I love it when a brand-oriented whisky customer comes into K&L and I get the chance to talk with them about all of the smaller independents. Nothing feels better than turning a new drinker onto the lesser-known spirits of the world. Almost nothing. There's one thing I actually enjoy even more. I really get a kick when a brand known for bulk production and cheesy gimmickry actually delivers a product that tastes good.
I love it when Glenlivet makes a good whisky. I love it when Tanqueray releases a good gin. I love it when gigantic brands show that they're still capable of making something inexpensive, but tasty.
In order to make sure this type of experience can still happen, I make sure to take as many tasting appointments as possible. I taste everything. I'll taste chocolate chip cupcake liqueur if someone wants to bring it into the store and pour it. I want to know what's out there, even if we're not going to sell it. That's why I was actually excited to taste the new Absolut Vodka releases this week. Even though we don't carry one of their products at K&L Redwood City right now, I'm always willing to reconsider if something catches my eye.
First off was another batch of the very-successful, limited-edition San Francisco Vodka $19.99we saw a few years back. We carried this when it was last released and people really enjoyed it. The nice thing about the Absolut flavored vodkas is that they're rather mild in their intensity. The fruit and herb infusions are actually quite delicate and well-balanced. It's flavored with grape, dragon fruit, and papaya. You can just add tonic water or soda and this stuff tastes great. I played around with it last night and made a few fun warm-weather concoctions.
This guy, on the other hand, is absolutely (no pun intended) fucking dangerous. The Absolut Cilantro $19.99 is far more gin than it is vodka. However, since there's no juniper maceration, it can't legally be gin no matter how much it resembles it. For $20 this is my new party bottle for 2013. My wife and I took down more than half of this last night in a variety of different forms. With lemonade and soda - fantastic - the cilantro still really cuts through the lemon and lime. With tonic water - it might as well be a gin and tonic because that's what it tastes like, but again with a heavy cilantro note. In a Bloody Mary - so much better than using straight vodka, but not as herbaceous as using gin would be.
Laugh at me if you want to, I'll be finishing this bottle on my patio tonight. And then I'll be buying another one. It's like 92 degrees in Redwood City right now, so I'm not drinking anything brown.
Perhaps most stunning (if you like vodka) was the new Absolut Elix $49.99(for a liter). Taking a page from the craft spirits movement, Absolut has answered the call for locally-sourced, "handcrafted" (whatever that means these days - in this case I think they're referring to the fact it was manually distilled on a copper still) spirits by offering one of their own. The Elix is made from all-estate (apparently Absolut owns a number of fields in Sweden) grown wheat. It's bottled in a nice package and proofed down to 42.3%, which to me means that they actually tinkered with this thing at various levels to find the one that tasted best, rather than just dropping it down to the defacto 40%.
I personally like the challenge of vodka - not as a consumer, but as a retailer and consumer guide. Have you ever tried recommending vodka to someone or offering advice on what to select? You can't talk about flavor, so you've got to talk about everything else: mouthfeel, texture, perception of heat or alcohol, etc. Regardless of how you feel about vodka, there's no denying that millions of people love it. Not just in mixers, either - straight up, on the rocks, in a martini. As a professional boozer I love the challenge I face when trying to identify what a particular customer enjoys about Belvedere, or Grey Goose, or Ketel One. There's a reason people like what they like, but since vodka is basically flavorless you have to figure out what that is. For this reason when we do the Good Food Awards judging I always chair the vodka committee.
In any case, back to the Elix, I was quite impressed with how clean the spirit tasted and how soft and creamy it felt on the palate. For $50 a liter I think it certainly stands out in a pack of other similarly-priced, high-end distillates. The fact that it's locally-sourced and all-estate is a nice selling point, as well.
So Absolut is back at K&L with three fun new products that make drinking fun. That's what drinking is supposed to be about - fun - so I'm going to carry them!