If imitation is the highest form of flattery, let’s say variation is the highest form of fandom.
And maybe it’s fair enough that both gin and vodka have gotten minor makeovers. Pillars of the spirits industry, gin and vodka tend to be politely misunderstood or politely taken for granted (and yes, gin aficionados, we excuse you from this list). At the very worst, gin and vodka are pigeonholed as workhorse alcohol delivery systems, either “juniper” or “neutral.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of fans—and not just fans, but professional fans—who enjoy the clear stuff enough to dare to dial it to the next level, making vodkas and gins that test our sense of lazy familiarity. Which is to say, be prepared for (but don’t be afraid of) some serious boundary-blurring. And don’t mix any of it with Red Bull.
HOPHEAD VODKA: FOR HOP LOVERS
It was only a matter of time before hop-love got so freaky, it started making its way to entirely different classes of spirits. But this isn’t some random act of egregious hopping. If you think about it, the clean, bracing bite of a well-made vodka is kind of the perfect palette for the piney-citrus bite of hops. Don’t fear the bitterness, the hops are macerated beforehand, so a lot of the more bitter (beer appropriate) oils don’t come
TECHNICAL RESERVE VODKA CONCENTRATE: HIGH TEST
Like a statue in Indiana Jones or a moody silverback gorilla, this stuff is not to be messed with. We should emphasize “concentrate”—this is 96.5% ABV, the highest possible ABV for any spirit. NOT meant to be shot, or mixed, as is. Dilute with the recommended 3 ounces per 3 ounces of vodka.
BARR HILL VODKA: HONEY LOVERS
Not like Winnie the Pooh—you won’t get a sweet gob of honey, and a cluster of bees. But this is the vodka offshoot of an apiary, courtesy of Caledonia Spirits. And because it’s both pot and column-distilled, some of the floral and nectar notes of the honey linger (or buzz) well into the bracing, warm finish.
SQUARE ONE ORGANIC BOTANICAL VODKA: THE ALMOST GIN
Where vodka distillation tends to come out pure, a relatively blank (ideally smooth) canvas upon which we paint our collective dreams, gin tends to add (juniper-heavy) infusions. Here we have a 100% rye vodka infused with, well, romance. Rose, lavender, pear, and chamomile provide a garden of floral and honeyed aromatics, with rosemary, bright citrus, and spicy coriander peppering up the finish.
ROUNDHOUSE SPIRITS IMPERIAL BARREL-AGED GIN: THE ALMOST WHISKEY
Gin is legally characterized by a strong juniper component, but that doesn’t stop producers like Roundhouse from introducing gin to the mysteries of oak. So a gin-classic juniper infusion, complete with delicate notes of lavender, chamomile, and even green tea, gets 10 months of oak mellowing. Bring this to the party and blow minds.
ANCHOR DISTILLING GENEVIEVE GIN: THE ALMOST JENEVER
If you straddle halfway between gin and jenever, you’ll find this—spiritually gin, as in made with the requisite flavor base of sharp, aromatic juniper berries. But founded on a richer base, an unaged distillation from wheat, malted barley, and rye, which brings it slightly closer to its great granduncle Jenever.
GREENHOOK GINSMITH BEACH PLUM GIN LIQUEUR: THE ALMOST SLOE GIN
Sloe Gin got a bad name for a while (but it’s making a mild resurgence). If you can’t wait, try Greenhook Ginsmith’s beach plum variant, resulting in a mildly tart, mildly sweet, still gin-forward (as in balancing bracing) liqueur.
PERRY’S TOT NAVY STRENGTH GIN: THE MIGHTY HIGH ABV GIN
“Navy Strength,” in gin parlance, means 57.5% ABV. Why? Because, as at least one story goes, if gin was “navy strength” you could douse gunpowder with it and the gunpowder would still light. Not that this is a bottle of pure potency. Within that heat, you’ll find notes of baking and savory spices (cinnamon, coriander, cardamom), citrus fruit, florals, and since we’re still talking about the gin here (right?), juniper.