Category Archives: Vodka

Review: 1ONE Vodka

1one vodka 200x300 Review: 1ONE VodkaIt’s not every day we get a vodka that comes in a single malt-style canister. OK, it’s never when that happens. But let it be known that 1ONE (also known just as ONE) is aiming for luxury (on a budget), mmmkay?

Born in Moldova, 1ONE is 5x distilled from winter wheat and made, per the distillery, according to an old Russian recipe. It’s purified with “birch activated carbon” and platinum filtered before bottling at 80 proof.

Like Moldova’s other spirit, it’s a unique take on the vodka category. Somewhat creamy with a silky, semi-sweet body, there’s lots going on here. The nose is sweet at first blush, but settles down to reveal marshmallow and pie crust notes. Whipped cream is heavy on the palate, with light medicinal notes beneath. Chewy, and quite rich. The finish is long and lasting, powerful with a mix of sweetness and light herbal notes, but pleasant enough.

B+ / $15 / salvetoimports.com

Making Our Own Aquavit with Spiced Spirits

The Zingy 256x300 Making Our Own Aquavit with Spiced SpiritsAquavit is a flavored Scandinavian vodka that has as many variations as there are countries in Europe. Finding aquavit stateside is difficult, though. The few bottlings imported here are mass-produced stuff that is, unfortunately, usually not very good.

Why not make your own, then? Sounds good, but the number of spices required will probably fill a shopping bag — if you can find them — and empty your wallet. And, again, you’ll need to roll the dice when picking a recipe.

Isn’t there an easier way!?

SpicedSpirits.com to the rescue, aquavit fans. This website does one thing and one thing only: It sells bags of pre-mixed spices that you dump into spirits to flavor them. While it offers ale and mead spices, it’s the vodka ones you’re probably looking for. (You can also put them into rum.) At present, eight varieties are available (plus an option to add oak chips). The names range from “The Crazy” to “The Symphonic” — and each offers its own approach to aquavit. (You can learn more about each one on its website.) Total price, $6 to $9 a pack. (Shipping is $3 to anywhere in the world!)

SpicedSpirits sent us three to try out. We followed the instructions — 7 to 14 days of steeping required, depending on the variety you buy — then sampled the resulting concoctions. Thoughts follow, but overall this is a great way to go if you want to experiment with spicing your own vodka at home.

The Sweet – Made with lemon peel, juniper, cinnamon, and “secrets.” Inspired by an Italian recipe. Lovely gingerbread character on this, touched with allspice… plus a hearty dose of juniper underneath it. I could have done with less juniper character (which gives the finish a bitter edge) and more cinnamon and ginger notes, but overall this is a festive and surprisingly sippable beverage. B+ / $8

The Zingy (pictured) – Made with ginger, peppermint, and “22 secrets.” One of those secrets is clearly caraway, which floats to the top of the aquavit and ends up in your first few glasses. (Filter this one for best results.) Not as much depth in this one, but a little mint on the nose and the finish is what earns this product its name. But the primary character here is more akin to licorice, with a slightly weedy finish. A bit more classic stylistically when placed in the aquavit canon. B / $7

The Symphonic – 25 secret herbs and spices, dang! The company calls it “hard to describe,” and that’s somewhat fair. It has light sweetness, some orange notes, and a bit of that licorice note, too. It’s not nearly as sweet as “The Sweet,” but it does offer better balance, with very light bitterness — akin to a very mild amaro — on the finish. Frankly, I’m not one to drink much aquavit, but if I am going to get all Scandi and go to aquatown, well, this is a pretty good one to visit. B+ / $9

spicedspirits.com

Review: Absolut Elyx Vodka

absolut elyx 138x300 Review: Absolut Elyx VodkaAbsolut’s boldest move in years doesn’t have anything to do with vodka that tastes like pickles or cupcakes… it’s Absolute Elyx, a single-estate ultra-premium vodka that’s so special it doesn’t even use the traditional cylindrical bottle design.

Elyx is single estate vodka made exclusively from wheat from Rabelof Castle and water from the distillery’s own well. Absolut says everything involved in the creation of this vodka takes place within a 15 mile radius. The vodka is produced in an antique copper column still and bottled at 84.6 proof.

