Flavoured vodka has been around for a very long time – more than 500 years, in fact. Back then, adding flavour was essential to mask the rather dubious quality of the spirit. These days, enterprising distillers with more creative ambitions have turned to an array of intriguing ways to flavour their vodkas.
With its essentially neutral tones, vodka is the ideal blank canvas with which to experiment, and you’ll find renderings flavoured with a host of ingredients – from herbal styles using basil and lavender to fruit-led bottlings made with pineapple and passion fruit, all the way to esoteric versions with hops and even smoke – as in the case of Vantza smoked vodka, an IWSC Gold award-winner that hails from Burgundy of all places.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, vodka was a pure spirit that was all about the texture – a palate-cleanser to sip between mouthfuls or a base for cocktails. But brands such as Swedish distiller Absolut changed all that, launching lemon, blackcurrant and mandarin-orange flavoured bottlings, and others were quick to get in on the act.
Recent years have seen increasingly quirky flavours hit the market – the dubious-sounding toffee vodka being a huge success – but now, just like gin, flavoured vodka is getting serious, with artisanal producers releasing well-crafted vodkas with style and character.
This year’s IWSC winners reflect this trend, with Edwards Distillers’ Gold winner Four Feathers Botanical Vodka a fine example. It’s made with more than a dozen homegrown Welsh botanicals, including gorse, oats and elderflower, and offers a pleasing mix of herbal, citrus and spicy notes.
Here are the best flavoured vodkas from IWSC 2020.
Dwór Sieraków Sliwa Z Tarnin Vodka
Aromatic sloes are joined by kirsch and ripe plums on the nose. An interplay between sweet apricot and tea develops on a lovely, dry palate. Festive spices and marzipan evolve into a cooling, herbal finish. Absolutely divine. n/a in UK
Vantza Smoked Vodka
Iodine, cedar and peat on the nose lead into an inviting, smoky BBQ palate with sizzling bacon and a touch of tonka bean sweetness. Full flavoured, satisfying and delicious. n/a in UK. Enquire at Hammonds of Knutsford.
Four Feathers Botanical Vodka
A complex botanical profile with notes of coriander, angelica and anise. Dried citrus peel is well balanced against a really pleasing woodiness. Intriguing and polished, this is an excellent vodka. RRP £28.95 from Master of Malt
G52 Botanical Vodka - Rich Coffee
Roasted coffee and peach on the nose with a hint of chocolate and a nice citrus lift on the finish. Deep, lingering and very attractive. RRP £25 from Glasgow Distillery
G52 Botanical Vodka - Fresh Citrus
Plenty of vibrant lime, fresh grapefruit and a hint of tropical fruit layered over a dry, smooth palate. Fresh and very enjoyable. RRP £25 from Glasgow Distillery