Typically we’re not big vodka drinkers (though there are a number out there that we enjoy), and we’re especially not big fans of flavored vodka, as most of the usual flavors (birthday cake, anyone?) sound like they were created in a vat in Jersey. However, there are starting to be more and more small batch producers that are making some delicious flavored vodkas using natural aromatic ingredients, either adding them to the distillation or bringing them in later through infusion. Given their quality, we’ve started adding more and more to our bar. So without further ado, here are some flavored vodkas that we actually like (aka they don’t suck ;)).
There’s been a huge explosion of flavored vodkas, partly because there are weird tax breaks for making flavored vodka (go, government!) and partly because cheap booze is more approachable when you heavily flavor it. We’ve talked about the Mud Puddle in the past as a flavored vodka we think is excellent, but now there are number of other flavored vodkas that we’ve started using, courtesy of some of our local and not so local distillers. Here in Seattle, 3 Howls produces a very nice blood orange vodka (sadly they’ve stopped producing the rosemary vodka, which made amazing vodka martinis and gibsons in our opinions). In Portland, we have Wild Roots which makes some excellent infused fruit vodkas. We have the raspberry and the apple-cinnamon. Finally, we received some samples from Silo distillery in Vermont (see our Samples Policy to understand what it means that we’re talking about them). We really like their cucumber and lavender vodkas.
First up, we tasted each spirit on it’s own.
- Nose: Sweet grain and lavender.
- Palate: Sweet grain to start, then clear, clean lavender throughout. Mid-palate has a strong bite of alcohol. Finish is resinous and slightly bitter rather than floral lavender. Very good, true lavender flavor without tasting like you’re drinking perfume or eating soap.
- Nose: Sweet grain and cucumber.
- Palate: Sweet, cool cucumber flesh to start. Mid-palate into the finish is darker, vegetal, and more bitter cucumber, closer to cucumber peel. From mid-palate on, quite bitter.
3 Howls Blood Orange
- Nose: Blood orange peel.
- Palate: Intro is sweet blood orange. Mid-palate into the finish is more orange oil with less of the raspberry flavor of the blood orange. Fairly smooth. Finish has a hint of malt.
Wild Roots Raspberry
- Nose: Concentrated combination of fresh and cooked raspberry, like raspberry jam but brighter and more bramble-y.
- Palate: Concentrated, lightly sweet raspberry fruit at the front. Mid-palate is less sweet, more bramble-y raspberry. Finish has a good acidic bite. Mildly sweet and heavier bodied than the preceding spirits, seems to land somewhere between a flavored vodka and a liqueur.
Wild Roots Apple & Cinnamon
- Nose: Cinnamon, apple, oak, vanilla and malt.
- Palate: Sweet cooked apple to start. Cinnamon, oak and maple on the mid-palate. Finish is tart apple. Good acid balance, though overall sweeter than expected for a vodka and quite a heavy body. Like the raspberry, it isn’t what you’d expect from a vodka, but it is tasty.
For our next trick, of course we are going to make drinks out of some of these. Our first effort turned out to be similar to a Vesper, but with rearranged proportions to play up the blood orange flavor.
King of Sicily
- 1 1/2 oz blood orange vodka
- 1/2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz Carpano Bianco (though any white sweet vermouth would work)
Stir with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a small orange twist (too big of one overpowers the drink).
- Nose: Orange peel, lemon peel, juniper, hint of resinous dried pine needles.
- Palate: True blood orange (orange/raspberry) right on the front. Creamy lemon, juniper and more orange on the mid-palate. Early mid-palate to the finish is lightly sweet. Mid-palate and into the finish is more orange, thyme and other garden herbs, oxidized wine, and dry, resin-y pine. Finish is quite dry. Some bitterness on the very end of the finish and the aftertaste.
Next up, we experimented with the cucumber vodka. Cucumber and mint do well together, so a splash of creme de menthe played nicely. Vegetal grassy notes from cachaca provided some grounding, and lime rounded things out with acidity. Kind of a caipirinha taken a step further.
- 2 oz cucumber vodka
- 1/4 oz cachaca (preferably a grassy one)
- 1/4 oz creme de menthe
- 1/4 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.
- Nose: Cucumber, mint (both fresh and cooked), grass, hay, lime.
- Palate: Mint, cucumber flesh, and lime juice to start. Mid-palate is bitter vegetal cucumber peel, lime acid and hay. Finish is lime pith, more cucumber peel, and vegetal mint with a hint of hay on the finish into the aftertaste.
For lasts, we decided to make a drink with the Wild Roots apple & cinnamon vodka. We thought using it with whiskey would be too easy, so we tried it with many other combinations. Some had promise that we will investigate further (especially combinations with sherry or red vermouth), but we kept running into the issue of the apple flavor getting too muddled. We finally accepted our fate and made something with it that is poised between a manhattan and an old fashioned.
- 1 oz sweet, not very woody whisky (we went with Westland Sherry Cask, but Angel’s Envy Rye would work well. A Demerara rum or sweeter cognac would also work)
- 1 oz apple cinnamon vodka
- 1 dash Angostura
Stir with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
- Nose: Lemon, baked apple, cinnamon and milk chocolate (that last is from the Westland Sherry Cask).
- Palate: Concentrated apple cider acidity along with maple and lemon to start. Clove, cinnamon, baked apple, chocolate and maple on the mid-palate. Finish is oak, lemon peel and spice. Spice is drier rather than sweeter, with earthy, woody notes. Aftertaste is hazelnut.
As you can see, there are delicious, naturally-flavored vodkas these days that can run the gamut between dry and sweet, subtle and strong, and light and heavy. However you like your cocktails, there is probably a flavored vodka out there that can add an interesting twist on your favorite drink, or open up a path to something new. Get thee to a local distillery, and see what they have to offer you.