Category Archives: vodka

Frey Ranch Gin and Vodka

Frey Ranch Distilling, near Reno, Nevada, is a near-200-year-old family farm that began distilling in 2010. One of the few “estate” producers in the U.S., the ranch’s current caretakers Colby and Ashley Frey oversee production of everything in each bottle of Frey Ranch products, including growing and farming all of the grains.

I has an opportunity to taste both their vodka and gin. Frey Ranch Vodka is unique in it’s ingredients, using 4 grains in the distillate: corn, rye, wheat and barley. Its typical of a vodka to use one of these grains, usually corn, sometimes wheat, and only occasionally rye or barley. The end result, then, is an earthy, balanced, fresh and clean-tasting. Frey Ranch Vodka retails for $23.

Frey Ranch Gin is distilled from Frey grain, too, then blended with estate-grown juniper berries and sagebrush with other botanicals sourced from around the world. The Fray’s Gin has a nice bite (it’s 90 proof) and an expected juniper note, with sweet sap and floral notes in the midpalate and a long finish with clove and anise spices. It’s bold enough to hold up in a Gin and Tonic, though delicate enough to make a solid Martini as well. Frey Ranch Gin retails for $35.

Like their vodka, some varieties of the soon-to-be-released Frey Ranch Whiskies will contain all four of these grains in the mashbill, plus their take on ryes, bourbons, and more. Their whiskey products are currently being aged, to be released in the coming years.

There is a real value in controlling all aspects of the production of a spirit, including the moment the seeds are planted for the grains, and the Frey family is working hard to make a solid product that’s both unique and versatile enough to make great classic cocktails, plus the price is hard to beat when you consider the work that’s gone in to it’s production.

For more details on the Frey farm and history of the family, check out my friend Geoff Kleinman’s visit to Frey Ranch at Drink Spirits.

Modern Harvey

modern harvey cocktail - harvey wallbanger for president

Galliano has launched a new campaign to compete tongue-in-cheek with this national election stuff that we seem to be in the midst of. At the Vote 4 Wallbanger site, Harvey promises to “Make America Chill Again,” and we can certainly all get behind that. Here’s a modern twist on the classic Harvey Wallbanger cocktail:

Modern Harvey (pictured)

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Galliano
  • 3 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1/2  oz lemon juice
  • Shake & strain into a old fashioned glass filled with ice
  • Top with 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

harvey wallbanger for president

 Special thanks to our sponsor Galliano L’Autentico

Prince Memorial Cocktails

purple rain prince cocktail

You know, I’ve always found cocktails that memorialize an occasion, or person, to be a bit cheesy and so I rarely partake in “theme” drinking. I found myself in a situation last week when Prince died, that folks who were coming to our already-planned cocktail party that night began asking if I was going to be making any Prince-themed drinks to remember him by.

Drinking and partying in memory of someone who’s passed away is a thing, and people have done it for thousands of years (at least), so I softened to the idea of some themed cocktails, both for the sake of our party guests and because of fun in creating new cocktails! After 3 recipe revisions for each, we got them just right. The first drink we made is the Purple Rain (pictured above).

Purple Rain (by Greg Mays)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 2 oz coconut water
  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz açaí juice
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Next up, we made a riff on a Gin Sour by including some muddled raspberries:

raspberry beret prince cocktail

Raspberry Beret (by Greg Mays)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 5 raspberries
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • muddle the raspberries well, then add:
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • dry shake (no ice), then add ice and shake again to chill
  • double strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice and add 3 raspberries for garnish
  • add 2 drops of Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters on the foam

So there you are: 2 simple cocktails you can drink in memory of The Purple One. Cheers!

Fancy Grasshopper

fancy grasshopper cocktail

Recently, we made one of last century’s most iconic cocktails: the Grasshopper. A low-booze, sweet-as-hell, electric green cocktail that has since inspired cookies and cakes that bear it’s name. When people call a food or drink “Grasshopper,” we know it’ll be chocolate and sweet mint.

As I anticipated making the Grasshopper, though, I was reminded of a seminar I attended at San Antonio Cocktail Conference. I heard that some cool craft cocktail bars are taking over-sweet, 1990s or uncool cocktail recipes and redeeming them. Whether they’re just serving them tongue-in-cheek on their menus, or “upgrading” every ingredient to make them cool again, it’s fun to “craft-ize” some older, yuckier cocktails.

