What it is

Late-breaking telexes from the craft spirit front by Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, columnist for Imbibe, and designated drinker for The Atlantic magazine.

  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    by Wayne Curtis

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Entries in vodka (14)


Press releases I didn't finish reading

Phillips Distilling Company (Phillips) today unveils the world’s first candy bar flavored vodka, UV Candy Bar. Infused with all-natural milk chocolate, velvety caramel and peanut butter flavors, UV Candy Bar is a sippable sweet indulgence.”


Press releases I didn't finish reading

"As part of your coverage of food & drink during the holidays, I thought your readers might be interested in a specialty drink from Devotion Vodka, which recently debuted the world’s first-ever sugar-free and gluten-free flavored vodka family."


Parade of Horribles: Not-liquors of 2012

Since I got home earlier this month I've been sifting through my notes from the Wholesale Wine and Spirits Association convention in Las Vegas, flagging some of best products I found as I staggered through hundreds of acres of liquor vendors. I’ve posted about a handful of my favorites over the past couple of weeks.

Now, for the other stuff.

Most of this comes under the category of Not-Liquor. This category arose one afternoon when I was shuffling my weary way across the convention floor and I spied a substantial sign at the end of an aisle reading “NOT LIQUOR.”

My initial thought was, “Well, thank god! An honest dealer!” It’s about time somebody selling some crappy flavored spittle made from neutral grain spirits manned up and admitted what they were actually selling: Kid drinks that will give you a hangover.

Then I neared and discovered that my aging eyes were failing me. This was, in fact, “NUT LIQUOR,” or what’s billed as a “69 proof peanut butter vodka... blended to taste like the inside of a peanut butter cup with no harsh aftertaste.”

Well, never mind.

From that moment on, however, the category of Not Liquor only grew larger in my mind. If a Nobel Prize was awarded for Valorous Attempts at Disguising the Taste of Liquor, these would be the nominees for 2012:

Wild African Cream. Sold in a bottle with a velourish leopardskin skin. (“The packaging incorporates an alluring, yet soft-to-the-touch leopard print coat that adds prominence in any setting. Through the tactility of the packaging, Wild Africa Cream aims to invoke the consumer to not only look at the bottle, but touch it …”) Tastes like Bailey’s, but, um, more African?

Desiree Cupcake Vodka. I'll let the marketing material speak for itself: “It’s like vanilla pound cake, but with a creamy, eggy finish.”

Creamy-Creation. These are frozen drinks (12.5% alcohol) sold in metal foil pouches that you unscrew and squeeze out like a frozen pop. I had root beer float, which tasted like a root beer float. But more so.

The pouches have a small hole in one corner to clip on to a lanyard, so you can affect the stylish conventioneer look while out drinking. A company spokesman explained to me that it was designed such that women could wear them around their necks while dancing. They don’t have to put their drink down on some skeevy ledge or table. “And they don’t have to worry about somebody slipping drugs into their drink.”

Trend-watch: roofie-resistent cocktails. Coming to a bar near you.

Choco-Lat: A “Deluxe Chocolate Liqueur.” Nominated for name alone. Sounds sort of French. But not.

Choco-Noir Chocolate Raspberry Wine Specialty: Berries. Chocolate. Red wine. In one bottle. All that need be done now is figure out how to add callow sex. Then tens of thousands of people could stay at home alone on Saturday nights and watch TV.      

Twist in a Glass: Winners of the Unclear on the Concept Award: cocktail glass-shaped beverage containers sealed with a foil covering and containing mixer with no liquor.

So… you buy the individual mixer in its own glass, then buy some liquor and stir it in. Except that these were all filled to the brim, so there was no room to add liquor without pouring out about one-third of the mixer. “I was wondering why everybody was holding them up and commenting on how full they were,” said a booth person. Also: winner of the Literally Not Liquor Award.

Skitka Vodka: It’s billed as “The Original Fruit Candy Vodka,” but don’t be confused: Skitka has nothing at all to do with Skittles® candies. Pay no attention to the promotional packages at the booth featuring little packs of Skittles. Nor that the vodka comes in five goofy flavors (Orange You Glad, Strawberry Feels, Grape Escape, Lime Wired, Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy), not unlike a best-selling candy.  

I asked about the genesis of the idea, and was told it arose from something the founder saw on Pintrest about how to mix vodka and Skittles. When she asked her college-aged kids about this, it turned out that — um, duh!everybody knew about Skittles vodka.  “Turns out it was all over the internet,” she said. “There are, like, 300 YouTube videos on how to make it. We created this because of demand.” (I know you’re curious. Here’s one.)

How did these vodkas taste? I don’t know. I wasn't offered a sample, and didn't ask for one. I was told, with portentously raised eyebrow, that only 10 bottles of Skitka existed in the entire known universe. And here they were right in front of me.

Whoa. I took a respectful step back.

When will it be more generally available? No word on that either. WSWA is all about lining up distributors and chasing the dream. But allow me to add one thing: I was at WSWA two years ago and made fun of a silly new product called Adult Chocolate Milk. It’s now available in 40 states.

Skitka Vodka: Winner, Not Liquor of the Year, 2012. Congratulations! Also winner, in a walk, of the No, Of Course We’re Not Marketing to Underage Drinkers Award.


New & notable: Purgatory Vodka

Yes, a vodka. This is a category I usually don’t have much to say about. (“Um, crisp and clear! Tastes like ethanol.”) But this vodka, made in Alaska, is distilled from a mix of 20 percent denatured hemp seeds from British Columbia, and 80 percent barley. I assumed this was yet another marketing gimmick, something to convince stoners to put down their bongs and try a cocktail.