The results are impressive. The nose is very clean, touched with marshmallow. The body is silky and supple, exceptionally clean with shockingly little bite. No harsh medicinal notes, herbal character, or hints of earth, charcoal, and mushroom here: This is a light-bodied, fresh, and easy vodka. Lightly sweet but not overdone, Elyx offers notes of vanilla, some gingerbread, and sweet cream on the finish. Elyx probably won’t be the knockout that massive vodka fans are expecting (a la Karlsson’s Gold 2008), but I can virtually guarantee that everyone will find it totally agreeable.

A- / $50 / absolut.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Natural Wild Strawberry

SKYY INFUSIONS WILD STRAWBERRY 74x300 Review: Skyy Infusions Natural Wild StrawberryWild strawberries, really?

Flavor #11 from Skyy is indeed made with real, wild strawberries, according to the company, a flavored vodka inspired by one of the most popular cocktail flavorings around. (Skyy says the strawberry is “more complex” than you’d think.)

That may indeed be the case. Skyy Strawberry has a solid fruity nose, and on the tongue it is initially sweet and relatively authentic, though perhaps more akin to a vague “mixed berry” character than I’d prefer. That sweetness fades fast, though, leaving behind a rather burly, somewhat raw alcoholic feel. Unlike many of Skyy’s infusions — arguably the best line of flavored vodkas on the market — this one ends with a fairly rough finish. Better with a mixer, where that finish can be mitigated.

70 proof.

B / $16 / skyy.com

Review: Middle West Spirits OYO Vodka and OYO Whiskey

oyo vodka 200x300 Review: Middle West Spirits OYO Vodka and OYO WhiskeyColumbus, Ohio-based Middle West Spirits produces a variety of vodkas and whiskeys, but these two, pronounced Oh-Why-Oh, are the base products from which everything else is drawn.

Thoughts follow.

OYO Vodka – Made from local red winter wheat, this (purported) 34-times column distilled vodka has lots of character. On the nose, there are lots of caramel and grain notes — making this much more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka — and a minimum of medicinal character. On the tongue the vodka’s roots come out, with a modestly astringent backbone and a warming, grain-forward body. There’s some citrus in there followed by more caramel, coming together to give this vodka a bit of a caramel apple feel in the end. However, a sense of mustiness on the finish, almost like sweat, dulls the overall experience a bit. 80 proof. Kosher. Reviewed: Batch #028. B / $33

OYO Whiskey – 100% Ohio red winter wheat again, this time barreled in white American oak, albeit with no age statement. Lots of young whiskey character here. Huge, fresh grain on the nose, with a bracing citrus undercarriage. The body is equally powerful; lots of young whiskey notes hit you with that rush of grain at first, then things smooth over as the chewy, caramel-flecked body takes hold. There’s a touch of bitter orange in there, and some hazelnut, too. The finish is woodier than you’d think — I suspect smaller barrels are used in the making of this spirit, giving it lots of wood character while leaving the grain at its core intact. But as with many younger whiskeys, balance is something of a problem here, with grains, sugar, and oily wood notes all colliding a bit roughly. Fortunately, the wheat’s smoothness tends to make this more than drinkable in the end. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #013. B / $51 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

middlewestspirits.com

Review: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka and Gin

caledonia spirits 261x300 Review: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka and GinCaledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont primarily markets its products in the Northeast and uses honey in just about everything it makes, from honey mead to vodka and gin. We tasted both those spirits, plus an elderberry cordial from the company. Thoughts follow.

