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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.


Pinnacle Cookie Dough Vodka

Smells like: Artificial eggs, plus the kind of cookie dough you buy in a tube and eat when you're stoned, and something else, weirder and nastier. The tasting panel ponders what that might be. "It smells like feet," one exclaims. "Feet on a road trip, after you've been propping them up on the dash for a few hours," another one adds. Alt-weekly writers: always good for a crass simile.

Tastes like: Without indulging in histrionics, SFoodie will say that this is the most disgusting thing we've put in our mouth since our last encounter with silkworm larvae. The flavor is dominated by a fierce grain-alcohol burn, and then comes a weird finish, as if we have been snorting detergent powder. At this point in the tasting, the marshmallow vodka begins to seem like the classiest drink in the bunch.


Bakon, the Bacon-Flavored Vodka

Smells like: Bacon bits? Yes. Lipton soup mix? Even more strongly. Bacon? Not at all. There's a little smokiness to the aroma, but far less than your average blended Scotch, and none of that roasted pork fat aroma underneath. In fact, it's vegan. You mean all you have to do is call something "bacon" and it will sell like crazy? These people are genius.

Tastes like: The faint smokiness to the aroma never makes it into the mouth, and the sense of sipping the broth from a batch of instant ramen grows. The flavor is savory -- a little Mrs. Dash -- but doesn't have much depth. Thankfully, the base spirit, potato vodka, is much smoother than the three previous vodkas SFoodie has been tasting, and it doesn't leave our mouth feeling as if it were scoured by industrial cleaners.

click to enlarge pbj_vodka.jpg

Peanut Butter & Jelly Vodka

Smells like: PB&J vodka definitely smells like peanuts -- more specifically, a can of Planters kept in the closet for several years. Not rancid, but dusty and desiccated.

Tastes like: "This tastes like Mom's secret bad habit," one taster calls out. If so, Mom really needs to be introduced to Goldschlager. The moment the vodka hits the lips, it starts tasting like raspberries -- aha, the jelly! The effect is startling, but then, as the raspberries fade out, that dusty peanut aroma returns. That weird smell lingers well past its expiration date. After two minutes, SFoodie is so disturbed that we take a slug of marshmallow vodka, which doesn't help. Another five minutes, and we walk over to the Test Kitchen soda machine for a can of the world's most effective palate cleanser: Diet Coke. We have to down half a can before the involuntary shuddering stops.

* Please note that no professional spirits tasters were harmed during this experiment.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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