But…. it’s actually quite good. (It won the convention's “best new product” as voted by the media attending.) One of the issues I have with vodka is that I find it often lacks depth — it’s all surface taste. Yet Purgatory had layers and performed some curious acrobatics in the mouth without denying its vodka roots. (I’ve had other interesting vodkas, but the makers were imitating rum by playing up a carmelized, butterscotch note.) I brought back a bottle, and will be endeavoring to learn more about what to do with it in cocktails in the coming days.

[Note: this is one of a series of posts arising from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers convention, held in Las Vegas April 2 to 5, 2012. For an overview, read this.]


Press releases I didn’t finish reading

“Happy Monday! I wanted to share some skinny Oscars themed cocktails on behalf of Voli Light Vodkas, the world’s first low calorie vodka, with you in case you’re interested in posting.”


Press releases I didn’t finish reading

“Wine her, dine her, and treat her to only the finest.  With VnC Cocktails and VuQo Premium Vodka, you’ll win her heart in a matter of sips. Seduce your sweetie with your impressive bartending skills by stirring up some VuQo Vodka cocktails with a romantic twist or celebrate the single life with a sweet and sexy VuQo Vodka cocktail with your friends.”


Press releases I didn’t finish reading

“Ocean Vodka, the official vodka of the Aloha State, will soon be available throughout the U.S. mainland. Inspired by the ocean paradise of Hawaii, Ocean Vodka is hand crafted using deep ocean mineral-rich water from 3,000 feet below the surface off the Big Island.”


Press releases I didn’t finish reading

“Bakon Vodka, the world’s first meat flavored spirit, has become known as a cutting edge company and a leader in the independent spirits industry. Today, the founders of Bakon Vodka are pushing the envelope again as they excitedly unveil Bakon’s new bottle design with a distinctive twist. On sale in specific markets today, each new bottle of Bakon Vodka incorporates an individualized QR code... to provide customers with a new way to interact with the spirit.”


Field Trip: Smooth Ambler Spirits, West Virginia

Smooth Ambler Spirits fired up for the first time in April 2010, and had three white spirits on the shelves by June 2010. That’s not an uncommon trajectory for start-up microdistillers: get the white spirits out the door to generate cash-flow and brand awareness. Meantime,  put up some of the higher quality stuff in barrels for aging. Smooth Ambler has done that as well, and the first of aged products are about to roll out.

I visited the distillery in Maxwelton, W.V., earlier this month. It’s got a staff of four, headed up by master distiller and co-founder John Little, who was kind enough to show me around with John Foster, the director of sales.

Their white spirits include Whitewater Vodka, Greenbrier Gin and Exceptional White Whiskey. The vodka’s made from corn and malted barley and was slightly buttery and river-stone smooth. The gin, made from the vodka redistilled with seven botanicals, had a pleasing sort of lilac flavor, and a hint of juniper in the background.

The white whiskey is distilled twice and bottled at 100 proof. It’s based on a bourbon mashbill, with corn, barley and wheat. Little says he hopes to distance their brand from moonshine, the idea of which clings to West Virginia like lime to tonic. “We're more in line with the farmer-distiller,” he says.

The Smooth Ambler name was inspired by a type of horse — “horses are a big deal around here,” Little says — that has a particular gait that’s not a walk and not a run, but something in between. “It reflects what we like about living here,” Little says. “We’re not hicks, but we don’t wear Bluetooth earpieces in the barn like we’re expecting some call from the President.”

Following in the tiny footsteps of Tuthilltown’s Baby Bourbon, Little was getting ready to release his Yearling Bourbon, aged in 15-gallon new oak barrels for, well, a year. It’s a wheated bourbon, with the mashbill at 68 percent corn, 16 percent malted barley, and 16 percent wheat. It’s very good — with a slightly creamy taste and texture, underlaid with a pleasing gingery sharpness. It retails for about $42 for 750ml. Look for it in July.

I also got an advance sip of the triple malt bourbon, made with 60 percent corn, and the rest a blend of wheat, rye and barley malts. I sampled some barreled just two months ago at 120 proof in a five gallon barrel. Not surprisingly, it had a raw wood aroma, which will no doubt mellow with age, but the taste was full and nicely pungent, with a trace of acrid tobacco, and — as yet — none of the barrel's mellowing caramel notes. It still had a shaggy, white-dog aggressiveness about it, but it give it time. I’m guessing it will be worth paying attention to. Limited quantities possibly available as early as September.

A rye may also be on the horizon, but Little is concerned that the party may be over by the time they show up. That’s a justifiable concern given all the scrambling underway to fulfill demand for traditional ryes.

For a young start-up, the distillery, in a new building in a rural industrial park next to an airport, looks pretty settled. They operate a Christian Carl pot still with two columns, and a Vendome pot still. They’d just erected a new outbuilding for storage and aging a few days before I’d arrived, and they report they’re growing faster than they’d anticipated. They appear to be managing growth well. The distillery is open for tours, tastings and retail sales.

Look for Smooth Ambler in a dozen states to date: West Virginia, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Louisiana, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, and D.C.
Smooth Ambler Spirits,, Maxwelton, WV, (304) 497-3123


Goose lays a very golden egg

Call me callow. Call me shallow. But I have a really hard time clicking the "close" button when I'm at this site: Douche Bags Love Grey Goose.

But, hey now, what? No updates since October? Did somebody find a cure for douchebaggery?

Update: Updates!