Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut unveil tasty new flavors with Texas roots

Deep Eddy Cranberry VodkaNew flavored vodkas from Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut are hitting Texas shelves this month, just in time for spring break madness. And both are riding the wave of growing demand for flavored vodka with local roots.

While vodka remains at the top of the heap for sales of alcohol — commanding 34 percent of all liquor sales — its sales are relatively flat. There are, however, two bright spots for vodka sales: small brands and flavored vodkas.

Craft is where it’s at. The Distilled Spirits Council says that in 2001 there were 24 craft distilleries in the U.S., but by 2013 the number ballooned to 434 small distilleries in operation. The small producers are growing at a faster rate than the big boys. In fact, Texas favorite, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, was one of the industry’s fastest growing brands according to industry analysts Impact Databank.

Flavored spirits are growing 10 times faster than total spirits according to the Beverage Information Group and make up 26 percent of all vodka sales. There are hundreds of flavors of vodka. Think about it, when you walk into a bar it’s not uncommon to see shelves lined with Cherry, Citrus, Mango, Cranberry, Apple, Coffee, Pineapple, Strawberry, Vanilla and even Marshmallow vodka among countless others.

Deep Eddy Vodka introduces Cranberry

Local vodka maker Deep Eddy knows a good thing when it sees one in the booming trend of flavored vodkas. Almost a year after introducing its wildly popular Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka, the folks at Deep Eddy have launched the brand’s third flavored vodka, a cranberry vodka released in February.

“The growth that Deep Eddy Vodka has seen over the last four and a half years has been truly amazing.  We have grown the brand over 200 percent a year since we started in 2010, and we continue to see strong growth on our straight vodka and each of our flavors.  We attribute this growth to offering a truly differentiated product that has created a new category within the space.  Our focus on real ingredients – real tea, honey, fruit – has been the recipe to our success, and we followed the recipe again with the new cranberry flavor that we launched this month,” said Chad Auler, co-founder of Deep Eddy Vodka.

The new cranberry-infused vodka starts off its life the same way as all of Deep Eddy’s vodkas, by being distilled 10 times and charcoal filtered four times. It is then flavored with cane sugar and New England-grown, non-GMO cranberries. It finishes its life the same way as all of its vodkas, too: in my belly.

Sipped straight, it bursts with sweet cranberry with raspberry undertones. It’s just sweet enough to mask the slight warmth of the 70 proof alcohol as it eases back. Deep Eddy suggests that it mixes well with beer or Champagne. It’s delightful served with sparkling water and a twist of lime. Try this recipe:

Deep Eddy Cranberry Breeze  

  • 2 oz Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka

  • 2 oz club soda or sparkling water

  • 1 oz grapefruit juice

Pour ingredients into cocktail glass filled with ice. Stir. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Abolut Texas Limited Edition VodkaAbsolut Texas Limited Edition goes for local appeal 

Similar to Deep Eddy Vodka, Absolut is taking aim at both the flavored and “drink local” markets, with the release of Absolut Texas, the eighth addition to its Limited Editions portfolio.

The Limited Edition series introduces specially designed bottles and flavors to appeal to specific audiences, like Absolut Karnival celebrating the Brazilian party, Absolut Colors with a rainbow pride flag celebrating equality, and a few city specific editions for Brooklyn, Chicago and London to bring local relevance to a global brand. The Texas edition is the first state-specific product.

Absolut Texas is packaged in a boldly attractive bottle, with artwork was created by San Antonio-based contemporary artist Cruz Ortiz. It features a stylized cowboy boot kickin’ it up with a Texas star. Some are skeptical that putting Swedish-made vodka into a Texas-themed bottle is enough to convince savvy Texas consumers to buy it. There is an old Texas saying, “It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.”

Mark Shilling, CEO of Austin-based Revolution Spirits isn’t impressed with the Absolut gambit. “I’m all for cool packaging and marketing, etc., but this just seems overly gimmicky to me. Kind of like the Six Flags version or something,” he said. “If you’re gonna try to sell vodka in Texas with a boot, at least stick it in a pair of Luccheses.”

