Review: Koskenkorva Vodka

Koskenkorva vodka hails from Finland, where they’ve been turning a local barley mash into this white spirit since 1953. Only now is the vodka finally available in the U.S. thanks to an import deal with Infinium Spirits.

As vodkas go, Koskenkorva is something of an oddity. I was expecting a bold, Old World style vodka, with a bold medicinality, but was surprised by a big, marshmallow-like character on the nose with notes of banana and some coconut — fruity and sweet to the point where it comes across a bit like a white rum. The palate is a bit more traditional and representative of vodka, lightly astringent but still plenty sweet. The fruity notes are more elusive here — with banana still present but some vague tropical character replacing the coconut — but still in effect, particularly on the finish, which isn’t so much bracing as it is lightly sweet.

The entire package is a bit sugary for my tastes, but it should mix well enough to merit a peek.

80 proof.

B / $25 / koskenkorva.com

Review New Amsterdam Raspberry and Lemon Vodkas

In the last few years, we’ve reviewed (and recommended) a number of New Amsterdam products due to their wide availability, low price point, and general quality (you can find those reviews here, here, here, here, and here). The addition of Raspberry and Lemon flavors to New Amsterdam’s range of flavored vodkas makes sense, and the new products follow recent precedent in both their strengths and weaknesses.

Tasting notes follow. Both are at 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Raspberry Vodka – Sampled straight, New Amsterdam Raspberry Vodka tastes like a hard Jolly Rancher candy. It is exceedingly sweet and sour, with virtually no alcoholic bite at all. With a few sips, the amount of sugar in the product becomes virtually overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend mixing it with tonic or anything that is also sweet. Perhaps seltzer is the best mixer since the bubbles and water would dilute the cloying candy flavor. Anyone looking for genuine raspberry flavor will be disappointed, but taken for what it is (candy-flavored vodka), New Amsterdam’s Raspberry Vodka is enjoyable enough and will probably fill a niche.  B- / $13

New Amsterdam Lemon Vodka – It seems a bit odd for New Amsterdam to offer a Lemon vodka after previously releasing a Citron variety, but the two are different enough that it makes sense. The primary distinction is the level of sweetness, with the Lemon showing even more sugar. The Lemon Vodka does not hide its alcohol as well as the Raspberry and even at 70 proof, it is hot on the nose and the palate. Sampling this vodka blind, I would probably guess I was drinking a full-on Kamikaze. It is sweet and lemony, like a lemon drop, leaving behind a citric acid burn. Like the Raspberry, the Lemon would also go well with an unsweetened mixer, like seltzer, but New Amsterdam suggests mixing it with iced tea, and I think they are on to something with that idea. Unsweetened iced tea takes some of the alcoholic bite out of the vodka while the sweetness of the vodka seems appropriate to my expectations of sweetened lemon tea. B- / $13

newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Twisted Path Vodka, Gins, and Rums

Twisted Path Distillery can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it’s been making organic spirits “entirely from scratch” since 2014. The company is churning out a growing line of products from what appears to be a hybrid pot still — again, all certified organic.

We tasted five. Thoughts follow.

Twisted Path Vodka – Grainy on the nose, more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka (though Twisted Path is rather proud of its residual character). Aromatic overtones of burlap and hazelnut shells lead to a palate that is largely in line with what’s come before, though a sweetness emerges in time to give the whole affair a finish that isn’t unlike that of peanut butter. Strange, to be sure. 80 proof. Batch #23. B / $35

Twisted Path Gin – Twisted Path’s vodka, at 100 proof, is infused with “11 organic botanicals including honeybush, cinnamon, and vapor-infused hops.” And yet, all of that doesn’t do much to push the character of the underlying vodka base out of the picture — rustic grains and more of those nut husk notes, which percolate through some lighter secondary notes of pink peppercorns, hints of rosemary, a bit of baking spice, and a final punch that hints at coffee bean. Not a traditional gin by any stretch — with, again, more in common with white whiskey than anything else. 92 proof. Batch #19. B / $35

Twisted Path White Rum – This “slow distilled” rum is a curiosity that steps away from Caribbean styles, folding together that classic white rum funk with some subtler and more refined notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel — none of which you typically see in a rum that hasn’t seen any barrel time. At the same time, its rustic underpinnings are tough to ignore. The finish sees ample petrol notes pushing through and lingering on the tongue. 90 proof. Batch #9. B / $35

Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin – Batch #1 of Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin was rested in a once-used, 53-gallon charred American Oak Barrel that previously housed TP’s Dark Rum (see below). Says the company: “This barrel was originally intended for a batch of whiskey but every once in a while we will utilize a raw cask for rum aging. That batch of rum sat for a little over a year and once removed, we filled it with our 11 botanical gin at around 112 proof.  We entered the barrel at slightly lower proof to prevent the rum cask from becoming too dominant.  The gin sat for almost 8 months before bottling.” It’s got a light amber color to it that proves it spent a decent amount of time in oak. That said, there’s no getting away from that grainy, white whiskey-like nose, though the palate finds the botanical bill filtered through caramel into a curious blend of licorice, molasses, and cloves. This is a more interesting spirit than the unaged gin, with a lot going on in it, featuring a sultry finish that is surprising and unique in this space. 92 proof. Batch #1. B+ / $NA

Twisted Path Dark Rum – Here the white rum is aged in whiskey barrels, for an indeterminate time. Designed as a sipping rum, this is the most successful spirit in the lineup. The whiskey barrel aging gives the rum a rounded character not present in the white rum, infusing notes of coffee bean, sweet licorice, nutmeg, and a hint of gunpowder. It’s that licorice that endures the longest — a sweet but unique candy character that hangs on to the finish seemingly forever. I find it enchanting. 90 proof. Batch #19. A- / $38

twistedpathdistillery.com

Review: Tito’s Handmade Vodka (2017)

We last reviewed Tito’s Vodka a full ten years ago — when Tito’s didn’t have anywhere near the mindshare that it does today. This was before Tito’s showed up on every cocktail menu. Before the company got sued over the use of “handmade” on its label, the plaintiff arguing that TIto’s is just as industrial as everything else on the liquor aisle.

Well, as it’s been a whopping ten years, we figured a fresh look was in order. Sadly, I’ve no vintage Tito’s (to which I famously gave an A+ rating back in the day) to use for comparison, so consider these notes on this essential vodka — still pot-distilled from a corn mash — all fresh and unfiltered.

Today, the nose is a bit sweeter than I recall, showing some marshmallow notes and a slightly floral character, with overtones of chamomile. The palate is a bit more traditionally medicinal and Old World in style, with a touch of rubbery hospital character followed by hints of lemon peel, grapefruit peel, and powdered ginger. The finish is clean, but sharp on the tongue.

Given the current state of premium vodka and its evolution over the last 10 years, it’s hard to say that Tito’s is still an exemplary vodka worthy of that A+, but it’s still hard to ignore the killer price tag. All told, it’s definitely one to keep on the shelf at home.

80 proof.

A- / $20 / titos-vodka.com

Review: Seagram’s Juicy Watermelon Vodka

As summer wanes here in the Northeast, and local watermelon is long gone, a watermelon vodka represents a little bit of summer year round.  One sip of watermelon vodka and you are transported to sun, surf, and summer in a single sip.

Introduced earlier this year, Seagram’s watermelon vodka certainly fits the bill as a vessel for transporting you from the chilly winter to warm thoughts of summer. Upon opening the bottle, the watermelon aroma is not overpowering but is just right. A neat shot of the Seagram’s starts sweet and is quite fiery, but a bit bitter in the finish, which diminishes the watermelon flavor slightly. A nice fruity aftertaste emerges once the burn fades away.

The real joy of this vodka is as a mixer.  Add this vodka to lemonade or iced tea and you have a refreshing summer cocktail. It can also be added to a nice fruity beer like a summer shandy to make an excellent beer cocktail.  Basil pairs nicely with watermelon, so a little basil muddled in the bottom of the glass with lemonade makes a great cocktail that can’t be beaten on a hot summer day (see recipe below). All in all, this vodka is an excellent addition to anyone’s liquor cabinet whether it’s winter or summer.

70 proof.

A- / $11 / seagramsvodka.com

And a recipe…

Pesto Punch
5 oz lemonade
2 oz watermelon vodka
2 basil leaves

Muddle the basil into the bottom of the glass.  Fill glass with ice.  Shake the lemonade and the vodka together and pour over ice and enjoy.

Review: Our/Detroit Vodka Infusions

Flavored vodkas off the shelf are full of God-knows-what. So why not make your own flavored vodka at home?