By the by: Mind the beeswax seal on the vodka and gin (they use this stuff in everything!). It’s extremely pungent and can be smelled from a mile away once the plastic wrap is taken off.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka – Made from raw Vermont honey, and it shows. Distinct — but richly earthy — honey notes pervade the nose, a common trait among vodkas distilled from honey. This one’s pungent enough to come across like a flavored vodka, intense with that almost nougaty, caramel flavor. Barr Hill has far too much residual character in it for the most common places where vodka finds itself, but for fans of honey, this may make for an interesting sipper. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #20 reviewed. B / $33 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin – This is overproof Barr Hill Vodka flavored with juniper, and nothing else. That may sound a little simplistic for gin, which typically comprises at least 8 ingredients, and Barr Hill Gin doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It’s unapologetically juniper-forward, but the strong honey character from the vodka provides a lot of balance. The nose is heavy with forest notes, but the herbal body is balanced with moderate sweetness. The finish is big and piney, lacking the citrus and earth notes that the great gins typically offer — but some drinkers may find that advantageous. Not at all hot despite weighing in at 90 proof. Batch #32 reviewed. B / $58 (750ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Elderberry Cordial – Pungent and exceptionally sweet, this cordial (flavored with elderberry, apples, and honey) is intense with notes of prune, lingonberry, and dark, dark fruit. Almost syrupy in consistency, it’s a monstrous cordial that’s clearly designed for the after-dinner drinker who finds Port too daunting. This isn’t at all bad, but the overwhelming fruitiness is just too much for my palate. 14.4% abv. C+ / $35 (375ml)

caledoniaspirits.com

Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and Brandies

harvest spirits farm distillery 300x202 Review: Harvest Spirits Core Vodkas, Liqueurs, and BrandiesHarvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka – Another vodka distilled from New York apples, these grown in the company’s own orchards and triple distilled (leaving only the “core” of the spirit… get it?). Clean on the nose, with a caramel note. Slightly sweet, somewhat nutty on the body, with a surprisingly grain-focused finish. Apple character is evident on the nose, but only in passing, as the spirit opens up in glass. Intriguing and unique. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Harvest Spirits Rare Pear Brandy – Double distilled from Hudson Valley pears and aged for two years in American oak. Wood and pear — always a tricky combination — don’t come together well on the nose, here. It’s got a huge medicinal quality to it, vaguely fruity but knocked around by astringency and pungency, redolent of mothballs. The body is less palatable, more of that mothball character with a hint of pear on the finish. Just not drinkable. 80 proof. D- / $35 (375ml)

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack – Named after a veteran cider presser from the company farm, this apple brandy is rested in oak barrels for an unstated length of time before bottling. On the nose: Apples? Sure, but less present than you think: This is surprisingly far more whiskey-like than any applejack I’ve had. The body backs that up, with clear vanilla notes, wood, and a smooth cocoa finish. In a world where you’d probably never dream of drinking rustic applejack unless it was the last bottle left on the back bar, Cornelius challenges what this spirit can be and proves it belongs on the top shelf. 80 proof. A- / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Harvest Spirits Core Black Raspberry Vodka – A flavored vodka, distilled from apples and black raspberries (both local), with a small amount of black raspberry juice added back in afterward, giving it an impossible (yet natural) pink color. Incredibly fruity nose, a perfect complement to that incredible hue. Unlike the unflavored vodka, it has distinct apple notes underneath that big berry character. The body is immensely sweet (though there’s no added sugar), loaded with that raspberry — almost blackberry — character. Toss in some triple sec and you have an instant Cosmo, sans cranberry juice. 80 proof. B+ / $NA

Harvest Spirits Peach Jack – Not what you think. Fresh peaches are pitted and soaked in Cornelius Applejack, then the mix is strained and aged a second time in oak barrels. There’s a lot going on here, maybe too much. The peach is overwhelming in an old school peach brandy sort of way, and combined with the apples it all gets a bit cloying on the palate. The finish feels authentic, but rough to sip on even at a relatively modest 60 proof. I can see how some folks would be fans, though. C+ / $33

harvestspirits.com [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Absolut Hibiskus Vodka

ABSOLUT HIBISKUS vodka 224x300 Review: Absolut Hibiskus VodkaHibiscus flowers are the improbable Next Big Thing in spirits flavoring, and now Absolut is getting into the business with this new vodka, continuing the succession of equally improbably-spelled liquors.

Absolut Hibiskus is infused not just with hibiscus flower but also with pomegranate, a wise choice that gives this vodka some much-needed sweetness. Absolut’s flavored vodkas, bottled at 80 proof, tend to be a bit burly and rough around the edges, making their flavor components somewhat difficult to perceive well.

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Review: Three Olives “Loopy” Vodka

three olives loopy 102x300 Review: Three Olives Loopy VodkaNot getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.

Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.

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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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