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Friday, April 27, 2012

Marshmallow, PB&J, Bacon: The Extreme Vodka Taste Test

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Extreme Vodka Tasting 2012: The contenders. Or the gallery of rogues. Take your pick. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Extreme Vodka Tasting 2012: The contenders. Or the gallery of rogues. Take your pick.

It has been 25-odd years since Absolut Peppar and Citron entered the American market, and since then, the flavored-vodka business keeps growing, now representing a quarter of the vodka market. Lemon, cranberry, grapefruit, pear, dragonfruit -- the entire fruit aisle is now being turned into 'tinis. (Though SFoodie is a brown-spirits kind of guy, we will admit to a guilty liking for Absolut Ruby Red, and drink the Alameda-produced Hangar One lime and citron vodkas quite readily.)

As success grows, so does the temptation for distillers to indulge in risk-taking behaviors. Three years ago, vodka companies were still marketing the illusion that they were infusing natural essences into mega-filtered spirits. No more! Vodka has come to out-schnapps schnapps. Pinnacle -- just acquired by the makers of Jim Beam for hundreds of millions of dollars -- has flooded the aisles with vodkas that supposedly taste like cookie dough, gummi (bear), and cake. This past November, Smirnoff released whipped cream and fluffy marshmallow vodkas, and campaign billboards featuring Amber Rose are inescapable. And earlier this month, another daredevil infused-vodka producer, Van Gogh (yeah, the company's Dutch), released Peanut Butter & Jelly.

For SFoodie, news of the PB&J vodka was the last straw. We decided: These extreme vodkas needed to be tasted.*

We requested samples of the most un-naturally flavored vodkas from their producers, and conducted a taste test at the SFoodie International Test Kitchen, aka our desk. Each vodka was tasted within a few seconds of pouring it over over ice. Following are the notes from the tasting panel we convened:

click to enlarge marshmallow_vodka.jpg

Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Vodka

Smells like: The first hit screams toasted-marshmallow Jelly Belly, followed by vanilla candle. After that comes the impression of sniffing packets of non-dairy creamer blended with cream cheese. In other words, not unpleasant for those of us raised on Peeps and Marshmallow Fluff sundaes.


Tastes like: Sweet. Really sweet. More of a liqueur than a vodka, really -- it has a heavy body, and doesn't need to be diluted or cut with mixers to cover up the spiritous bite. "I could sip this all day," one panel member comments. SFoodie doesn't necessarily agree, preferring to stay sober until lunch, but we can see his point.

click to enlarge cake_vodka.jpg

Pinnacle Cake Vodka

Smells like: Grain alcohol that someone has stirred together with cheap vanilla icing from a Safeway cupcake. Actually, it doesn't smell like much else -- the cakiness of the cake vodka is faint, and we can't imagine that the flavor of vodka would stand up to mixers. No caketinis for SFoodie, even if the bride-to-be is forcing them on us.


Tastes like: Sweetness hits the tongue first, but it dissipates almost immediately, followed by a strident alcohol heat and bitterness. Within two seconds, all that is left is an acrid, chemical prickliness. Several gulps of ice water are required to flush away the sensation.

click to enlarge cotton_candy_vodka.jpg

Pinnacle Cotton Candy Vodka

Smells like: Raspberry Kool-Aid. No, wait, cherry Kool-Aid, mixed with Nerds and Franken Berry cereal. After a few sniffs, SFoodie does get a whiff of cotton candy, which quickly morphs into mandarin-flavored diet "sparkling water."

Tastes like: The time we got drunk on plastic-bottle vodka and warm Kool-Aid in college, and watched our friends vomit technicolor liquids into the trashcan in the hall. Followed by more of that acrid, off-gassy cheap-vodka flavor. Mm...sippin' on butane and juice.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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