Vodka Flavors Gone Wild

I will admit that I can have a snobby attitude about some vodkas, particularly the strange new flavored ones that have appeared in the stores recently, going way beyond fruit flavors to marshmallow or whipped cream vodkas! These flavored vodkas have begun to outsell nearly everything in the liquor stores, so it seems appropriate to at least give them a try.

van gogh pbj, three olives smores, three olives loopy vodkas

I tried three flavors of vodkas: Van Gogh PB&J (peanut butter and jelly), Three Olives S’mores, and Three Olives Loopy (Fruit Loops). Three Olives brand is about $20 a bottle retail, and Van Gogh is priced slightly higher. At first whiff, every single one of these smells exactly as the labels suggest they would. I made some simple cocktails with them, some recommended by the manufacturers. From left to right, these are pictured below:

S’mores Cocktail

  • 2 oz Three Olives S’mores Vodka
  • 1 oz half and half
  • 3 drops Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Bitters

PB&J Cocktail

  • 1 oz Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
  • 1 oz grape juice
  • grape garnish

BOC (“Breakfast or Champions” or “Bowl of Cereal”?)

  • 1 oz Three Olives Loopy Vodka
  • 2 oz milk

van gogh pbj, three olives smores, three olives loopy vodkas cocktails

This was an interesting experience, and the flavors were surprisingly accurate. Loopy in particular tasted so much like a boozy version of  it’s cereal brother, it was scary. I think that S’mores would be the most flexible permanent addition to a home bar as it could be used in White Russians and other cocktails featuring coffee or chocolate. The flavor of S’mores was also the most subtle of the three.

This is certainly one of those “you’ve got to try this” experiences, and the fact that these exist and sell well is a commentary on the state of modern alcohol consumption, though I’m not sure what to make of it or what to conclude.

All three of these vodkas had very interesting flavors and there’s room for creativity in how to use these flavors in cocktails, but I imagine these will mostly be consumed with a very simple mixer, like “PB&J and Soda,” or “S’mores and Coke,” or something like that.

Pink Pigeon Rum

pink pigeon rum

Let your mind wander toward Africa…..then go east a little bit to the island of Madagascar (home of the famous animated zoo animals), then think east again a few hundred miles to Mauritius. That’s where Pink Pigeon Rum comes from, named for the rare bird from that same island.

Local sugar cane and Madagascar vanilla beans are used to distill it, so the rum has a very pronounced vanilla scent and flavor. It’s somewhere between a white rum and a spiced rum as it’s not too mild or too spiced.

The bottle is pitch black with white and pink trim, so I was curious if the rum itself would be pink when I poured it. It’s not – it’s a light amber color, and when sipped straight, it’s got a good vanilla scent but doesn’t have the lingering sweetness I usually associate with rum. It has a strong, good bite at the finish.

I started working on ideas for a cocktail that would work with this special rum. The distiller says Pink Pigeon will work great in traditional rum drinks like daiquiris or mojitos, but I ended up creating an orange-and-cream cocktail instead:

pink pigeon rum creamsicle cocktail

Pink Pigeon Creamsicle (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 1/2 oz Pink Pigeon rum
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz triple sec (orange liqueur)
  • 1/2 oz half-and-half
  • Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a 1/4 orange wheel.

Pink Pigeon is a great rum and makes some outstanding drinks. It’s about $35 a bottle and it has the flavor and smoothness of other spirits in that price range. It’s very tasty, not too sweet, and is a really unique.

Don Quixote Bourbon and Gin

“Clear alcohol is for rich women on diets.” ~Ron Swanson

Don Quixote Distillery in Los Alamos is one of only 3 distilleries in New Mexico right now (Santa Fe and KGB are the others).  Don Quixote makes 5 spirits, some ports, several wines, and even vanilla extract.

Don Quixote Bourbon

Don Quixote Blue Corn bourbon is “the world’s only bourbon made from New Mexico blue corn” and there’s no other way to say this: it’s outstanding.  I prefer gin most of the time and generally don’t like whiskey much, but this is by far the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  The sourness I usually dislike in whiskey (is it the “malt”?) isn’t there, and when you swallow, it’s cool and fresh tasting with very little alcohol burn.  This bourbon is smooth and sweet and I’m not going to use it in cocktails because it tastes too good on its own.  This will be perfect in a frozen glass with just an orange peel in it.

