Review: American Harvest Vodka Specialty (2017)

It’s common for vodka to be sweetened up one way or another, but never will you find that this is actually mentioned on the label.

American Harvest takes a different approach: This spirit mixes agave nectar into the vodka — and they actually tell you about it, right on the label. That’s some refreshing honesty, and I can respect that, even if they do have to call it “vodka specialty” on the bottle because of the disclosed additive.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because American Harvest was launched back in 2011 — we reviewed it at the time — by Sidney Frank. Back then it was called an “organic spirit” and not a “vodka specialty,” but the idea was the same — it was a sweeter spin on vodka. Now the product has changed hands to the Beach Whiskey Company, has changed names and packaging, and has opened the kimono regarding what’s inside.

It’s unclear if the formulation has changed at all, but as of 2017, American Harvest is vodka made from organic winter wheat, organic agave nectar, and Snake River water. Production and bottling takes place in Rigby, Idaho (the same facility as before).

The nose is indistinct, with just a hint of herbal character atop what is mostly medicinal notes and some notes of brown sugar. The body kicks up the sweetness quite a bit, offering a bit of lemon, creme brulee, buttered pecan, and a marshmallow-dusted finish. It’s funny, because when you’re expecting the sweetness, it’s not as off-putting as it can be in vodkas where the sugar isn’t so openly disclosed, swept in under the table when the regulators aren’t paying attention.

While ultimately I don’t have a ton of use for American Harvest in my own bar, I know that sweeter vodkas have their fans and their place in the broader mixology universe. Kudos too to American Harvest for keeping it all organic and making full disclosure on the front label of everything, right down to where the bottle is made.

80 proof.

B / $25 / facebook.com/pg/americanharvestvodka

Review: Black Cow Vodka

Black Cow Vodka is made in England, where the company says it produces “the world’s only Pure Milk Vodka made entirely from the milk of grass-grazed cows and nothing else.” I’m not sure how Vermont White and VDKA 6100 fit in with that claim — as they are both also from milk products — but let’s not get too hung up on firsts.

Looking at specifics, here’s how Black Cow is produced: “The milk is separated into curds and whey. The curds are used to make cheese, the whey is fermented into a beer using a special yeast that converts the milk sugar into alcohol. This milk beer is then distilled and treated to our secret blending process. The vodka is then triple filtered and finished, before being hand bottled. Black Cow is made from the same milk that is used to make dairy farmer Jason Barber’s 1833 cheddar, and our own Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar.”

Well, what then of the spirit?

The nose is earthy, and slightly pungent with notes of dried savory herbs, hay, and — perhaps it’s just my imagination — some sour milk character. The palate follows alongside this, but give it time and things open up with a healthy amount of air. On the tongue, an initially muddy palate eventually finds notes of cinnamon, lemon peel, and chocolate, atop a relatively creamy body. The finish isn’t anything out of the ordinary, though it’s got a hefty amount of bite and some vegetal character that’s hard to shake.

80 proof.

B / $40 / blackcow.co.uk

Review: Three Meadows Spirits Peony Vodka

Based in the Hudson Valley of New York, Three Meadows Spirits is the producer of, to date, a single product: Peony Vodka, a 5x distilled, wheat-based vodka flavored with nine botanicals. Those include geranium, jasmine, white pepper, gardenia, green tea, vanilla, and the namesake of the spirit, tincture of peony. (Yes, that’s seven; the remaining two aren’t disclosed.)

Peony Vodka isn’t a gin, though it’s somewhere in that wheelhouse, landing on the palate between gin and a floral liqueur. The nose is somewhat floral, but primarily it is very sweet, with fresh marshmallow overpowering notes of honeysuckle, vanilla, and modest fruit character. On the palate the sweeter elements dominate, a vanilla custard character segueing to healthy notes of banana, almond, and cinnamon rolls, all of which hang on until the lengthy, lingering finish, where the sweetness endures.

Despite the hefty, sugary profile, it’s not a bad product, clearly made with love and attention to crafting a unique product. That said, the more I sip on it, the less I can figure out how I’d use it in the real world. Most of Peony’s suggested cocktails simply sub it in for straight vodka. Tonic, anyone?

70 proof.

B / $30 / peonyvodka.com

Review: Mulholland Distilling Vodka, Gin, and American Whiskey

Mulholland Distilling is a new operation that bills itself as “The Spirit of L.A.,” though nothing is actually originated in Los Angeles — the white spirits are distilled on contract in Missouri, then proofed down in Downey, California, which is indeed part of Los Angeles County. The whiskey is from Indiana (presumably MGP), with Califorinia water added. In a nutshell, these are contract spirits.