One Texas-based craft distiller who chose to remain anonymous sees the Absolut marketing ploy as the company’s attempt to capitalize on the success of small, local distillers. He confided, “This is Pernod Ricard’s [parent company of Absolut] attack on craft distilling in Texas. It is reminiscent of Anheuser-Busch coming out with Ziegenbock to try to take a piece of Shiner Bock. It likely won’t be the last attack by corporate raiders against the craft industry. The product is so-so. Not terrible.  [It tastes like they used a] decent quality chemical additive pumped into Absolut.”

Marketing approach and packaging aside, Absolut Texas features a unique cucumber and Serrano chili pepper flavor recipe is “inspired by Southwestern cuisine.” Yes, Serrano is a Southwestern flavor, but cucumber? Regardless of its authenticity, it tastes pretty damn good.

Sipped straight, it tastes like a spring drink lush with cucumber, with an ever-so-slight tingle coming from the chili pepper. It’s delightful with nothing but a chill, yet it begs to be mixed in a cocktail. Absolut Texas would be a fantastic base for a Bloody Mary, however it mixes well with several other ingredients like cranberry, pineapple and citrus. Absolut recommends this recipe:

Absolut Tejano

  • 2 parts Absolut Texas

  • 3 parts grapefruit soda

Build over ice in a highball glass, garnish with a lime wedge and a chili-salt rim.

Whether you want to really drink local or drink a locally themed drink, these are two tasty flavored vodkas worth a try. Deep Eddy Cranberry Vodka sells for $19 and Absolut Texas goes for $20. Both are available at Urban Wine + Liquor in downtown Austin.

An abbreviated version of this story first ran on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by both Deep Eddy Vodka and Absolut.

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GIN CITY: Refreshing drinks from three local gin distillers

Summer calls for a cocktail as light and sassy as the skimpy sundress hugging the shape of the hottie sitting on the barstool next to you. What you need is a cocktail with flavors as complex as the floral pattern on that sundress. You need a cocktail made with gin. Yes, gin. It’s like vodka, but with flavor.

Gin is the stuff that Bond drinks. Gin is the stuff that bootleggers surreptitiously made to thumb their nose at the absurdity of Prohibition. Gin is the stuff that has captured the imagination of a whole new wave of craft distillers. Gin is the stuff that is both bold and elegant enough to capture the attention of that lady in the sundress. Fortunately there are new Texas-made gins being introduced just in time for summer. Let’s declare it the “Summer of Gin.”

Waterloo Gin WITH WATERLOO, OLD IS NEW

The man behind Treaty Oak Distilling, Daniel Barnes, decided to dis till gin two years ago because he wants to make spirits that intrigue him.

“Gin shows off the craft ability of a distiller with playfulness and uniqueness,” Barnes says. “Distillers have the ability to control the flavors and display their personalities. That, and we really like gin.”

Waterloo gin was one of the first modern Texas-made gins when it was released at the end of 2011. It is made with a neutral base spirit made from corn and wheat—sort of like vodka. The base liquor is then put back into a copper pot still to go through another round of distillation, but this time with a stainless-steel basket crammed full of 11 botanicals in the column of the still above the vaporizing pot. The alcohol vapors circulate in botanicals six to eight times, grabbing the intricate flavors of each ingredient.

Daniel Barnes Waterloo gin Barnes and his head distiller, Chris Lamb, experimented with almost 50 different recipes before they found the exact flavor profile they liked. Waterloo is made with a mix of Texas-grown botanicals such as lavender, rosemary, pecans, citrus from the Rio Grande Valley grapefruit, lemon, and orange zest along with juniper, coriander, ginger root, licorice root and anise. That mix of botanicals gives Waterloo the up-front juniper punch of a traditional London Dry style with a little Texas on the palate.

