Friday, September 18, 2015

Absolut Bourbon?



Ain’t that America? We have whiskeys that don’t taste like whiskey (e.g., Fireball) and now a not-whiskey that tastes a little bit like whiskey, Oak by Absolut. Absolut is foundering and desperate. The pundits say it is whiskey, bourbon in particular, that is kicking vodka’s butt in the USA. Ergo, bourbon-flavored vodka. Never let it be said that Pernod Ricard doesn’t see and do the obvious.

It isn't bourbon-flavored vodka exactly, but most of bourbon's flavor does come from the new charred oak barrel in which it labors for several years. (The aging process is much more active than the 'slumber' metaphor usually used to describe it.) Oak by Absolut spends about six months in wood. They can't call it 'aged vodka.' That would be against the law. Instead, like the Tequila makers, they call it 'rested.' 'Rested on oak' is their description of the process.

Believe it or not, this isn't new. Seagram's gin used to have a slight yellow tint because it was 'rested' in used bourbon barrels for about three months before bottling. The neutral spirit (i.e., vodka) component of Seagrams Seven received the same treatment. There is even an official name for it; 'grain spirits.'

Seagrams could do this because their Lawrenceburg, Indiana plant distilled both neutral spirit and whiskey, and aged the whiskey there. The neutral spirit was flavored into gin there using a vacuum distillation process. They had a bottling plant just down the road, so freshly emptied barrels were always readily available.

It was quite a place. Corn and water went in, cases of Seagrams Seven and Seagrams Gin came out.

But then Seagrams was dissolved as a company and its assets sold separately. Today, the owner of the Indiana distillery is MGPI but the bottling plant is owned by Proximo. Although both Seagrams Seven Crown American Blended Whiskey and Seagrams Gin are still made at MGP, they are now owned by Diageo and Pernod, respectively, and shipped out in tankers to be bottled elsewhere. Technically, the 'resting' could still be done -- Pernod is doing it for Oak -- but Seagrams Seven and Seagrams Gin are price-sensitive products, so that extra expense has been deemed superfluous.

We don't know where Oak by Absolut is 'resting.' They say they are using Swedish, French, and American Oak, which might be interesting for a whiskey. For this I'm not sure it matters.

One of the greatest failures in the history of the American distilled spirits industry was Light Whiskey, introduced in 1968. At that time, vodka was kicking whiskey's ass and a nearly-neutral spirit with a little bit of characteristic whiskey flavor seemed like just the ticket. It wasn't. One of the biggest reasons people drink vodka is because they don't like the flavor of whiskey, so why would they drink a vodka that tastes even just a little bit like whiskey? They wouldn't, they didn't then, and they probably won't now.

I have not been offered a taste of it yet but when I am, I'll let you know.

15 comments:

Curt said...

Another product no one is asking for.

Sean Thibodeaux said...

I tasted the first batch of this product a couple of years ago at the distillery, and while the mouthfeel was interesting, it had a lot of - in my opinion - unfavorable woody characteristics. Similar to many over-oaked bourbons on the market today but without the corn sweetness that helps to mellow the flavors.

Erik Fish said...

If you can sell cotton-candy, bubble-gum, glazed-donut, horseradish, organic-cucumber, maple-syrup, buttered-popcorn, sugar-cookie, whipped-cream, bacon-maple, smoked-salmon and churros-cinnamon flavored vodka (I didn't make any of these up, they came straight from a quick glance at the OLCC vodka list), then a whiskey-flavored vodka appears to be one of the saner concepts out there. Since most vodka gets dumped into cocktails anyways, I'm sure bartenders will be able to come up with things to do with it.
And who knows, it may even nudge a vodka drinker or two toward giving real whiskey a try?

Alex said...

Kansas Clean Distilled is an even more watered-down spirit whiskey they're trying to push. It seems to be working for some of the vodka-drinking crowd--I had someone try to explain to me how "clean distilling" was critical to the product's quality.

Their slogan is "The problem with whiskey is that it's aged." Way to miss the trend of the current spirits market...

Keith said...

I thought oak flavored vodka was callwd American craft whiskey. HEY-OOOOOO!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I wondered what was different in Seagram's Gin, which I recently bought after many years. The "slight yellow tint" was gone. It also didn't taste the same, IMO. Dave S

Anonymous said...

Hey Chuck - I didn't realize that Proximo owned the bottling plant until I read it in this article. I heard rumor that Stranahan's and Tin Cup are bottling in Indiana, but didn't think much of it until seeing the Proximo bottling plant ownership fact in this article. I don't know that it really matters much in the case of Stranahan's, but Tin Cup touts the water all over their website. http://www.tincupwhiskey.com/. I figured even though Tin Cup was distilled in Indiana that they might have been being truthful about touting the water source as unique. So, unless they are importing Colorado water to Indiana, they are evening being dishonest about their silly water marketing claims!

For the record, Stranahan's also mentions "Rocky Mtn Spring Water" on their website, but not nearly as prominently as Tin Cup. http://www.stranahans.com/whiskey.php.

Do you know anything about them bottling those products at the Indiana plant?

Cheers!

Chuck Cowdery said...

To the best of my knowledge, both Tin Cup and Stranahan's are bottled at Stranahan's in Denver.

Anonymous said...

You are 100% correct Chuck. Sorry but I can't id myself.

Darren M said...

I think Absolut is just carving out a niche that isn't already swallowed up by the flavored vodka market, which is in steep decline. Instead of flavoring a vodka with something non-natural I believe it's out of the box to use a little oak and I will tell you why. The craft cocktail movement is back and picking up pace rather quickly. These craft cocktail makers, or some prefer to be called mixologists, are on the fore front of originality, or at least they think they are. Since vodka is the perfect base for a cocktail build I feel an oak flavored vodka will give them an additional way to tweak a classic cocktail recipe. I am a whisk(e)y drinker and this product peaks my interest. I will look for a bottle to sample and make some Vesper's for my friends and I. Thanks for sharing.

Mr. Sausage said...

I don't know any bartenders who consider vodka the "perfect base for a cocktail build".
Maybe you're referring to the folks who make drinks at casual dining mega-chains and mix whatever the taste engineers came up with.

Chris said...

Why can't they call it aged if it sat in barrels for a time?

Chuck Cowdery said...

It is illegal to use the word 'aged' in reference to gin or vodka. I don't know why.

Oscar said...

Blogger Keith said...
I thought oak flavored vodka was callwd American craft whiskey. HEY-OOOOOO!

September 19, 2015 at 5:05 PM

I agree with the above post that I pasted down.
It's funny because it's true.

Bedlamist said...

We already have whiskey-flavored vodka. It's called Seagram's 7.