It’s hard to say when the flavored booze craze began. Let’s assume it started with age-old Polish vodka bottled with a blade of buffalo grass and go from there. When Absolut Peppar came along centuries later, in 1986, nobody much blinked. Besides, Peppar made a great Bloody Mary.
The next flavored product I recall with any fondness is Grey Goose’s subtle and sippable La Poire. Then, in the late ’90s, California-based Charbay began to play with flavors such as blood orange and green tea—as with GG, using genuine ingredients.
Fast forward to 2013 when flavored vodkas accounted for more than a fifth of all vodka consumption, and confectionery and dessert flavors were the fastest growing sub-segment. I blame it all on Pinnacle, a French brand. Since the launching of the original “Whipped” vodka in 2011, Pinnacle has grown to encompass 39 flavors. Recent introductions include pumpkin pie, and, wait for it, Cinnabon. I actually tasted some of these, first neat and at room temp, then with a cube of ice, and jotted the following notes.
Pinnacle Orange Whipped: Uncannily creamy and orangey on nose, less cloying than imagined on palate—think Dreamsicle; acceptable with a splash of OJ.
Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie: More vanilla than spice on nose, closer to target on palate; don’t see the reason for this—though maybe with ginger beer?
Pinnacle Cinnabon: Sweet frosting on nose, ice brings out more bun-ness—but little cinnamon; a cynical ploy for shelf space.
Effen Cucumber (Dutch): “Real” smelling nose, a very pretty sipper; consider in martini or bloody.
Cîroc Amaretto (French): Synthetic almond and some cherry on nose, but very close to genuine amaretti; could see with fruit juices, bourbon, bubblies…
Time for a palate-cleansing chaser—maybe a shot of the new UV Sriracha vodka.
Metrosexual vodka, tasteless, odorless and colorless, may have been setting itself up to be violated. But bourbon, that bastion of barrel-aged backwoods tradition? Red Stag Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey “infused with natural flavors” didn’t start, but certainly spurred, the flavored whiskey boomlet. Yet unlike tarted-up vodka, whose target is women and Millennials, adulterated brown spirits producers look to a multicultural audience—including Hispanics. They also tend to be more circumspect in choosing flavors such as honey, cinnamon, apple and dark fruits. Here’s my take:
Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry: Jolly Rancher nose; more cherry on palate; could sip but consider in a Manhattan.
Jim Beam Honey: Sweet but not necessarily honeyed on nose; better with ice; use in Old Fashioned.
Canadian Club Dock No. 57 Blackberry Whiskey: Nose less sweet and fruitier than some; spicy berry palate suggests fruity cocktails.
Cabin Fever Maple Flavored Whisky (Canadian): Nose of maple candy (it’s infused with actual maple syrup) and creamy eggnog; add ginger ale or cider.
And now I need a beer chaser.