Having recently reviewed two salted vodkas, how appropriate that next in line was a pepper vodka, albeit of the smoked jalapeño kind, known as chipotle. It’s a sweet and spicy flavor commonly used in Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwest cooking. This vodka, though, comes from the Pacific Northwest, Oregon to be precise.
Starting with water from the Cascade Mountains and using a corn base, each batch of the spirit is distilled and filtered six times, then infused with 38 pounds of slow-smoked jalapeños. Jalapeños aren’t the hottest peppers around, but that’s still a lot of heat.
The heat hits you on the nose first, alongside the smokiness — but there’s a vanilla sweetness in there too, a sweetness you’ll know if you have ever roasted a regular bell pepper till the skin is black and charred. There’s a touch of straw too, the dry smell of a hayfield under the summer sun.
Everything follows through on the palate, and then some. The vodka coats the whole mouth and tongue with the fiery taste of chipotle. Whether you like this or not depends on whether you like that smoky-spicy flavor. It pulls no punches with the smoky heat, and hangs on to some of the sweetness, though the presence of anything resembling straw is totally lost in the hot pepper flavors.
That intensity follows through on the finish, and after one sip, let alone a shot, you’ll know whether you like this vodka or not. Even if you do, it’s probably not a sipping vodka unless you’re happy to alternate sips of water with sips of the spirit. Mixing it with tonic or with orange juice showed its more natural place: in a cocktail. Creative mixologists will love it.
B+ / $20 / cascadestreetdistillery.com