Too Many Flavors Of Vodka

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 08, 2006
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So you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself because you can now manage to navigate the supermarket wine aisles, not being intimidated by hundreds of confusing labels. Congratulations. You know the difference between Chablis and Shiraz, and you realize that an appellation is not, in fact, a world-famous American mountain range.

So, now let’s head over to the liquor section. Vodka - want to choose one?

Me neither. In an astonishing growth spurt, flavored vodka now represents more than 20 percent of the premium vodka market, translating into hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.

For example, Pearl Vodka’s pomegranate-flavored vodka, POM, was practically unheard of four years ago and now generates almost $100 million a year.

There are more than 40 different flavors of citrus-infused vodka and 32 different variations of orange, America’s favorite flavor. Vodka now comes flavored with everything from celery to chocolate, mango fusion to melon. You can even have a green tea vodka or a vodka-flavored chardonnay.

Those of you who know me well are aware by now that I’m a bit of a spirit purist. I have never been a proponent of flavored malt beverages, or alcohol-infused drinks that taste like popsicles, because I think that part of learning to drink responsibly is learning how alcohol tastes without the addition of a ton of sugar and artificial additives. But that’s just me, and the explosion of vodka sales around the world shows that I’m in the boring minority.

Warren Shon, vice president of Southern Wines and Spirits in Hawaii, says that a couple of things have contributed to the phenomenal rise in flavored vodka sales.

“Partly it’s just a question of looking cool,” he says. “The martini craze is upon us, and it is very fashionable to be seen with a martini glass and a bartender’s signature cocktail.”

Part of the reason for the rise locally, too, he says, is the fact that many hotels and bars in Hawaii are developing great beverage programs, with mixologists working as consultants - Dale De Groff at the Halekulani and Francesco Lafranconi at Pearl to name but two.

But does any of this help you buy a bottle or two to take home for your holiday party, or help you decide which bottle to gift for Christmas? I think not.

So, on your behalf, I tasted an ocean of vodka recently and here are some thoughts.

X Rated Fusion. Without a doubt, this is my favorite, possibly because it’s a unique blend of an extremely high quality, premium French vodka with the delicious infusion of blood oranges from Provence. I didn’t know during a blind tasting what this was, but was immediately impressed by the incredibly smooth finish and wonderful fresh-fruit aromas. The vodka itself is distilled seven times and made from wheat and roseberry grain, and is 100 percent organic. It tastes about as pure as anything on the market in its natural state, but the fruit fusion takes this flavored vodka over the top.

And the great thing here? To concoct the perfect cocktail, all you have to do is add ice.

Maui Ocean Vodka. There are a number of reasons you should ask for this on your Christmas list, not least the fact that it’s made with water from our own glorious ocean.

Maui Ocean was launched earlier this year and has enjoyed tremendous success. Although it’s not flavored (yet), it is a terrific example of a perfectly distilled, pure, smooth vodka. The desalinated water (drawn from 3,000 feet below the Pacific) is blended with organic rye and corn and then distilled in Idaho. The result is a stunningly smooth, slightly sweet spirit that should continue to take the market by storm.

Wasabe Vodka Blended With Sake. Why did I pick this? Well, it’s different. And how much orange-flavored vodka can a person drink? A collaboration between Dutch vodka distillers and Japanese sake makers, the two come together to create a curious blend of vodka/sake with a slight hint of wasabi. It’s smooth enough, and certainly the ingredients to make a good cocktail are within the bottle. The packaging is very clever too, with a hint of green suggesting warm wasabe flavors hidden within. Certainly as an accompaniment to sushi, Wasabe is more than adequate, but I think if you’re a sake or vodka purist you’ll just wonder why this collaboration happened.

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