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.

Review: Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit and Golden Apricot Vodka

Seagram’s has just kicked off two new vodka flavors, focused on fruit. Both are based on American grain distilled five times and are naturally flavored.

Both are 70 proof.

Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka – Authentic and sharp on the nose, with bold grapefruit notes. On the palate, there’s candied grapefruit here, with quite a heavy sugar character backing it up. The finish is clean and relatively short, considering the sweetness inside. Probably not a bad choice as the base for a Greyhound or a Sea Breeze, or even to put a spin on a Cape Cod. B

Seagram’s Golden Apricot Flavored Vodka – There’s a vague fruit character here, but unlike the above it’s hard to peg as anything specific. Blind I might have guessed peach, or some kind of mixed citrus flavor. It’s tough to pick out particularly because the level of sweetness is downright overpowering. Amazingly, even all that sugar isn’t able to temper the heavy medicinal character, which claws roughly at the back of the throat. Probably fine if your punch calls for lots of fruit, but otherwise it’s not terribly versatile. C-

each $12 / infiniumspirits.com

Review: Bellion Vodka

bellion

I won’t rehash the science of Bellion — in a nutshell, it includes additives designed to protect your liver from damage related to alcohol consumption — what we turn our attention to is how this vodka, technically “vodka infused with natural flavors” actually tastes.

Results: Foremost, it is sweet, and unbelievably so. Bellion’s secret “functional” ingredient NTX is primarily a licorice extract, and Bellion tastes a lot like what I imagine it would be like to melt down a one-pound bag of black chewable licorice candies and pour them into a glass. Licorice vodka? Well, I happen to be a fan of licorice, and I can’t get too far into a single glass of Bellion. The only character it offers outside of super-sweetened licorice notes is a vague alcoholic astringency, nothing unusual for vodka but little more than a dull distraction in Bellion.

To be fair, Bellion was specifically created for mixing, and honestly I don’t know how anyone will consume it otherwise. Licorice cosmos, I guess?

80 proof.

C- / $30 / bellionvodka.com

Review: Smirnoff Red, White & Berry Vodka

smirnoff-rwb

This limited edition seasonal was technically released for the summer and the Fourth of July, but it fell through the cracks and finally resurfaced here at Drinkhacker HQ. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty still available, even though it’s November.)

This flavored vodka packs three different elements into a single bottle: cherry, citrus, and blue raspberry. That is a damn lot of sweetness packed into one red, white, and blue-clad bottle, and even nosing it can be daunting. Powerfully aromatic with cherry notes foremost, it avoids smelling like cough syrup thanks to the deft and careful application of sugar.

The palate finds both cherry and orange notes the most prominent; they work fairly well together as fruity companions, and the flavors are reasonably authentic, though they veer heavily into the candy-coated world. The finish is lingering and quite sweet, but surprisingly not unpleasant. While it’s hardly the pinnacle of sophistication, I could totally see this working in a cocktail, punch, or even a simple highball with a mixer.

60 proof.

B / $15 / smirnoff.com

Review: Humboldt Distillery Humboldt’s Finest Hemp Vodka

Humboldts Finest April2016

Humboldt’s finest? We’re talking about redwood trees, amirite people? OK then, we’re really talking about cannabis sativa, good old hemp seed, and here’s another entry into the burgeoning market of hemp-flavored (and THC-free, of course) vodka.

There’s no real production info here, except that the vodka includes natural flavors and, oddly, certified color (it is tinted just the barest shade of green).

Many a hemp vodka can be an overbearing, hoary experience, but Humboldt’s is very, very mild. The nose offers notes of lime, lemongrass, and a little white sugar, but is otherwise straightforward. The palate is again quite light, slightly sweet with gentle herbal notes, plus hints of banana, orange peel, chicory, and a lightly earthy, cinnamon-dusted finish. It’s all very innocuous, and not at all bad, though there’s nothing here that even remotely recalls “hemp” in any of its incarnations, should you be looking for that skunky funk to get your Friday night started.

But don’t let that stop you. Humboldt suggests using this spirit as a substitute for gin in your favorite cocktail. That’s a fine idea, but it’s so mild that I’d take it one step further and suggest trying it in place of any old vodka, too.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / humboldtdistillery.com

Review: Blue Ice Creme Brulee Vodka

Blue Ice Creme Brulee

Outside of its “G” line, Blue Ice has just one flavored vodka, and that flavor is… no, not lemon. Not citrus. Creme brulee. Or, as it is listed on the Blue Ice website: Creme burlee. Or, elsewhere, Creme burele.

That is an extremely weird choice for one’s sole flavor, but to be sure, “creme brulee” is shorthand for “vanilla.” (More “natural” flavors are relegated to the Blue Ice “G” line, which has a more organic reputation.) Anyway, if you think about an actual creme brulee while you’re sniffing a glass of Blue Ice Creme Brulee, you really do get a real custard sense in it. It’s not just straight vanilla, but sugary and eggy all at once, complete with that caramelized crust. So, on that note, well done, Blue Ice.

On the palate, sugar dominates, but the flavors continue the theme established by the nose. The more raw elements of the vodka battle with the heavier flavoring elements, but the finish positively pours on the sweetness, sticking to your mouth and, well, anything else that might come into contact with the vodka: This is some sticky, sticky stuff.

Sure, this is hardly a nuanced spirit, and outside of novelty cocktails Blue Ice Creme Brulee doesn’t have a whole lot of utility, but let’s be frank: Once in awhile, everyone’s mom comes to visit. And she’s gonna love it in her coffee.

Now let’s work on that spelling.

60 proof.

B- / $16 / blueicevodka.com

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