Mulholland at least has some celebrity cred behind it, in the form of Tarantino regular Walton Goggins, the gangly, wide-mouthed star of The Hateful Eight and other flicks. Sure, he doesn’t personally distill the three products reviewed below, but hey, neither does Mulholland.

Mulholland Distilling Vodka – Sweet and marshmallowy on the nose, this is a new world vodka with lots of vanilla, some gingerbread, and caramel corn notes on the palate. The finish sees lingering vanilla sugar notes, sweet and straightforward, though not entirely complex. This vodka is nothing special, but at least it’s priced appropriately. 86 proof. B- / $20

Mulholland Distilling New World Gin – They call it a New World gin, but describe it as a “blend of New World and Old World flavors.” Those flavors include juniper, coriander, angelica, plus French lavender, Japanese cucumber and Persian lime, though the full recipe is not disclosed. Distilled six times, from corn (presumably the same bulk spirit used in the vodka), it is bottled overproof, a smart decision. The gin has a very fruity nose — red berries plus tons of lime, touched with mint and cucumber. The palate is lightly sweet — though not to the degree that the vodka is — and juniper is such an afterthought that the spirit comes across more like a flavored vodka than a gin. Lightly floral but dominated by the lime and cucumber, the finish finds vanilla and a hint of black pepper that catches on the back of the throat. Not a bad companion with tonic. 96 proof. B / $27

Mulholland Distilling American Whiskey – Made from a mash of 94% corn, 4% rye, and 2% malted barley — but not a bourbon, for reasons unstated (likely age, in part). In keeping with the theme, the whiskey is sweet on the nose, with ample corn character, some cinnamon-dusted raisins, and a bit of prune. This is youthful whiskey, and on the palate, the caramel corn notes are quite prominent, lightly spiced with ginger and touched a bit with camphor. The finish is rustic but well-sweetened with maple syrup notes to avoid any medicinal quality from seeping through, approachable even at a full 100 proof. Uncomplicated, it could be worthwhile in cocktails. 100 proof (though the photo indicated 86 proof). B- / $30

mulhollanddistilling.com

Review: New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) and Apple Vodka

New Amsterdam’s latest flavor joins seven existing flavored vodkas, plus of course the straight original expression. We covered the original, Modesto-based New Amsterdam Vodka back in 2012, and given that five years have passed since then, we thought it was time to look at it with fresh eyes (and mouths). As well, we’ve giving New Amsterdam Apple Vodka a go.

Thoughts follow.

New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) – Quite sweet on the nose, with heavy marshmallow notes atop notes of vanilla syrup. The palate fortunately plays the sweetness down, at least at first, with a brisk and acidic attack that brings out a strong, old world, medicinal character, before it becomes awash with candylike sweetness again, lingering on the sticky finish. Ultimately this is mixer material at best. 80 proof. C+

New Amsterdam Apple Vodka – A nose of candied apple is countered by a curious almond and marzipan character, which is enchanting enough from an aromatic perspective. The palate is a different story, though, with notes of cheap applejack and bulk white wine making for a rough-hewn and mouth-puckering experience. Medicinal on the back end, and rather harsh, though some appletini fans may not mind such flavors. 70 proof. C-

both $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Dry Town Vodka and Gin

So the guys that made your cell phone case started their own distillery! Curt and Nancy Richardson were the innovators behind the OtterBox. Recently they started a microdistillery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The distillery is called Old Elk Distillery, and their first products out the door are a vodka and gin, both released under the Dry Town label. (Bourbons and a bourbon cream are coming soon.) Greg Metze, formerly of MGP, is consulting with the company.

We tasted both releases. Thoughts follow.

Dry Town Vodka – This is distilled on site from a four-grain mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Heavily vanilla and marshmallow notes invade the nose, almost chocolaty at time. The palate isn’t much more nuanced, offering more heavily sweetened flavors on the tongue, plus notes of mashed banana, before a rather harsh finish abruptly arrives. 80 proof. C+ / $28

Dry Town Gin – This gin is made with a base of Dry Town Vodka, re-distilled “with 10 fresh botanicals through an 18-hour soak and vapor extraction: Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine [lemon verbena], and sage.” That’s a lot of citrus-focused botanicals, and all of that fruit pairs well with the sweet core provided by the vodka, giving it a nose that mixes fresh lemon and herbs. The higher abv of the gin is also a boon on the palate, which is much more brisk than the vodka, and offers a blend of juniper, lemon, and a smattering of herbal sage and rosemary notes. The balance leans toward the sweet side, but on the whole, this is a much more fully realized — and somewhat unique — expression of gin. 92 proof. B+ / $30

drytown.com

Review: Cadee Distillery Complete Lineup – Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Rye, Deceptivus, and Cascadia

