When Pernod-Ricard brought this in for me to taste earlier in the week, I almost shit a brick. This new bottle of Absolut Oak—Swedish vodka aged in wood—is the like the Holy Grail of test materials for use in my studies of mankind's polarizing booze behavior. It tastes like Bourbon, it looks like Bourbon, it can be mixed into a delicious-tasting Old Fashioned like Bourbon, (you can also do what I did: hand it to people and tell them it's Bourbon, then watch them say, "oh, that's not bad!"), but it's really vodka—barrel-aged vodka, that is. Vodka, for Christ's sake!!!! The arch-nemesis of everything "real" whiskey drinkers hold true!! It's like Tommy Lasorda coaching the Giants, or Colin Kaepernick signing with the Seahawks. It's insanity! It's a total mindfuck of everything you think you hold dear as a whiskey drinker.
Are you a serious spirits connoisseur? Are you all about flavor? If so, then I think it would be difficult to denounce the new Absolut Oak vodka because—we all had to admit—it tastes pretty good. The whole reason they started putting whiskey into wood in the first place (in addition to transport) was because it softened up the harsh flavor of the spirit, right? So what if you just filled the new oak barrel with the softest, most-neutral spirit possible—a blank slate to soak up all that woody flavor? Wouldn't that create something even creamier and smoother? No one has dared to try until now.
Or maybe you're a whiskey purist. Maybe you're someone who appreciates the old-fashioned ways and the time-honored techniques, rather than innovation. If that's the case, then you'll probably start talking shit about the Absolut Oak before ever having tried it (and without planning to). "It's unnatural!" these people will scream. "It's an abomination!" others will yell. And you might be right. Should vodka be made to taste like Bourbon? Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe that's like making pizza taste like chocolate, or Skittles like M&Ms. But, as my friend Ryan told me last night, if Buffalo Trace can sell white whiskey, then why can't Absolut sell brown vodka?
So Pernod-Ricard has decided to give it a go, and I think the result is pretty exciting actually. I thought the Absolut Oak was going to taste like sweet vanilla and over-extracted wood chips, but it doesn't. It tastes like something in between young Armagnac and mid-range Bourbon. Plus, they're not trying to rob anyone here with some gimmicky gobbledygook. I think this will clock in on the retail shelf for somewhere around $20. That's cheap enough to justify giving it a go in my book. The real question is: if you do get the chance to try it, and you actually like it, will you then have the guts to actually say that you do?
Or will you pussy out when your whiskey nerd friends make fun of you for drinking vodka?
I don't know what's going to happen—if people are going freak out, or have fun with the idea—but I'm excited to sit back and watch the fireworks. I'll definitely be carrying it just for the sheer joy of having this entire conversation with customers.