Don Quixote Spirit de Santa Fe Gin

Don Quixote Distillery also makes two types of gin, and I tried the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, with “natural botancials; including juniper, pinion, chamisa, sage, and rose hips.”

This gin surprised me.  It’s extremely aromatic, and has a unique “desert” quality to the flavor, I think maybe the sage stands out the most.  The issue I had with this gin was the fact that the alcohol overpowers the initial flavor of it, only to be followed by a big aromatic, botanical finish.  This really prevents it from being good for sipping straight, as it’s just not smooth enough, so I tried it in some cocktails.

A Gin Old Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks, so I mixed the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin with simple syrup, aromatic and orange bitters, a splash of club soda, and an orange and cherry garnish.  This is a cocktail where the aromatics of the bitters and fruit tend to be the first thing that hits you, but not with this gin – that aromatic-desert-pungency remains the primary smell and flavor, just like when you drink the gin straight.

I finally got the idea to try this gin as a substitute for tequila in a margarita, and because of that aromatic-desert-pungency, that combination worked pretty well.

Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon is available for $30 at the Don Quixote Store online, or you can buy it at the distillery in Los Alamos.  The gin is sold in half or full bottles for $20 and $30 and it’s certainly something to try because of its unique flavor, though it may not be for everyone.

Don Quixote Distillery and Winery

Genever: “Dutch Courage”

boomsma genever

Genever (or jenever), pronounced “YUH-nee-vur,” has it’s roots in the Dutch word for juniper, as that’s the primary botanical in it, similar to gin. Genever is the most popular spirit in the Netherlands. There are a few brands of genever available in the U.S.: Bols and Boomsma, and American-made “genever-style” Genevieve, but only one is currently distributed to New Mexico, and that’s Boomsma.

There are two types of Boomsma Genever, jonge and oude, and they’re very different from each other. Wikipedia summarizes it great: “Jonge genever has a neutral taste, like vodka, with a slight aroma of juniper. Oude genever has a smoother, very aromatic taste with malty flavours. Oude genever is sometimes aged in wood; its malty, woody and smoky flavours lend a resemblance to whiskey.”

I made the mistake of expecting genever to be like gin when I first opened the bottles. Like it says, there is a light aroma of juniper to the jonge genever, which I smelled when I first opened the bottle, but that was it. After tasting the jonge genever, it was very much like vodka, with a very faint hint of herbs. The oude tasted a lot like American whiskey, which was frankly pretty alarming for me as I’m normally not a fan of American whiskeys.

boomsma genever

Once I got over the fact that I was not dealing with gin (it took me 2 days), I made a Holland Martini with the jonge genever. It was really good, and unique enough that I’d recommend it as a herbal alternative to a vodka martini:

  • 2 oz jonge genever
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • olive garnish
  • stir, strain into a cocktail glass

I also found a recipe to use the oude genever in the Holland Razor Blade:

  • 2 oz oude genever
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • shake, strain into a cocktail glass
  • sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper over the top
holland razor blade cocktail

Surprisingly, the Holland Razor Blade was good and very easy to drink.  I didn’t like the taste of oude genever straight, but it worked really well in a cocktail, just like the jonge.

I would ultimately describe genever as a botanical/interesting alternative to vodka and whiskey, but not much of a gin alternative. As a bartender, genever is a great tool for some variety in your cocktails. As a gin lover, the jonge will give you an occasional alternate flavor to London Dry, but will not ultimately replace your Tanqueray.

Boomsma Oude and Jonge can both be found in Albuquerque at Jubilation Wine & Spirits.

Thrift Shop Book Score!

thrift shop cocktail books

I got some great cocktail books at the thrift shops today:

What, When, Where, and How to Drink (1955) by Richard L. Williams and David Myers for 25¢ (Amazon).

Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide by Mr. Boston for 25¢ (Amazon).

Tennessee Legend with a Pictorial of Old Bottles and Jugs by Jack Daniel’s Distillery for $1.99 (Amazon).

The Complete Bartender by Robyn M. Feller for $3.99 (newer edition from Amazon).

…and the score of the day: Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1972) by Trader Vic Bergeron for a whopping $3.49! and Amazon are selling it for $30-300.

Don’t forget to look at thrift shops for your old-timey books and glassware.

