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Flavored Vodkas from Bacon to Fruit Loops

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert in a glass.


Breakfast takes on a whole new meaning when you can drink it from a shot glass. As does dessert, and pretty much anything in between.

Welcome to the brave new world of flavored vodkas that range from a dead-on version of Fruit Loops and bacon to cookie dough, bubble gum, peanut butter and jelly, whipped cream, marshmallow and smoked salmon. Yes, smoked salmon.

Here are just a few of the flavors we found:
Acai
bacon
bison grass
Black currant
blackberry
blood orange
Blueberry
bubble gum
buddha’s hand
cake
Cherry
chipotle
chocolate
cinnamon
Citrus
Coconut
cola
cookie dough
cotton candy
Cranberry
cucumber
cupcake
Devil’s Food
Dragonfruit
Espresso
fig
Frosting
fruit loops
fruit punch key lime
Ginger
Gingersnap
Grape
Grapefruit
Green Apple
Green Tea
gummy]kiwi
huckleberry
kaffir lime
lemonade
lemongrass
Lime
Mango
Marshmallow
Melon
Meyer Lemon
Mountain Dew
Orange
Papaya
Passionfruit
Peach
Peanut butter and jelly
Pear
Pepper
Pineapple
Pomagranate
Raspberry
Rootbeer
Rose
salmon
scorpion
Strawberry
Tea
Vanilla
wasabi
Watermellon
Whipped Cream

If you’ve walked the aisles of BevMo or Bottle Barn (3331 Industrial Dr., Santa Rosa, 528-1161) lately, you’ve likely noticed the boom. Flavored vodkas account for about 20 percent of all vodka sales (which are 32 percent of the entire liquor market), according to the Distilled Spirits Council, worth more than a billion dollars in sales in 2011. High-end brands like Grey Goose, Van Gough and Charbay have branched out with haute flavors including green tea, citrus, chocolate and blood orange, while value-priced brands appeal to the sweet tooth with dessert-inspired flavors. To get some perspective on just how hot these drinks are, Beam Inc., recently purchased Pinnacle (famous of their whipped cream, cake and cotton candy-flavored vodkas) for $605 million and nearly all the big booze companies have a hand in the market.

Why is this such a big thing right now?

It’s a perfect storm of a crummy economy, the sugar-trained palates of younger drinkers and a growing interest in pairing food and alcohol.

“Americans love to drink sweet,” said Ziggy Eischelman, a local wine and spirits expert who recently judged the flavored vodka category at the World Wine and Spirits Competition in San Francisco. “There are entire lines of these flavored vodkas catered toward a young demographic, the under-35 set,” she said. “They’re meant to be fun, but let’s face it, probably no one over 35 is ordering a cookie dough cocktail…or cupcake body shot,” she said. Most judges actually took the category pretty seriously, quaffing root beer and marmalade vodkas. “If its supposed to taste like a cupcake, then we’re looking for it to taste like a cupcake,” said Eischelman. Their favorite: Effen Cucumber Vodka.

We’re also drinking out less, and staying in more, according to a Nielsen study in 2011. Needing little more than a splash of soda or juice, flavored vodka cocktails are dessert — or dinner — in a glass, something impressive and fun for guests or a night at home.

Food is also an influencer. Whether they’re using essential oils and essences to infuse flavors or merely dumping extracts and sugar, the idea of drinking, rather than eating fruit, cereal, cupcakes or bacon have a novelty that’s hard to deny.

“I don’t think this is going away. People are really thinking of innovative ways to capture our palates,” said Eischelman.

What to drink? It depends what you’re after your glass. Brands like Absolut, Hangar One, Grey Goose and Charbay are more about the essence. There’s little or not sugar, instead, you’ll smell and taste the fruit with the unmistakable kick of vodka. Brands including Pinnacle, Three Olives and Smirnoff play wackier sandboxes, with very sweet, strongly flavored liquor that masks the sting of alcohol — making them go down very easy. Almost too easy. It’s important to remember that vodka can be upwards of 40 percent alcohol, compared to between 5 and 12 percent in most beers and wines. I can speak from experience that little ones will be more than a little intrigued by mom and dad’s raspberry chocolate whipped cream cocktail, or worse yet, bubble gum shot, so be forewarned.

Though Sonoma County’s restaurant bars are more about the “garden to glass” philosophy of fresh ingredients infused into cocktails, a few are playing with flavored vodkas. At Spoonbar (219 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 431-2202), they’re using Bakon (bacon-flavored vodka) in a Bloody Mary. Jackson’s Bar and Oven (135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 545-6900) recently featured a whipped cream cocktail called Whip Me Pretty, and has jalapeno-infused vodka for several of its cocktails. “Loopy”, a Fruit Loop-inspired vodka, is featured in a cocktail at the Nutty Irishman (995 Piner Rd., Santa Rosa, 544-1447).

But wait, aren’t these just liqueurs in disguise? The definition of a liqueur is a neutral spirit (like vodka) infused with a flavor (like coffee, mint or orange). The difference is that liqueurs must be sweetened, with up to 20 percent sugar. Not all flavored vodkas are sweetened, but many are, making it an increasingly fuzzy line.

