June 13, 2007

VodkaFest (with Gin) Roundup - June '07

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We hit the June VodkaFest this Sunday down in Manhattan, and it was great to hobnob (is that a word?) with some of the elite of independent spirits distributors. We had some drinks, had some laughs, but overall had to take it easy because after the event we had to drive four hours home. We were still able to taste just about everything that was on display, however - and we hope we didn't gross anyone out too much when we sipped and then spit it right back into the cup.

We've rounded up info on everyone we interacted with, along with some quick notes on the folks we haven't done full reviews on yet. Read on for our thoughts on each brand and our tastes of each, in more-or-less chronological order.

Also - we didn't run into any of the VodkaFest contest winners, probably because we skinned out a bit early, but we'd love to hear from you if you made it. You know who you are.

  • Orange V: We were big fans of Dave Schmier's Orange V even before we thought we liked flavored vodkas, and it was great to make it down there and finally meet the man behind the masterpiece.

    Read our Orange V review for more details, and bask in the glory of our antiquated booze rating system (four out of five martini glasses for this guy.

  • Zuidam Gin: We didn't know much about Zuidam going into the fest beyond what we covered when they first came out. In our conversation with Richard Ward, the gin's importer, we found a passionate man who really, really knew his gin.

    In contrast to other gins, Zuidam distills each botanical separately and then combines them, and that combined with the inclusion of vanilla really makes for a distinctive taste. The vanilla doesn't make the gin sweet, but it does temper the flavors, and the gin runs way less hot than we expected from a 94 proof spirit. Expect a full review of Zuidam when we're able to tackle the bottle Richard gave us.

  • SV The Silk Vodka: Made by Soyuz-Victan, the third largest vodka company in the world, Silk is an ultra-premium product that's distilled five times and filtered 14. The result is, you guessed it, pretty damned smooth, and when we tried it chilled we were impressed. We felt like we could pull a bottle of Silk out of the freezer and tuck right into it without needing a mixer or a chaser. And sometimes that's all you need.

  • Hamptons Vodka (and Gin):No disrespect intended, Ronne Bonder, president of Hamptons Vodka looked a bit how we might expect the wacky neighbor in a sitcom about the Hamptons to look. That's nothing against him, though, because he makes some damned fine spirits. We liked the unflavored version, which had a nice pepperiness to it, but the stars were the flavored vodkas.

    Ronne's Banana, ChocoRaspberry, and CherryVanilla were all very distinctive, and managed to taste just like they were advertised with no added sugar or other junk. Ronne made sure to point out to us that the ChocoRaspberry melds to your palate and finishes with either chocolate or raspberry depending on your taste - we'll take his word on it as we didn't sip enough to get a real feel. The gin was tasty as well, with a more direct flavor of lemon and orange, lighter on the juniper.

  • Xellent Swiss Vodka: The folks at Xellent know sex sells, because when we were at the stand the nice young woman in the incredibly short skirt spent more time telling us about a recent photoshoot for the ad campaign than the vodka. Nothing wrong with that, right? Xellent is the only Swiss vodka, and it exhibits the neutrality and restraint of its parent company quite well - at least on the tongue anyway.

  • Iceberg Vodka: Iceberg uses water from real, live, actual icebergs to make its vodka. Talk about having a hook, right? We thought it was damned tasty too - both the vodka and the gin were tasty and we wouldn't have any problems at all racking up a couple mixers and doing our part to process some icebergs. We did feel a bit bad for their rep when an environmental type got in his face with something along the lines of "the icebergs are melting, why help them along?" but the crowd swept us away before we could hear the response.

  • Van Gogh Vodka: Van Gogh has a huge line of vodkas, both flavored and un-, and we were really bummed out we didn't get a chance to stop by and check them out. The good news is their booth was completely swarmed, we suppose, so bully for them - we're betting it was partially because of the wide range of drinks the rep was mixing up and the reputation of the brand itself.

  • Bulldog Gin: We were fans of Bulldog as soon as we reviewed it, and tasting it again this weekend in various forms (straight, gin and tonic, in a cocktail) really solidified it. It was nice to meet Anshuman, the man behind the brand, and he told us a great story about how our review got him a distributor in an unnamed foreign country. That's us folks - doing our best to get the world drunk a little bit at a time.

  • Saaga 1763: Saaga is a vodka produced in Estonia, and it's made with 90% rye grains so it has that nice burn we look for in rye-based spirits (we're looking at you, bourbon and rye). We tried it at room temp and liked the character, but we'd really like to try it again to see how it melds with mixers, and whether the burn goes away when chilled.

  • G'Vine Gin: Another brand we've had the good fortune to review, we liked the booth itself and our reacquaintance with the gin. We didn't, however, work up the nerve to ask the rep if they added the cubeb berries to the botanicals because of their reputed ability to cure gonorrhea. That's a regret we'll take to our graves.

  • XO Vodka and X-Rated Liqueur: Our final stop of the night was at the XO and X-Rated booth, and it was nice to go out with a bang. We weren't able to sample the XO because of some folks hogging the booth, but we did get to try the X-Rated liqueur and have a nice chat with Mike Dennehy about both brands. We don't typically drink things that are pink (OK, we're lying) but we thought the liqueur was pretty tasty, with a combination of oranges, mangos and passionfruit in a vodka base.

    We're hoping to get our hands on some bottles from both XO and X-Rated, so we'll be able to give you something a little less rushed after that. What can we say? We were trying to get on the road for a four hour drive.

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Posted by Jake Jamieson at June 13, 2007 11:00 PM
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