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: 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: 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: 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: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear Vodka

Sorry, Bosc! The latest Skyy vodka flavor is designed to taste like Bartlett pears — Bartletts only!

What does one do with pear vodka? Well, try it in anything where you’d otherwise use apple, for starters. Or check out the cocktails at the end of the post for additional ideas.

Pear-flavored spirits always come across a bit funky to me, and Skyy Pear is no exception. Though lightly sweet with honey and vague pear notes, the nose is a touch medicinal and slightly rubbery. This fades with some time, so consider letting your cocktails air out a bit by pre-mixing without ice before finishing them in the glass.

On the palate, the honey-syrup sweetness endures, the body quite heavy with pear notes, and considerably less tart than an apple vodka would present, with a bit of a caramel character afterimage. There’s still a little hospital funk on the finish — though not as much as the nose might suggest — as here it comes across closer to a character of perfume or white flowers. All told it’s a unique set of flavors — and a set that is distinctly pear-focused.

Overall the finished product is not bad at all, though as you may have already guessed, the versatility of this spirit is likely to be somewhat limited.

70 proof.

B / $15 / skyy.com

A selection of cocktails using Skyy Pear, from Otis Florence…

The Bartlett Bee
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz honey & water 1:1
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear fan.

Tall Order
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
fill with hard dry apple cider

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear slice.

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