The very name, Waterloo, ties London and Austin together. After that smack of juniper it eases into a long lick of honey from the lavender, piney bitterness, nutshell and mischievous citrus. Some people compare it to Hendrix in style, but with less citrus and cucumber. The folks at Treaty Oak have a fantastic treat up their sleeve: aged gin. The Waterloo Antique series will be available in July. While barrel-aged gins have been a hot trend with some craft distillers, this will be the first one made in Texas.

Barnes had a gleam in his eye when he Daniel Barnes, of Treaty Oak Distilling described Antique while showing me around the barrel room.

“What happens when you give a bold gin a full year in a first-use heavy-charred barrel?” he asks me. “It gets rich whisky notes of cinnamon, clove, anise flavors. The juniper and floral still come through, but it has a nice round, caramelly finish. We are bottling it at 94 proof, so it has heft but is approachable straight out of the bottle. It also makes an amazing old-fashioned with quality orange and grapefruit bitters.”

Moonshine makes a fantastic cocktail to highlight the classic flavors of the un-aged Waterloo gin, which is the namesake of the original structure, the Waterloo Compound. Waterloo Gin is sold for around $25 a bottle in retail shops in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas. It will soon be available in New York and California. It’s also poured in bars and restaurants around Austin, including Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Moonshine, the Four Seasons, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Bartlett’s and Hopdoddy.

THE GENIUS BEHIND THE GIN

The newest gin to hit the market in Texas this June is Genius Gin. CEO and President Mike Groener and his partner, Charles Cheung, started the development of Genius in April 2012 because, as he put it, they “really, really love gin.” That’s one hell of a good reason to make it. Groener is passionate about aesthetics and has an engineer’s attention to detail. He established the flavor profile over the course of a year, experimenting with various ingredients.

“Being a craft distiller, I had a chance to show my style in the taste profile. It’s a way to both create an experience for the customer and put my distinct mark on the brand,” he says.

Despite the tinkering, the original recipe just wasn’t right. He visited several distilleries including Aviation in Portland for inspiration and realized that they had a similar characteristic to his recipe—a characteristic he didn’t like.

“There was a low note to some of them that tasted too rustic,” Groener says. “It wasn’t beautiful. The gins didn’t go well in cocktails. When I returned from Portland, I revamped my recipe and was done with it in about a week.”

Groener prides himself on the handmade qualities of his gin and fastidiously makes a flavor-neutral base spirit from sugar to let the botanicals do the talking. He uses a cold steep in the base for some of the heat-sensitive botanicals like lavender, angelica root, elder flower and lime leaf for a highly aromatic flavor. Other ingredients like juniper, cardamom and coriander (and two secret ones) are meant to be heated up —and even toasted, to impart flavor. Groener distills the heat-loving botanicals and the steeped spirits to make both a standard 94 gin and a 114-proof Navy Strength gin (Navy Strength gets its name from the practice that the British Royal Navy employed of taking gin of at least 57 percent alcohol on its boats, because if it were spilled on gun powder, the gun powder was still useable).

That attention to detail resulted in well-integrated flavors with the juniper sliding smoothly across the entire palate accompanied by a subtle sweetness. The Navy Strength has a slight nuttiness from the roasted coriander, and the higher alcohol gives it the vibrancy of sucking on a fistful of gin-flavored Altoids. While it can be appreciated straight up in a martini, it’s also versatile enough to go into a variety of cocktails. Groener mixed two cocktails using fresh-squeezed juices to taste cocktails and homemade simple syrups.

When Genius is released in June, it will be available in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio at retail stores such as The Austin Wine Merchant, Specs and Twin Liquors, as well as bars and restaurants such as Drink.Well, Midnight Cowboy, Volstead, Grackle, Tigress Pub, the Four Seasons and Vespaio.
Revolution Gin

IT’S A TEXAS GIN REVOLUTION

After nearly five years of dreaming, scheming, planning and experimenting, Revolution Gin cofounders Aaron Day and Mark Shilling are nearly ready to introduce their craft distilled gin to Texas.

“Aaron and I had been talking about our desire to make a spirit for awhile, and one thing led to another and we decided to stop talking about it and do it,” Shilling says. “Gin is what we want to do first. Craft distilling is wide open to experimentation, with flavors and styles that the big guys can’t do.”