That’s the ambitious idea behind the Our/Vodka crew and the four flavor-them-at-home expressions that the Detroit-based distillery has released. The idea is simple: The company provides a half bottle of 80-proof vodka that started from a Canada-distilled corn alcohol base and is redistilled in Detroit (note this is a different base spirit than the 70-proof Our/Berlin vodka reviewed previously), a tea bag, and a package of spices. You put the spices in the tea bag, the tea bag in the bottle, and wait. While this is more difficult than it sounds (getting the bag in and out of the neck of the bottle without making a huge mess is tricky at first), the process is straightforward.

Four different versions of the product have been created. Our/Tea and Our/Citrus are designed to quickly (in less than 15 minutes) turn straight vodka into a lightly flavored vodka. Our/Gin Spices and Our/Oak are intended to steep for up to 15 hours. These two produce spirits with deeper flavors and considerably more color.

We got to play with all four expressions. Let’s see how they turned out!

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Tea Infusion – An infusion of black tea and bergamot; set infusion time of 8 to 15 minutes (actual steeping time: 12 minutes). This infusion offers clear black tea aromas from the get-go, with a considerable savory overtone of thyme. The palate is sharp and more alcohol-forward than I’d like, but the tea comes through clearly, here with some modest citrus notes driven by the bergamot — though here they come across particularly as orange peel and Meyer lemon. While it’s fun on its own, the citrus notes make it more versatile than you’d expect; I’d happily use this as a mixer for cocktails in lieu of a traditional citrus-flavored vodka. B+

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Citrus Infusion – This one includes white tea, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, and lemon flavors, with an 8 to 15 minute infusion recommendation; I also infused it for about 12 minutes. The lemongrass is strong with this one, particularly on the sharp nose, which offers both lemon peel and a sharper herbal component. On the palate the grassy, herbal elements tend to dominate, muscling the fruit out of the picture a bit. While there’s plenty to like here, the finish is on the tannic side, gripping a bit at the back of the throat. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Gin Spices Infusion – Lots of gin spices here, as promised: juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, and ginger. 8 to 15 hours of infusion are specified; I went with 12 hours. This is a bit more bitter than a typical dry gin, with perhaps more coriander than I’d like on the nose. The palate is a bit woody, with some vaguely herbal notes following. Oddly, there’s not enough juniper here, nor enough citrus, to work as a legit gin, but it does at least get halfway there. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Oak Infusion – This infusion includes toasted oak chips, vanilla bean powder, and saffron powder, with an 8 to 15 hour infusion time. I went with 12 hours — after which the infusion bag had soaked up so much liquid I couldn’t get it out of the bottle. This is meant to resemble whiskey of a sort, but the nose is all lumberyard and sawdust, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The palate doubles down on the wood, to the point where it tastes like furniture polish over whiskey. The finish is dusty and pungent with overtones of something approaching lighter fluid. An utter disaster. F

each $17 (375ml) / ourvodka.com

Review: Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple

It’s finally summer, and the temperature is rising. Luckily, Stoli came prepared for the sun and heat, offering a new flavored vodka beverage that boasts of “Real Fruit Juice” (along with “Natural Flavors and Certified Colors”). Stoli Crushed (at launch) comes in two flavors that are well suited to summertime: Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple. Both recommend that they be enjoyed over ice or with a splash of club soda. Because they are already cocktails of a sort (a mix of vodka, juice, and flavoring), it makes sense to simply add bubbles or water.

Note that small print on the back of the bottles reads “Shake well before drinking.” This is good advice. Shake the bottle before serving or you will pour mostly vodka at the beginning of the bottle and mostly juice at the end.

Both are 60 proof. Thoughts follow.

Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the citrus flavor of real red grapefruit comes through in this beverage. I feared it would be overly sweet, but it isn’t. Rather, it is refreshing and dangerously easy to drink on a hot day. It isn’t as good as mixing Stoli vodka with freshly squeezed fruit juice, but Stoli Crushed is an ideal summer beverage for those who seek convenience and enjoy the flavor of red grapefruit juice mixed with a quality grain vodka. B / $18

Stoli Crushed Pineapple – Stoli Crushed Pineapple is also not too sweet and presents the fruit flavor of pineapple, but it lacks the acidic zing and some of the fruity sweetness of real pineapple. For this reason, it isn’t quite as good as the Ruby Red Grapefruit. On the other hand, the fact that it isn’t cloyingly sweet makes Stoli Crushed Pineapple easy to drink. Over ice with a straw, I found it to be refreshing on a hot summer day, and my glass disappeared very, very quickly. B- / $18

stoli.com

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