Two weeks ago I spent a few hours sniffing around the grand opening of the new Beverages & More in Chandler, seeking the latest trends in vodka.
Figured the California-based wine and spirits behemoth would be on the leading edge of trends in this still red-hot segment.
I was not disappointed. I must have looked like an idiot counting more than 80 different varieties from about 40 producers. I knew that a lot of new vodka makers had come to market the past few years, but didn’t realize the international scope of the trend. BevMo had boutique bottles from New Zealand, Iceland, Italy and other lesser-known vodka nations in addition to the traditional Eastern Bloc and Scandinavian countries like Poland, Russia, Holland and Denmark.
And once you got past the mainstream premium brands like Absolut, Skyy, Finlandia and Stolichnaya, the prices and exotic hook of the different bottles scattered all over the board.
At the high end of the spectrum, fruit-flavored vodkas have been replaced by “fruitinfused,” where the citrus or spice flavorings have been added to the distillation process instead of merely being added at the end to plain vodka. These bottles are far more subtle, interesting and less sweet.
Sipping mandarin-infused Hangar One vodka from California, as an example, is far more fresh, delicious and nuanced than mixing with those fruit-flavored vodkas from Smirnoff. In fact, I wouldn’t mix the Hangar One vodkas with anything. Simply shake with ice and serve straight up. This is the way fruity martinis were made to be enjoyed.
Domestic vodkas, in general, seem to have a larger presence than in the past. Charbay, 267, Yazi, 3 Vodka, Roth and Rain are just a few brands on hand from the good ol’ United States.
Blood orange, green tea, ginger, sake (rice wine), pomegranate, olive, onion and chocolate were just a few unusual flavors I saw during research, and I have to say a “vodka Gibson” sounds pretty good. I plan to pick up a bottle of the 267 olive- and onion-infused vodka for our next cocktail party, and skip the gin and cheesy cocktail onions. I’ll shake the 267 with ice and garnish with blue cheese-stuffed green olives. Nice.
Two other interesting domestics I spotted include Rain’s organic white corn vodka and Sovereign Brands’ 3 Vodka, made gluten-free with the use of soy plants and isolates. I was a little skeptical at first (soy vodka?!), but after chilling some and sampling both mixed and straight up, I’m a believer. It is supremely smooth with a rich mouth-feel. Same goes for the corn-based vodka.
If corn is good enough for one of my other favorite spirits, bourbon, it must work well as a vodka. Again, the vodka is ultra-smooth and sophisticated with added sweet (corn) nuance. Plus, I like its cork top and the fact that it is organic. Now that we’ve gone organic with everything else, you can’t go back.
I’ll admit some of this is just a gimmick, to push the envelope past citron, raspberry and double- and tripledistilled. Once distilled, how do you make something more distilled? It has already evaporated and cooled once.
I’m thinking that a chemist will probably tell you the difference is negligible. But who’s complaining? With more volume and varieties in the marketplace, supply should dictate that prices will fall. Or producers will continue to seek better ingredients and techniques to distinguish themselves on the quality front.
Either way, vodka lovers are the true winners. Think of the money you’ll save on mixers. Cheers.