“We were inspired by what we are seeing in the craft distilling industry,” Day quickly adds. “Tito [Beveridge, of Tito’s Handmade Vodka] showed it can be done. [Dan Garrison, of Garrison Brothers Whiskey] showed that it can be done in a craft way.”

The two choose to seek the counsel of other distillers and found an eager group of mentors willing to share advice. (In fact, the meetings and conversations led to the formation of the Texas Craft Distillers trade association, of which Daniel Barnes is president.)

“The mentorship we’ve received has helped us get off the ground,” Shilling says. “We had many productive conversations, and now it’s off to the races.”

Revolution Gin has secured a site for its distillery near Dripping Springs, in the same neighborhood as Argus Hard Cidery, Jester King Brewery and Thirty Planet Brewing Company. They see the area as a cultural corridor leading from Austin to the wineries near Fredericksburg. They aren’t alone in thinking that the area has appeal for day-trippers and tourists alike. Treaty Oak Distilling plans to move its operations to the neighborhood this fall. The gin is in the planning stages as Revolution works on getting its license.

The intent is to make a neutral base spirit with red wheat—or may even use non-GMO corn to make a gluten-free base that is consistent and reliable so they can focus on the botanicals. To gather inspiration for the flavor profile, Revolution has met with bartenders and opinion makers, including the folks at Bar Congress and Bobby Huegle of Anvil Bar in Houston to better understand the specific style of gin that is wanted in Texas.

“Simple is sometimes better. We are looking at using seven botanicals in our gin,” Shilling says. The focus will be on Texas-sourced botanicals such as citrus, lavender, rosemary and Ashe juniper berries. Revolution is shooting for a continental style, rather than a London dry, that brings complexity to cocktails. The star of the botanical show will be rosemary.

“Rosemary is distinct and has real legs,” Day says. “We’re excited to see what that brings.”

Revolution expects to release its gin in area restaurants, bars and stores in early fall for about $30. To get the word out to prominent mixologists, they hired an experienced spirits broker, Jennifer Querbes, as partner and COO. What are you waiting for? Let the Summer of Gin begin.

Summer Teeth
While Revolution Gin isn’t yet available to taste, Jason Stevens, the bar manager at Bar Congress, created a special gin-based summer cocktail that he’ll mix for you using any Texas-made gin.

  • 1 1/2 ounces local gin
  • 1/2 ounce Gran Classico
  • 1/2 ounce dry Sherry (like Fino, Manzanilla or Amontillado)
  • 1 barspoon simple syrup
  • 1 ounce fresh-squeezed Rio Star Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • few drops Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
  • 1 ½ ounces soda water (optional)

Combine all in a shaker filled with ice, and shake briefly to integrate.

*For a boozier cocktail, double strain into an old -fashioned glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
*For a lighter, more refreshing cocktail, single-strain shaken cocktail into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice and top with soda, then stir to integrate. Garnish with grapefruit peel and fresh mint.

Strawberry-lime Rickey
Waterloo Gin goes well in a refreshing twist on a classic Rickey. Try it with fresh strawberry.

  • 3 large, ripe strawberries
  • half a lime cut into quarters
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces Waterloo Gin
  • lime wheel, for garnish
  • strawberry slice, for garnish

In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the strawberries, lime wedges and simple syrup. Add the gin and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the lime wheel and strawberry slice.

 

Gin Fitzgerald
This classic cocktail is light, fresh and tasty. The gin flavor is a little bit up front so you can appreciate it, but it is as delicate as a first kiss. This could be the drink of the summer.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters (no more!)

Shake over ice and serve it up with a lemon garnish.

 

Bergstrom

Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin has a keen eye for local beer and spirits. They have introduced new summer cocktails, including the Bergstrom made with Waterloo Gin.

  • Lime Juice – 1 oz
  • Waterloo Gin – 2 oz
  • Maraschino Cherries – 3
  • Simple Syrup – ½ teaspoon

Shake and serve on ice.

