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

Review: West 32 Soju

Soju is a classic rendition of a lower-alcohol neutral spirit that originated in Korea. It is reportedly the #1 selling spirit in the world. Therefore, it goes to reason that some New Yorkers got it in their head that they should make it too.

West 32 Soju is indeed made in New York, distilled from corn and bottled without artificial flavoring, which is said to be common overseas. (Cane sugar is added for sweetness.) No other production information is provided, but it’s safe to assume this is column-distilled several times to remove impurities.

Clearly someone here knows at least a bit about what they’re doing. The nose is fragrant and lightly sweet, offering aromas of fresh plums, orange blossoms, and white flowers — all simple and gentle, unassuming in every way. As expected, the palate is also exceptionally soft — 20% alcohol will do that to a spirit — though as the finish approaches, a bit of popcorn character, driven by the corn mashbill, finally bubbles up. It’s gentle enough that it doesn’t offend in the way some overblown white whiskeys can (that sugar helps, of course), which is particularly helpful since, stateside anyway, soju is made for mixing.

40 proof.

B+ / $15 (375ml) / west32soju.com

Review: Ciroc Mango Vodka

Ciroc, the P. Diddy-endorsed vodka distilled in France from brandy, is out with its latest flavor: Mango, which is “infused with mango and other natural flavors.”

This vodka is well-sweetened but not unpleasant, with aromas the run more toward peach than mango, but which, on the palate, offers a melange of mixed tropical flavor that would go well in just about anything one might sip on in Hawaii. The finish is where you at least get a hint of the actual vodka, a very minor medicinal character that endures briefly as it attempts to muscle out the sweet and fruity notes, with only middling success.

Mix away with this one!

70 proof.

B+ / $28 / ciroc.com

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

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