I began to imagine how one could make the bright green Grasshopper cocktail out of edgier, craftier ingredients. I stuck with the chocolate-and-mint flavor profile, of course, but stabilized it a little bit and made it boozier and more complex. Here’s what I came up with:

Fancy Grasshopper (by Greg Mays)

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Brancamenta (a minty amaro)
  • 3/4 oz brown Creme de Cacao
  • 2 dashes of black walnut bitters
  • stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

You end up with a Grasshopper that’s equally tasty, and nice and balanced in it’s flavors, and as you see from the photo, it takes on the color of the chocolate instead of mint green. You’ll discover it’s equally tasty and suitable for St. Patrick’s Day, though. 

Enjoy!

Vodka 360

vodka 360

In the last few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to try out Vodka 360 and their line of flavors at Simple Cocktails, including this episode of the podcast and this cocktail. Billing their vodka as “Eco Friendly” because of the brand’s commitment to recycling and other green behaviors at McCormick Distilling (the distiller of V360), the brand also offers recycling initiatives tied the the bottle’s glass and swing-top cap.

Vodka 360 is available in a plethora of flavors (11 to date) which range from the traditional to the obscure…glazed donut or buttered popcorn, anyone? Mostly, though, their flavors are of the fruit or dessert variety. We tried the original (unflavored) vodka, plus Huckleberry, Sorrento Lemon and Double Chocolate flavors.

The standard Vodka 360 is a good buy for $20, though if your brand loyalty is elsewhere in that price range, there’s nothing particularly new in the flavor of 360. The environmental initiatives, or even the cool swing-top cap, might be what call some to switch.

The biggest thing we noticed about the flavored Vodka 360s is that the flavors are very intense, bold and obvious. I feel like there are two options for a vodka with this much flavor. First, if you intend to use this in place of a flavored vodka in a traditional recipe (like for citrus vodka in a Cosmo), the Lemon V360 alone will overwhelm the drink, so you should mix it 50/50 with standard, non-flavored vodka.

Another option, though, is to use these flavored vodkas them as replacements for liqueurs in cocktail recipes. They’ll be higher-alcohol, but the flavor intensity is about at liqueur level. Like many other flavored vodkas, V360 sweetens their flavored varieties, so it’s going to be fun to swap out Double Chocolate V360 for Creme de Cacao in a recipe, for instance.

There is no limit to the stunts that a vodka company may pull to get their piece of the large market share that vodka holds in the liquor world, but to take a less selfish position, in this case, and environmental one, is notable.

Let me know in the comments what you think of V360!

Kamikaze Cocktail

kamikaze cocktail

We had the opportunity to go to San Antonio for their annual Cocktail Conference recently, and one thing I heard a little bit about in the seminars was “redeeming” cocktails from the 1990s, the over-juiced, over-sweetened decade that just about killed cocktails as we know them.

The Kamikaze is a cocktail/shot that got popular during that Dark Decade and I was excited to recently read 12 Bottle Bar‘s redemptive re-do of the recipe in their book. You see, the usual recipe for the Kamikaze is equal parts vodka, lime juice, and triple sec, which is a little bit like a margarita, but the proportions are off-kilter because the booze ratio is half what it should be. Give this one a try and I think you’ll find it balanced, tart, and refreshing:

Kamikaze (12 Bottle Bar version)

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lime wedge

 

Skyy Vodka

skyy vodka

It’s not often that I find myself surprised by a liquor, particularly by a vodka. Once you’ve tried several dozen, they all taste pretty similar to each other.

It caught me off guard, then, when we opened and tasted Skyy for the first time on a recent podcast episode. A pretty common staple in bars across America, Skyy is a 20-year-old brand in a familiar cobalt blue bottle, distilled in San Jose, California.

From what I can tell, Skyy is distilled from wheat, which contributes to the surprising sweetness of the vodka. I find it to have a smooth, sweet vanilla flavor, and it’s got more flavor character than the usual “odorless, flavorless” vodka I’m used to.

Vodka is a subtle product, more so than anything that I’ve encountered. The varieties of taste are wide, but overall, the differences in flavor are sometimes difficult to tell. It’s also a pretty polarizing product, ignored by craft cocktail enthusiasts in some cases and yet beloved by lots of drinkers everywhere. In the case of Skyy, it’s a moderately priced ($15), good-tasting vodka that you can find from coast to coast and it’s also a vodka that can easily find it’s rightful place in your home bar.