As the flavored vodka boom continues to gain momentum — and growing concern from some underage drinking watchdogs — it’s worth noting that other spirits have ramped up flavored versions of rum, tequila, bourbons and whiskeys. “I can remember five years ago when there were just a couple flavors, raspberry, peach. But the category is just growing. Who knows what they’ll come up with next,” said Eischelman.

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Comments

21 thoughts on “Flavored Vodkas from Bacon to Fruit Loops

  1. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a website focused on the same subject and would love to have you write about some stories/information. I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to throw me an e mail.

  2. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a website focused on the same subject and would love to have you write about some stories/information. I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to throw me an e mail.

  3. Too bad there was no mention of Square One Vodka, the spirit that pioneered organic spirits in the U.S as well as the use of pure ingredients to create a true “essence vodka” rather than a “flavored” one. SQ1 makes the best cucumber vodka on the market and the Basil and Botanical are incredible. Great recipes can be found on the website: http://www.squareoneorganicspirits.com

    1. Sadly, I only had the budget to buy the minis and a couple of 750s. There were many, many, many I wanted to try and will have to do some further research. The Hangar One stuff was high on the list, as was Square One.

  4. Too bad there was no mention of Square One Vodka, the spirit that pioneered organic spirits in the U.S as well as the use of pure ingredients to create a true “essence vodka” rather than a “flavored” one. SQ1 makes the best cucumber vodka on the market and the Basil and Botanical are incredible. Great recipes can be found on the website: http://www.squareoneorganicspirits.com

    1. Sadly, I only had the budget to buy the minis and a couple of 750s. There were many, many, many I wanted to try and will have to do some further research. The Hangar One stuff was high on the list, as was Square One.

  5. Nicely written story.
    Our family started the Charbay line of citrus flavored vodkas back in 1998 – flavored vodka made with real whole fruit that truly tasted like real fruit. That was when cosmos were so popular but bartenders only had the artificial flavors of the times. Charbay Blood Orange Vodka came along and made the flavors pop.
    Scott Beattie, Healdsburg, was a guiding light to the upscale cocktails scene – he brought forth creative cocktails with natural ingredients.
    Our family still works with growers of clean, healthy fruit so the magic is there when you taste a Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka & tonic… “Wow, tastes just like the fruit…” they always say.
    So thanks for mentioning Charbay – we’ll keep making flavored vodkas the hard way: with real fruit.

  6. Nicely written story.
    Our family started the Charbay line of citrus flavored vodkas back in 1998 – flavored vodka made with real whole fruit that truly tasted like real fruit. That was when cosmos were so popular but bartenders only had the artificial flavors of the times. Charbay Blood Orange Vodka came along and made the flavors pop.
    Scott Beattie, Healdsburg, was a guiding light to the upscale cocktails scene – he brought forth creative cocktails with natural ingredients.
    Our family still works with growers of clean, healthy fruit so the magic is there when you taste a Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka & tonic… “Wow, tastes just like the fruit…” they always say.
    So thanks for mentioning Charbay – we’ll keep making flavored vodkas the hard way: with real fruit.

  7. No, thanks. The Blood Orange sounds like it has potential, but how can you improve on a Grey Goose or Belvedere over ice? Call me a Traditionalist…..~Cheers, Oski

    1. The Charbay Blood Orange is ridiculous! I compare the whole whipped cream vodka thing to what’s happening in the wine world, where “beginner” wines are getting fruitier and fizzier. Franky, I think it will run its course, and having tasted a lot of that sweet fruity vodka stuff, I can say the whole thing ends up getting really nauseating really fast.

  8. No, thanks. The Blood Orange sounds like it has potential, but how can you improve on a Grey Goose or Belvedere over ice? Call me a Traditionalist…..~Cheers, Oski

    1. The Charbay Blood Orange is ridiculous! I compare the whole whipped cream vodka thing to what’s happening in the wine world, where “beginner” wines are getting fruitier and fizzier. Franky, I think it will run its course, and having tasted a lot of that sweet fruity vodka stuff, I can say the whole thing ends up getting really nauseating really fast.

  9. At Sweet-T’s earlier this week I had their Old Fashioned, made with Whipped Cream Vodka and I’ve got to tell you it was one of the best drinks I had in a very long time. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed it.

  10. I love lox and I love dirty martinis. But I am not sure I am on board with a lox martini. Unless you subbed caper berries for olives. Hmmmmmm…

  11. At Sweet-T’s earlier this week I had their Old Fashioned, made with Whipped Cream Vodka and I’ve got to tell you it was one of the best drinks I had in a very long time. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed it.

  12. I love lox and I love dirty martinis. But I am not sure I am on board with a lox martini. Unless you subbed caper berries for olives. Hmmmmmm…

  13. I bought the Bakon about a year ago. Big mistake. It just tastes wrong. Have tried it in everything from a Bloody Mary to a Screw Driver. Wasnt brave enough for the Chocolate Martini.

    Crop makes a wonderful Tomato Vodka, but haven’t been able to find it in Sonoma County, tho everyone has their cucumber.

  14. I bought the Bakon about a year ago. Big mistake. It just tastes wrong. Have tried it in everything from a Bloody Mary to a Screw Driver. Wasnt brave enough for the Chocolate Martini.

    Crop makes a wonderful Tomato Vodka, but haven’t been able to find it in Sonoma County, tho everyone has their cucumber.

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