Vodka Just Gets Stranger
One of the best aspects of my day job selling wine and liquor, besides making research for this column a little easier, is getting to try new products before the public does.
Some new spirits are genuinely exciting. Some are creative. And then there’s the strangely flavored vodka of the month. As I write this, I am looking at the material for Three Olives Coconut Water Vodka featuring Elvis Presley on the label.
Just when I think there’s no new way to flavor a vodka, someone smarter than I comes along to prove me wrong. The inspiration for this article was the release of UV Vodka’s newest flavor — Sriracha.
My first thought was, “This will either be brilliant or terrible.” But truth fell somewhere in the middle. Considering the popularity of the spicy Asian sauce, the idea was certainly brilliant. As to the flavor itself, it’s not quite brilliant, but it’s far from a train wreck. The vodka smells way hotter than it tastes, but it does have a distinct pepper note. This makes a nice Bloody Mary.
One of the first crazy vodka flavors to hit the market was Bakon Vodka. It certainly tests the notion that bacon makes everything better. This too makes a wonderful Bloody Mary but, like many crazy vodka flavors, it doesn’t seem to blend well with most mixers.
There has been a rash of dessert and candy-themed flavored vodkas to hit the market over the past few years. Like Bakon, they can often present some interesting challenges to use in a cocktail. Most people seem content to use them for shots and let the sugary sweet flavors conceal the vodka burn.
Pearl Vodka jumped into this category with both feet and a handful of apple pie. Their Apple Pie Vodka tastes as American as its namesake and seems best on its own or cut slightly with soda water. Pearl suggests Red Bull as a mix.
Vodka 360 has also introduced several crazy flavors. It uses organic grain to make the base and then flavor the resulting spirit — and its strangest flavor is a tie between “Buttered Popcorn” and “Glazed Doughnut.” I have sampled both, and only the latter was drinkable.
Without a doubt, the greatest success story in the “dessert” vodka category is UV’s Cake.
If you’ve ever purchased a vanilla birthday cake from the grocery store, UV Cake is that flavor in vodka form, complete with the teeth-rattling, sweet icing flavor.
This makes a fun birthday shot (UV even makes special shot glasses that resemble cupcake wrappers), or it can be mixed with cola or ginger ale for those who want to sip their drinks.
The last category of curious vodkas is the herbal flavors. These lend themselves to slightly more complicated cocktails. Herbs are the base for many other spirits, and their flavors tend to blend well without unduly dominating a drink. Absolut has just released a cilantro and lime-flavored vodka that has proven to be very versatile with citrus mixers as well as Bloody Mary mix.
Absolut also has a series of limited edition “city” releases, and the current Chicago release is an intriguing blend of rosemary, thyme and olive flavoring. It makes a fine vodka martini.
Zubrowka’s Bison Grass flavored vodka has subtle depth and complexity, and has a long history dating back centuries. Mixologists love to play with this as a base for more complex drinks, and this is worth the effort to track it down.