Double Up.

ThinkstockPhotos-87685850.jpgPat yourself on the back; you’re about to be ahead of the curve.

Today I’m going to review two spirits that are absolutely worth knowing about, so listen up you habitual vodka buyers!

People seem to naturally gravitate towards popular, well-known vodka brands. I wish I could change these routines, but according to the laws of sociological habit-forming and the subsequent genius marketing that follows, there’s really not much I can do besides try my best to inform you to look outside of your comfort bubbles–I’d love to steer your routine away from solely sipping a handful of easily identifiable bottles. Not because they’re bad, and not because I make any sort of profit from swaying your opinion. I simply want to keep you from missing out on the wide world of smoothness and flavor. There are far too many highly underrated options out there that are ridiculously great and which also cost a lot less dough. Options that are just as prestigious, though not as over-blown and over-marketed. Trust me, I don’t only sell wine and spirits, I consume them too; and I know what to look for. So don’t be a sheep, let me help you. Now pay attention:

612505.jpgGRAYS PEAK VODKA: I put off trying this vodka for at least six months simply due to the fact that their label didn’t do much to grab my attention. I regret that. Because similar to Old Tom Horan Irish Whiskey, this is one of those sleeper brands that won’t grab your attention when shelved next to 60 others; you kind of have to look for it. But take my word, it is absolutely worth the $23.

HERE’S WHY: This five-times-distilled, micro-batch, grain-based vodka certainly jumps the gun with it’s slight ethanol wash. But give it about two and a half seconds to let it do it’s thing. You’ll quickly notice a subtle transition from a prudent, young, top-shelf vodka to a much more sophisticated bouquet of subtle flavors dominated primarily by ginger, a little wheat-grass and a late dash of caramel flush.

The finish, however, is why I believe this vodka is better than the others. Pay attention to how quickly the ethanol bite tapers off to reveal a genuinely organic and effortlessly smooth fade. Inevitably when tasting any vodka, you will always feel a bite of ethanol unless you’re spending upwards of $60. It is when the bite becomes prevalent and how fast it fades to reveal colorful flavors that really distinguishes a great vodka from a not-so-great vodka.

684205.jpgHAMMER + SICKLE VODKA: Do not expect this to taste like a Russian vodka. It won’t. But it is genuinely a red-bear spirit. Not only does this brand have a total sense of where they belong in a hyper-congested craft spirits market, they understand aesthetics and how to stand out. What immediately drew me to this vodka when I first decided to try it a few years back was the world of imagination the bottle design suggests. Hear me out: Imagine you’re a KGB agent in a ‘90s Bond film, pouring yourself a rocks glass of H&S on the third story deck of your mountain chateau in Prague, and then your beeper goes off. Before you know it, you’re hurdling over the passenger door of your convertible ’96 Alpha Romeo and gracefully landing in the driver’s seat. All because you drank Hammer + Sickle. Pretty sick, right? Truth is, I don’t own an Alpha Romeo and I’ve sadly never been to Prague. But I do own a bottle of H&S and I am very serious when I say that this bottle is more than worth your money. Everything form the bottle design and logo to the name made me take this bottle home one night for $21.99. And I soon found that it was money well spent.

ThinkstockPhotos-524539253.jpgTHE TASTE: Off the nose you’ll notice the smell of vodka. This is another six-times-distilled, grain-based vodka, and we’re going to skip the phase where we pretend to smell hints of cloves, passion fruit or damiana. Instead we’ll go straight to the taste: Off the tongue it is ever so elegant. A complex blend of more sweet than spicy, which I suspect is brought on by some top-secret Soviet military-grade filtering process.

It is wonderfully subtle in all manners. A little sweeter than most, borderline mimicking a Polish potato vodka. But what makes this vodka different is the weirdly fruity finish. If you have a palate developed toward vodka and other clear spirits, you’ll understand why I say this. I personally always identify initial hints of nutmeg followed by a creamy but sharp anisette, and just maybe, banana. Close behind and subsequently stopping cold is a strong rye that almost immediately disappears, leaving you with a surgically clean palate ready for things like caviar, white gold and high-speed car chases.

Take a chance on these suggestions and let me know your thoughts in a comment below. Until then, goodnight, from Prague.

Elliott Johnson, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits – St. Pete


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