 

Deanne Cocktail

deanne cocktail - absolut

Here’s a tasty cocktail I dug up from Gary Regan’s Bartender’s Bible this week. I keep thinking that I’ve done a cocktail with similar ingredients before (maybe gin-vermouth-triple sec?), but I don’t see one on the Recipes page, so I present the Deanne:

Deanne Cocktail

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1 oz vodka (I used Absolut)
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • fill with ice and stir
  • strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon twist*

lemon twist

* I learned my lemon twist method from Robert Hess. Once you cut your twist with your channel knife, wrap it gently around your bar spoon and tighten it up with a squeeze. This will give it a great curl that will hold up on the glass.

 

Grey Goose Vodka

grey goose and grey goose le melon

Grey Goose fights a tough fight on a regular basis. For something legally defined as tasteless and odorless, there is a wide variety that you find in vodkas. Most people can tell the difference between a “cheap” gas-station vodka and a “premium” vodka, and the manufacturers of both work hard to make their clear substance stand out from the competition.

At $35-40 a bottle, Grey Goose is arguably the most recognizable premium vodka brand. It’s certainly got a great flavor, and with Lisa being my best vodka taster (since she has a better palate for it), Grey Goose is one of her favorites. There’s a natural, subtle sweetness in Grey Goose that comes from the French wheat that’s used in it’s distillate, like a touch of vanilla and almond. You’ll also find it still retains some of the familiar “burn” that you’ve experienced with other vodkas, too.

Le Melon is the newest of the Grey Goose flavors, made from French Cavaillon melons. By the flavor, a cavaillon is a close relative to the cantaloupe, though we found the flavor to be something like a cantaloupe and watermelon mix. Grey Goose’s flavors is something that the company does best – sticking with traditional vodka flavors like citrus and vanilla, and as far as I can tell, taking care not to sweeten these flavors (they remain at 40% abv). They’re quality enough and are perfectly pleasant to sip neat or on the rocks.

Vodka is a polarizing substance in the world of craft cocktails. Heck, Death & Co. released a cocktail book without a single vodka cocktail in it. Regardless of that, there is certainly a place for premium vodkas in the market, and Grey Goose continues to solidify their role with quality products at a reasonable – though premium – price.

We also tasted Grey Goose and Le Melon on the Simple Cocktails Podcast. Click here to listen.

Iceberg Vodka

iceberg vodka

We recently tried Iceberg Vodka on the podcast, and we were really impressed with what we tasted, especially in the flavored versions. Before I was contacted by Iceberg, I’d never heard of this brand before. It’s an affordable vodka ($20 range) with some interesting (though not childish) flavor options.

As with many vodkas, it’s story is a large portion of sales, and Iceberg is no different. It’s a corn-based Canadian vodka which uses water from an iceberg as it’s base liquid (50-60% of vodka is water). Iceberg’s site goes into detail about the iceberg “harvesting process,” plus the rationale behind the purity of an iceberg, it’s been frozen 12,000 years, etc. Ultimately, of course, the flavor of the vodka is more critical to it’s long life than it’s backstory, and Iceberg delivers.

Distilled from sweet Canadian corn, Iceberg is a creamy and sweet vodka (thanks, corn!) with an average amount of vodka burn, and is certainly a vodka you should consider in the $20 price range.

Iceberg Ice Fusion Cucumber has lots of cucumber flavor, is not sweetened at all, and is a refreshing and tasty vodka flavor (I’ve tasted a cucumber vodka here before). Lisa recommended mixing this vodka with mint. I’m curious about how it’ll taste in a Bloody Mary.

Iceberg Ice Fusion Creme Brulee isn’t syrupy, though it is sweetened just a touch. This would be great with a hot drink, from coffee to tea to a hot toddy. It’s easier to drink because of the sugar and it has a nice, natural vanilla/caramel flavor. This was Lisa’s favorite of the bunch.

Iceberg Ice Fusion Chocolate Mint is a wonderfully creative vodka flavor, and in this case, it’s not overly sweet. I preferred this flavor to the Creme Brulee because of the toned down sweetness and more subtle flavors – I’m curious to try it out in a White Russian or Alexander cocktail.

We tasted Iceberg on the Simple Cocktails Podcast, too. Click here to listen.