Santa Fe Spirits Distillery Tour

santa fe spirits sign

I had the pleasure of taking the VIP tour at Santa Fe Spirits in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe Spirits distills unaged Silver Coyote Whiskey, Expedition Vodka, and SF Spirits Apple Brandy.  They have been in business since Spring of 2011 and plans are in currently the works for gin and single malt whiskey, too.  On the day I went, I had the pleasure of meeting everyone: the owner Colin, their distiller Nick, and their all-around good guy Sean.

santa fe spirits distillery

Sean served as my tour guide and showed me the distilling equipment and warehouse.  Everything is distilled at least twice, with the vodka going through 6 cycles of distillation.  Malt is the basis for their whiskey and corn is the basis for their vodka and both are distilled very traditionally.

The first batch of Apple Brandy is sold out there at the distillery (though you may still be able to pick up a bottle at a New Mexico Trader Joe’s) and they were in the midst of aging batch #2.  It’s made in the traditional calvados style and the genesis of it was in Colin’s backyard apple orchard.

santa fe spirits tasting room

I did, however, have the opportunity to try Silver Coyote Whiskey and Expedition Vodka (both are great).  Sean is very knowledgable and between him and SF Spirits’ distiller Nick, I had all the information I could want.  Nick told me about their future plans for distilling gin and gave me tastes of some botanicals for that, too.

It’s important to note that their Silver Coyote Whiskey is unaged, which means it’s a clear whiskey, and very unique.  It tastes like whiskey for sure, but as Sean described it, a whiskey drinker may or may not like it, and folks who usually like clear spirits tend to like it quite a bit.  I agree as it’s the best whiskey I’ve had yet, and I’m a gin lover.

Sean also served me a bit of their barrel-aged Manhattan, which they can serve you when you go to Santa Fe Spirits for cocktails.  Bitters, sweet vermouth, and Silver Coyote in a little mini-barrel makes an outstanding cocktail and I made myself one at home, too, to make sure I was right about how good it was.

All in all, it’s a treat to visit SF Spirits, and the team there is stellar at what they do. I have found their whiskey and brandy at Trader Joe’s in Albuquerque and you can search nearby places to buy their products by clicking here.

Book Review: Gin: A Global History

gin a global history book

I just finished reading Gin: A Global History, which I won from 12 Bottle Bar. David and Leslie run the site over there and since Leslie Solmonson’s the author, she also graciously signed the book before sending it to me.

This is part of the Edible Series on food and drink by Reaktion Books, and the series also has books on wine, rum, whiskey, or even cake, sandwiches, and potatoes. They’re small books, 8″x5″, hardbacks with matching vanilla colored dust covers, each with a simple illustration. They are usually around 150 pages, and they make great coffee table books. The Gin book  has 140 pages of content and 15 pages of recipes and reference.

Gin: A Global History is a good book and the brevity makes it easy to read and enjoy. The illustrations and images are big and colorful, so the text here is to the point. Just like it’s title says, it’s a good, concise global history of gin.

gin a global history book

My favorite part is later in the book when the types of gin are compared and described – London Dry’s juniper-forward flavor in Tanqueray or Beefeater, the more Americanized citrus-forward gins like Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray 10, or the new style craft gins such as Hendrick’s and Aviation. I’ve had trouble figuring out why I don’t like Sapphire, and this section alone helped me get to the bottom of it.

Gin: A Global History is a great book, and if you like gin it’s a must-buy.  Having 10 pages of gin based recipes in the back is a nice bonus, and the first one I’m going to try is the Gin and Tonic Sorbet!

Buy the book here and make sure you visit 12 Bottle Bar.  Their site is very similar to ours in that they aim to make home cocktail making accessible for everyone.

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey

trader joe's single malt irish whiskey

I’m not much of a whiskey guy.  Every time I tried Jack Daniels, I shivered at the taste. My friend is a Jameson fan, and I discovered that Irish whiskey has the smoothness I couldn’t find in its Tennessee brother.  I found a bottle of Single Malt Irish Whiskey at Trader Joe’s (their house brand) to try out for $20.  Jameson was $30 at Trader’s, but I know you can find it for $20 too if you shop around enough.

It’s good – definitely as good as Jameson – on my tongue.  There’s some bite, but it’s very smooth, and there’s a great citrus nose (fancy drinking word) and aftertaste.  I bought this as a “sippin’ whiskey,” so I haven’t bothered to mix it in a cocktail, though I’m likely to try and Old Fashioned and a Manhattan soon.