There's been a lot of Twitter snarkiness, social media griping and bitchy blog posts about the new genre of flavored "vodkas" on the market today. Cocktail "gurus" are claiming foul and screaming about the "purity" and "integrity" of the cocktail, decrying the fall of the "art of the drink". While I won’t rush out and buy each new entry that sails into the flavored vodka market, I disagree with those who would zap all these vodkas into oblivion.
Every day it seems another distillery plops a new flavored "vodka" in our laps to tempt us to their brand. The trend started with citrus vodkas, followed closely by all the other members of the fruit family, then spread out into chocolate vodka, espresso vodka, tea vodka, herb vodkas, spice vodkas and, yes, even meat and salmon vodkas. Then things got wilder and in came the whipped cream vodkas, cake vodkas, candy vodkas and – I kid you not – critter vodka! The latest concoctions to join the melee are Van Gogh’s PB&J Vodka and Three Olives Loopy Vodka (inspired by fruit loops cereals).
Why are we waking up to a new flavored vodka nearly every morning? Because vodka sales have reached into the billions, surpassing all other liquor sales in the United States alone, and everybody wants a piece of that pie. It’s hard to compete with the big boys like Smirnoff (who holds the largest market share) or Absolut, Grey Goose, Belvedere and a few others who have cornered the lion's share of the unflavored vodka market. Start-up distilleries don’t have the cash to splash into the huge marketing and advertising campaigns that would be required to swim with the sharks. In order to latch onto a small piece of the vodka buyers wallet, start-ups have to go after a niche market.
One approach to grabbing a partial share of the enormously profitable vodka market is in creating a flavored vodka brand. Pinnacle Vodka, one of the more recognizable flavored vodka brands, is currently in the process of being purchased by Beam, Inc. for $605 million dollars, if this isn’t proof enough that flavored vodkas are a proven path to vodka success then I’ll drink some of that Salmon vodka!
While I am of the opinion that a lot of the new "vodka" flavors out there can't truly be called vodka* and should be more properly called cordials or liqueurs**, or possibly even "pop vodka" as in the case of some of the more inventive flavor combinations, I will not agree that they are all the abominations some claim them to be. Although the more complex flavor combinations do take some of the fun out of creating a cocktail, many of these spirits are quite pleasant and complex in flavor and can be used in a variety of interesting recipes.
I might not run out and buy a bottle of Van Gogh's PB&J Vodka or Three Olives Loopy – and I can guarantee I will never spend a penny on a bottle of salmon vodka - but I will be damned if I put down those who do buy them and enjoy them. Booze, like food, is enjoyed because of the flavors that come to play and flavor preferences rely heavily on the individual palate of the player. The experience is subjective much like the experience of enjoying a work of art. Some of us like the classics, some prefer the wilder splashes of abstracts while others might lean towards the cerebral experience of surrealism.
For me the whole thing comes down to the term of "Happy Hour" where the word "happy" is prominent! If it makes you happy, if you enjoy it, if it tastes good to you, then drink and make no excuses to anyone for your choices and let the Booze Snobs be damned!
SOME BOOZE DEFINITIONS FOR YOUR EDIFICATION:
**LIQUEURS & CORDIALS: a sweetened alcoholic liquor flavored with fruit, spices, nuts, herbs, or seeds. Typically Liqueurs are flavored with nuts, herbs, spices and/or seeds while cordials are flavored with fruits.
COCKTAIL: originally a mixture of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters, the more modern defines a cocktail as one or more spirits mixed with one or more mixers.
*VODKA: a colorless liquor of neutral spirits distilled from a mash (as of rye, wheat or potato)
LIQUOR: a usually distilled rather than fermented alcoholic beverage
MIXOLOGIST: the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY