New 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.
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:
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.