This story was originally published in the Summer issue of Austin Man magazine. Photos by Jojo Marion.

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Exclusive reds and fine champagnes: Big Reds and Bubbles returns for tenth annual fete

Lamarca ProseccoAustinites love a good party, and Thursday, for the tenth year, hundreds of people will pack into the Driskill Hotel to sip some of the world’s finest champagne and exclusive red wines at Big Reds & Bubbles hosted by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas.

At this year’s annual fête, Nov. 8, guests will be greeted with a glass of bubbly served by the bubble girls, wearing little more than strategically placed bubbles. Who could ask for a better way to start a party?

“There is no other wine event like this in town,” says the foundation’s president-elect, Mark Shilling. “Big Reds and Bubbles is elegant and festive, it’s held in a beautiful location, it has high-caliber wines and incredible food that reflects Austin’s foodie movement. Let’s face it — it’s your gateway party to the holiday season. People get dressed to impress for Big Reds and Bubbles and that sets the tone for the cooler weather parties.”

The star of the show is definitely the wine. “Big Reds is a good way to experience several wines in an approachable, non-snooty way,” Shilling says.

Suzanne and Matt McGinnis  Big Reds & Bubbles Well, there is a little touch of snooty wine drinking. The event starts off with a sold-out, private VIP pre-party hosted by June Rodil, Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Best New Sommelier in 2011, featuring 10 big reds and sparkling wines. Rodil will describe the highly sought after wines and then give her recommendations on the must-have wines poured at the rest of the event.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get a VIP ticket, there will be plenty of excellent wine for us. Principle sponsor Glazer’s is arranging for approximately 130 wines from 60 producers to be poured at the party.

“Glazer’s is deeply involved in and committed to the food and wine industry in Texas,” said Stephen Hansen, portfolio marketing manager of Glazer’s Texas Fine Wine Division. “Our commitment aligns well with the Foundation’s mission of improving the wine and food community with education and scholarships. Food and wine are inextricably linked and are absolutely essential to our culture, to who we are. Big Reds and Bubbles is an excellent way to experience the culture of food and wine.”

Bryce Gilmore and Jack Gilmore Big Reds & BubblesThe “big” will shine through in glasses of California Cabernets like Miner Oracle, Chappellet Mountain Cuvee and Sterling Vineyards Platinum. Well known wines like Beaulieu Vineyards will be poured next to wineries that are new to the event, like Donati Family, Lange Winery and Gerard Bertrand.

Bubbly conversations always flow better with a flute of champagne. This year’s bubbles come from stand-out wines from Louis Roederer, Laurent Perrier and Beau Joie as well as a phenomenal selection of Prosecco from producers like Montesel, Nino Franco, La Marca, and Cava from Juve y Camps and Segura Viudas.

20 of Austin’s acclaimed chefs will serve inventive nibbles to pair with all of those fantastic wines. I’m looking forward to trying a preview of Bridget Dunlap’s new place, Mettle. Another new joint serving up the goods is Guests LaV Austin, which will be opened by Chef Allison Jenkins in fall of 2013. There will be plenty of good eats from the likes of The Carillon, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Barley Swine, Max’s Wine Dive, Noble Pig, Wink and Swift’s Attic.

Chef Brad Sorenson

Returning as emcee this year is Chef Brad Sorenson of The Next Food Network Star fame. He’ll give us the inside scope on his soon to open Nova Kitchen & Bar on Rainey Street, while rallying the crowd to spend big on the silent auction. He’ll have plenty to sell with desirable auction items like a three liter bottle of Miner Family Wines The Oracle 2007, three cases of exquisite Spanish wines and a private tasting for 10 at the Red Room Lounge hosted by Advanced Sommelier, Bill Elsey.

Proceeds from the event benefit The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’s education and scholarships which promote excellence in the culinary and viticulture arts.

Tickets for the event are available online for the price of $85 for foundation members and $100 for the general public. The Foundation reports that ticket sales are ahead of schedule and they expect the event to sell out with 400 people in attendance. 

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

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