A resurgence of the “classics” continues to percolate through US cocktail lounges and I am fully onboard with this trend. Don’t get me wrong. This cocktail renaissance we have experienced for the last decade or so—thanks to an occupational explosion of so called “mixologists”—has been fun, if not educational to take part in. But ultimately, barring a really special occasion, I don’t need 15 different ingredients and a sprig of toasted basil in my drink.
For this same reason, I have begun to warm up to some of the fruit infused liquors that have infiltrated the market over a similar time frame. The same simplicity that makes a Manhattan or Negroni appealing can be associated with the rise of infused liquors. They are simple yet appealing. They provide a turnkey cocktail without all the hoopla. A little soda water and voila!
Like a lot of food and beverage trends, however, there are quality brands leading the way and lesser quality ones catching a free ride. Having tried a few of them recently I think it’s safe to say that the quality of the infusion (assuming the vodka itself passes muster) comes down to two things; the quality of the fruit and the amount used.
Case and point Wild Roots Spirits. The Portland, OR-based company, founded in 2013, produces a line of all-natural (non-GMO and gluten-free) spirits that strive to embody the true essence of the Pacific Northwest. The company currently offers eight fruit-infused vodkas (Raspberry, Marionberry, Apple & Cinnamon, Pear, Dark Sweet Cherry, Cranberry, Huckleberry and Peach), two non-infused base spirits (Vodka and Gin) and a Cucumber & Grapefruit infused Gin. As a Pacific Northwest native, founder Chris Joseph knew there were few places in the world that produced fruit as flavorful and abundant as Oregon’s Willamette Valley (having recently traveled to the Willamette Valley I can vouch for this notion). Wild Roots pays tribute to this region and its rich soil, pure water and exceptional climate by delivering an authentic, all-natural and delicious product. Each bottle of Wild Roots Vodka starts with a 6-times filtered corn-based vodka and OVER A POUND of all-natural fruit, including hyper-local fruits such as the Marionberry and Huckleberry. It is filtered through local minerals and lava rock from central Oregon and the water used in the base comes from the Metolius River (also in central Oregon).
“For us, cocktails don’t have to be complicated, multi-step cocktails with a long list of ingredients in order to be enjoyable. Our infused vodkas, made with over a pound of real fruit in every bottle, celebrate our Pacific Northwest home and make crafting a delicious (and often lower calorie) cocktail easy. Our Raspberry or Huckleberry Infused Vodkas turn a vodka soda into a flavorful, fruit-forward experience without needing any sugary syrups. If, when you have people over, you’re spending all that time making cocktails, you can’t enjoy your guests. Cocktails should be about bringing people together.”
EFFEN Vodka’s Blood Orange Vodka, made in Holland with wheat sourced from Northern France and pure spring water, offers balanced citrus flavors with a smooth finish. It is ideal with soda water or another type of carbonated mixer and a lemon twist. Yet it is also smooth enough to sip on its own if you prefer. The smoothness is achieved from the pureness of the wheat they use—one that is extremely low in fatty acids.
EFFEN then uses continuous distillation, where the liquid circulates within giant stainless steel columns and is effectively distilled hundreds of times. Heating during distillation occurs at temperatures below 85 degrees creating a vodka without any traces of burnt sugar. This is an important difference you can taste and smell – clean and pure – with no ‘off notes’.
Their lineup also includes black cherry, cucumber, green apple, raspberry, rose and yuzu citrus (whatever that is).
A bit more bold is Hangar 1’s Makrut Lime vodka. Based in California, Hangar 1 leverages—as any food or beverage company in the country’s ag capital should—locally sourced ingredients for its products. All of the distillery’s small-batch vodkas use grapes and wheat from the sunshine state as the base ingredients. Hangar 1’s flavors come from natural ingredients and this one is no exception.
Now you may be wondering what a Mukrut lime is. The short answer is…it’s not what you would keep in a bowl on your bar or kitchen table and slice into wedges. In fact, it’s a rather unattractive looking lime—bumpier and uglier than a traditional lime.
What it does have, however, is a very high aromatic oil content that offers strong, distinctive flavors. Makrut limes are originally from Indonesia and are used in Thai cooking.
Hanger 1 uses the lime leaves, however, and not the flesh, which it claims holds the most flavor and aroma resulting in a lime-infused spirit like nothing else on the market—unmistakably limey, very complex, with some earthy components.
Moving across the country from California to the east coast—and even a little further—we land on the Island of Nantucket where Cisco Brewers rules the roost of island-born adult beverages. Since Massachusetts’ infamous Blue Laws were enacted in the late 1600’s, the state’s liquor laws have been considered some of the most stringent in the country. Despite this fact—and due to their passion—Nantucket Vineyard and Cisco Brewers collaborated to found Triple Eight Distillery in 1997. While Cisco’s beer labels have a huge following, both on and off the Island, their Triple Eight Blueberry Vodka (compliments of their Triple Eight Distillery label) is its best kept secret.
Triple 8 Blueberry Vodka is made with wild low-bush blueberries from Maine, infused into the organic spirit. It’s hard to imagine another blueberry vodka exists that can match the flavor, color and aroma that comes through in Triple Eight Blueberry vodka. Try it with soda, on its own or—as the distillery often recommends—with lemonade.