Natural, intense, and exotic flavors define the newest infused vodkas.
“The flavored vodka market is oversaturated with bad ideas that sound like they’re designed mostly with ten-year-olds in mind,” says Lance Winters, Master Distiller at St George Spirits.
“If you start looking at drinkers as thinking adults, there’s still plenty of room for inspired new flavors.”
There’s been much talk about the market for flavored vodkas being on the decline, but that’s not the case if you talk to the distillers, most of whom prefer the natural method of infusing their spirits with quality ingredients rather than injecting them with artificial flavors.
Popular vodka flavors like lemon and pepper have been around for decades, if not centuries, but Van Gogh Vodka takes the credit – or the blame – for making the vodka shelves look more like a candy store in recent years.
“Van Gogh revolutionized the flavored vodka category when it introduced the first coffee, chocolate, and açai-blueberry flavored vodkas,” says Tim Vos, Master Distiller at this 130-year-old Dutch distillery.
“Double Espresso is one of our most popular flavors. In fact, 2015 marks the 10-year anniversary since the release of our Espresso and Double Espresso flavors.”
Van Gogh still has a range of 22 flavors, and clearly the market for them shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, their Dutch Caramel Vodka received the highest accolades in the flavored vodka category being given the Chairman’s Award at the 2015 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Svedka, Belvedere, and Absolut are also big players in the flavored vodka biz.
“I think the industry consensus on ‘when enough was enough’ was Ivanabitch’s Tobacco and Menthol flavors of vodka,” says Scott Galbiati, President and CEO of The Northern Maine Distilling Company, makers of Twenty 2 Vodka. “I avoided getting into flavors for five years, but we were constantly bombarded by the question: ‘What flavors do you sell?’ In fact the only question we were asked more was, ‘Do you give tours?’
“However, people are still looking for flavors, and their migration into flavored whiskey is further proof of that. With vodka, I believe there is still substantial consumer demand for honest-to-goodness flavors that offer convenience and quality without a single drop of key-lime-pie-flavored-whipped-cream gimmick.”
Nothing could be further from the whipped cream novelty end of the market than Black Moth Vodka, which uses one of the most expensive ingredients in the world: truffles.
“I make a genuine truffle-flavored vodka using the finest winter truffles, Tuber melanosporum,” says the company’s owner, Paul Amin. “I do not use any artificial flavors in making Black Moth Vodka. What I am seeing in the market are a great number of synthetically-flavored vodkas claiming to be citrus, mandarin etc., which have not been flavored by any real natural ingredients, which I think is a con to the consumer. If you are buying a lemon vodka it should be flavored by lemons and not by a synthetic flavor from a laboratory.
“I cut no corners in making Black Moth Truffle Vodka and the price reflects it. Truffles are one of the most expensive ingredients in the world and I only use the best. Most truffle products like truffle oils, salts, butter are almost all flavored with synthetic truffle flavor. The loop hole in the law is to shave a tiny piece off truffle into it and call it truffle oil!”
“There will always be a market for flavored vodkas,” says Justin Stiefel of Heritage Distilling. “Our palates are migrating towards sweeter and more savory items, and consumers love to experiment. The key, however, is getting back to things that are natural, not artificial. Our line features 22 naturally-flavored vodkas including flavors like lavender, hibiscus, ginger, and huckleberry, as well as some of the more traditional flavors like blueberry, raspberry, and citrus.
“Our flavored vodkas were designed in particular to make it easier for bartenders and home bartenders alike to simplify cocktails. Our number one question by guests in our tasting rooms is ‘What do I do with this?’ We’ve found that the flavored vodkas are very approachable and allow people to take the fear out of making cocktails, specifically for home bartenders. Hibiscus Vodka and Tonic with a lime over ice: simple, easy, and delicious. Our belief for the home bartender is you shouldn’t have to have a Ph.D. to make a great cocktail at home.”
“The Coffee Vodka makes an amazing Colorado Bulldog: Coffee Vodka and Coke over ice. My favorite Peach Vodka cocktail I call the Arnold Daly: Peach Vodka, lemonade, and iced tea. Moscow Mules are hugely popular right now and the Ginger Vodka adds a nice extra ginger kick to those. We call ours a Kickin’ Mule because of the extra little ginger punch the Ginger Vodka gives it, in a good way. We also make a Coconut Mule using our Coconut Vodka with the ginger beer – it’s amazing!”
Scott Galbiati at Twenty 2 Vodka also encourages home bartenders to experiment, by infusing their own vodkas. “In 2010 I launched the world’s first vodka designed for infusing, Twenty 2 High Proof Spirit. That product is the same true micro-distilled vodka as our award-winning 80 proof, just bottled at 160 proof. The 2x traditional vodka strength means infusing fresh local seasonal produce into vibrantly-flavored vodka or liqueurs take hours, compared to weeks with 80 proof. The math to get the product back down to drinking strength is simple.”
So if you’re still enthusiastic for wildly-flavored vodkas, there’s the solution. Try one of the above, venture further afield with flavors that peak your curiosity or make your own.