Based on the Isle of Whidbey, north of Seattle, Cadee (Gaelic for “pure”) is operated by a family of Scottish ex-pats with a passion for distilling. The distillery offers a wide range of spirits, from vodka to gin to a selection of whiskeys — clearly the focus here, considering the pride it takes in its oak barrel program.

We tasted, well, everything that Cadee makes. Thoughts on the complete lineup follow.

All bottles are individually numbered.

Cadee Distillery No. 4 Vodka – Distilled four times (hence the name) from unspecified grain. This is a prototypical modern vodka, a little mushroomy on the nose but balanced out with marshmallow-like sweetness that is particularly present on the creamy, versatile body. Hints of lemon and milk chocolate give the vodka some nuance, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and simply sweet vodka with mixing on its mind. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B+ / $29

Cadee Distillery Gin – Juniper-focused, but botanicals are not disclosed. Reportedly made from an 18th century recipe. This London dry style gin is indeed heavily perfumed with evergreen notes and a touch of forest floor funkiness, but the body offers more interest, with those juniper notes slowly fading to reveal a complex array of flavors that include marzipan, lemongrass, and mandarin oranges. It’s those distinct mandarins that linger on the finish for the long haul, giving this gin a particular uniqueness that merits exploration. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $36

Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin – This is a distinct and separate gin expression, “full of character and botanicals, with a subtle citrus focus.” The mandarin notes from the standard gin are stronger here, particularly on the nose, which ride along with grapefruit and banana notes, plus some lime. That lime paints the way to the palate, which continues the heavily citrus (not at all “subtle”) theme, with more grapefruit and lemon notes, along with a healthy grind of black pepper and a touch of mint. For fans of fruit-forward vodka, this is a pretty and aromatic gin worth picking up. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A / $36

Cadee Distillery Bourbon Whiskey – Aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of just eight months, but you could’ve fooled me. This is young whiskey, but it has a depth and maturity that I never see in craft bourbons. While the up-front speaks of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, what follows is a character that would indicate much more seriousness: ample vanilla, chocolate malt, some match-head barrel char, and hints of roasted meats, cloves, and a soothing, rye-like baking spice character on the finish. The up-front, grain-heavy character makes a subtle showing on said finish, alongside some notes of hemp rope and, at the very end, hints of sweet Sauternes wine. Kooky fun. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4. B+ / $43

Cadee Distillery Rye Whiskey – Same aging regimen as the bourbon, but with a rye mash. This one’s not as successful as the bourbon, with much less maturity — which is understandable given that, well, it’s not terribly mature. Sugary cereal plays with some weedy and mushroomy notes on the nose, with a slight undercurrent of lemon peel. On the palate, it’s quite sweet but otherwise similar, with a continued focus on grain and earthier elements. The finish is on the tough side, though a lot of brown sugar sweetness hangs on well after the granary notes fade. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. C+ / $39

Cadee Distillery Deceptivus – This is essentially Cadee’s bourbon, finished (for an unstated amount of time) in first-fill Port barrels. (Real Port from Portugal, not some weird Washington “Port.”) The nose has that telltale winey fruitiness, all plums, prunes, and raisins, with a smattering of Christmas spices behind it, plus a hint of caramel corn. The palate is sweetish without being overblown, fruity without tasting like jam. It’s hard to go wrong with Port finishing, and here the wine and whiskey notes come together to create a dessert-like spirit that balance one another with notes of brown sugar, rum raisin ice cream, cinnamon sticks, roasted almonds, cocoa nibs, and lingering dark chocolate notes. One to pick up, for sure. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $49

Cadee Distillery Cascadia – The Port-finished version of the standard rye. The whiskey has a lovely, pinkish hue to it. Even the Port can’t tamp down the grain here, which is just as cereal-focused as the unfinished version, a bit leaden with notes of hemp and wet earth, plus overtones of menthol. The palate is more of a success, layering in fruit atop the cereal, here showcasing lighter notes of strawberry and grape jelly, some orange oil, and a slightly sour rhubarb edge. Again, the finish is boldly sweet, though not so overpowering as to make one grimace. 87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. B / $50

cadeedistillery.com

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