Once upon a time, vodka was popular for being virtually tasteless, delivering all the punch of alcohol without all of that annoying flavor. It was the ultimate blank canvas, melding with pretty much any mixer a bartender could pair it with. As vodka popularity grew in the ‘80s and ‘90s, liquor distillers realized there was money to be made through product extensions, so companies dove in head first. Thus, the tidal wave of flavored vodkas was unleashed.
Flavored vodkas have actually been around for a long time, they've just not been as popular as the straight stuff here in the New World. The first of these were fairly innocuous - based on fairly traditional liqueurs and flavors from vodka producing countries like Russia, Poland and Sweden such as lemon, pepper, black currant, and a few others.
With vodka firmly established as the number one selling spirit in the country, the recent added attention from “Sex and the City” wannabes swilling down Cosmos by the pitcher opened the floodgates for flavored vodkas to be the next big thing. Today, shelves are packed full of some of the most bizarre flavors known to mankind - cilantro and green tea are just the tip of the iceberg. And with bacon vodka hitting the market recently, who knows what could be next? Navigating this minefield can be a brutal exercise in trial and painful error. The following are a few flavors worth trying, assuming you're not too busy making homemade Skittles vodka.
Medos Honey Vodka - Supposedly a traditional Polish drink, this honey flavored vodka ranges anywhere from $17-$40 per bottle and goes down ridiculously smoothly. Or at least as smoothly as 80-proof vodka can. It's a rich gold in the shot glass, with a slightly syrupy texture. It's traditionally warmed and drank straight, but can certainly be iced down in the freezer like any other vodka. It's far less sweet than expected as well, herbal extracts added to the mix that giving it a slightly bitter edge and making it a great ingredient for cocktails. Drop it in a glass of Coke, lemonade, or ginger ale for a tasty spring drink.
Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka - Most lime flavored vodkas are vile concoctions so sweet that the hangover hits you long before you hit the sheets. Luckily, this is one of the exceptions to the rule. Hangar One uses Kaffir limes to flavor the vodka. These Southeast Asian fruits look vaguely like the limes seen in most grocery stores, only smaller, uglier, and they are far more acidic. Only slightly sweet, pepper and basil flavors are mixed in to add some complexity and balance. It doesn't get much better than nights spent relaxing in the backyard with a glass of this mixed with tonic, especially if you're on your second or third.
Ciroc Red Berry - A slightly more familiar approach to flavored vodkas, Ciroc is flavored with raspberries and strawberries. Unlike other berry-flavored vodkas, it actually tastes like the source material, without any of the bitter or metallic edge others usually feature. It also doesn't lose the underlying characteristics Ciroc is known for - a light medicinal tinge that makes it almost gin-like. Luckily, that herbal flavor plays off the berries nicely without tasting like the unholy union of a compost heap and a berry patch.
Black Rock Spirits Bakon Vodka - Dear lord, it really does taste like bacon. Floating over the top of that familiar vodka burn is pure smoked porky goodness. In fact, the bacon flavors are a bit too pronounced to make this vodka to sip straight up, let alone as a shot. However, it begs to be mixed creatively. When paired with the right ingredients, there’s all sorts of fun to be had. Not surprisingly, it makes for what is quite possibly the best Bloody Mary of all time. Better yet, 1.5 ounces of Bakon with a raw oyster and a few dashes of Tabasco just begs to be a remedy for a brutal morning after. For mixed company, a better approach might be to swap the usual vodka in a Mudslide for the pig-laden variety, blending 1 ounce each of Kahlua, Bailey's and Bakon over ice for an incredibly creamy pork-bomb. Just don’t forget to check if any of your guests keep Kosher before you do.