vodka for a slightly astringent, slightly candied complexion. Some bitter notes emerge on the finish, likely driven by the vodka. Relatively harmless, but unless you’ve got a serious thing for watermelon, it’s probably not going to be your go-to beverage. C
To quote Tom Cruise in Risky Business, sometimes you gotta say, What the fuck?
How big is whiskey? So big that the vodka guys are trying to muscle in on the business.
Oak by Absolut is Absolut vodka rested in oak barrels. Or, more accurately, it is “oak infused vodka, vodka, [and] vodka rested in barrels,” per the label. What any of that means I don’t really know. The mechanics of the oak infusion aren’t disclosed, nor is any information about the type of barrels or the length of time the vodka spends in them. Was the vodka rested at distillation proof or at Absolut’s standard 80 proof? I just don’t know.
The end product looks and tastes exactly as you think it will. As dark as any whiskey (well, almost any whiskey), it certainly looks the part. On the nose it’s tough to parse — notes of vanilla are at the forefront, then cinnamon, raspberry, root beer soda, and marshmallows. It doesn’t really smell like whiskey… but it doesn’t smell like anything else either. A very young brandy? Some kind of flavored Irish whiskey? It’s a chameleon.
The palate pushes on with abandon — sweet vanilla custard, a modest lashing of lumber, and some cherry notes hit first. The main event is a distinct A&W Root Beer character — not a dense amaro bitterness, but a highly sweetened version of the stuff that leaves a hint of rootiness behind for the finish. Here things slowly fade away, offering some notes of prune juice and brown sugar amidst the lingering root beer character.
What’s surprising about Oak by Absolut — besides the fact that it exists at all — is how harmless it is. Those expecting a rank lumber bomb — which often happens if you put rack vodka in a wood barrel — won’t find it here. Whatever Absolut has done to doctor this oddity — and that must be significant — it’s been able to avoid turning it into the disgusting monster you were expecting it to be. At the same time, there’s really no reason, absolutely no reason at all, for it to exist. No whiskey fan in their right mind would pick this even over a $12 bottle of bourbon, and no vodka drinker would ever set foot near it. So why does this exist? As a gateway to whiskey (which Absolut doesn’t make)? Someone lost a bet? You got me.
80 proof. Reviewed: Batch B-14.01 (or B-19.01… bad handwriting).
Made in Cognac, France, this vodka is crafted from French wheat, 5x distilled, blended with local water, and endorsed by Pitbull.
Voli (aka Voli Black) has a hyper-modern profile from start to finish. On the nose, it offers substantial sweetness, with caramel notes and a bit of citrus. The body is as sweet as you would expect, offering overtones of marshmallow, sweetened coconut, and vanilla. There’s none of the citrus hinted at from the nose on the palate, but the finish wraps things up with some baking spice and more brown sugar.
Two more white spirits from Minnesota-based Far North Spirits, both sporting the company’s exotic Nordic naming scheme. Thoughts follow.
Far North Spirits Syva Vodka – Distilled from rye. Immediately odd nose, with heavy, malty grain notes, some hospital notes, and a nutty, almond character that seems to come out of nowhere. On the palate, the hospital character wins out, but the body has a kind of fruit-driven sweetness to it that mutes what might otherwise offer a fresh and bracing character. Instead, Syva ultimately comes across more like a confused white whiskey instead of a clean and fresh vodka. 90 proof. C / $30
Far North Spirits Gustaf Navy Strength Gin – This is not merely a stronger version of Solveig, but is a different style of gin, particularly a higher-proof London Dry style gin. Distilled from rye, botanicals include Meyer lemon peel, grains of paradise, fennel, cucumber, and meadowsweet (among others). It’s more newfangled than the London Dry moniker would indicate, offering a nose that runs to citrus, some marshmallow, and fennel evident. The body has very little juniper to speak of, including some initial earthy notes that are backed up by sweet citrus, wintry florals, and a lingering perfume character. The finish is long and aromatic, again not at all London Dry in style but rather far more western. 114 proof. B / $40
You can make vodka out of anything, they say. Potato’s a common base starch. How about the sweet potato, then?
Corbin Vodka, made in Atwater, California, is column distilled from the gold old sweet potato. (Don’t call it a yam!)
The nose is fairly neutral, sharp with a moderately medicinal character, but balanced by some notes of brown butter. Interesting undertones of unripened grapes, perhaps gooseberry. On the palate, it’s got a creamy texture that pairs well with a kick of brown sugar and a little baking spice. Just a hint of citrus up front. The finish is long and warming, dusted with light medicinal notes and a kick of sweetness. Nice way to go out.
In 2012, a new vodka called AnestasiA hit the market, sporting an insanely avant garde bottle and an even more insane liquid inside. Charitably described as a mouth-numbing, menthol-flavored vodka (and not noted on the label as any such thing), the Oregon-produced vodka was derided by critics and, apparently, shunned by drinkers.
AnestasiA went back to the drawing board. They kept the bottle, but they axed the flavoring agents completely. The new AnestasiA is totally unflavored… a complete 180 from the original.
In fact, the new AnestasiA is one of the most “unflavored” spirits I’ve ever had.
AnestasiA 2015 has an extremely mild nose, with almost no discernable scent aside from some basic, simple medicinal notes. On the palate, it offers very light notes of rubbing alcohol, with a slight wash of both vanilla and brown sugar. The finish is clean, if short of bracing. There’s nothing not to like here, but nothing particularly memorable about the composition, either. For some, that’s what makes for a perfect vodka.