Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club periodically features Taste Tests. Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At this point, it’s pretty tough to get The A.V. Club excited about flavored vodka. After all, we’ve tasted not one, but two kinds of bacon vodka—once you’ve had meat-booze, you get a little jaded. Society’s inclination to continually fuck with the most unfuckwithable grain-based spirit is understandable, what with the proliferation of so-called “specialty martinis” and a glut of new brands entering the market, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to indulge this abhorrent practice. At least, we didn’t have to until we stumbled upon a couple of flavors just insane enough to throw us off our high horses and force us to lift the flavored-vodka embargo.
These chosen ones come courtesy of Pinnacle Vodka, a Maine-based company that imports French vodka (a fact it helpfully conveys on the label via a flag emblazoned with the word “France”), gooses it with traditional French flavors like root beer and tropical punch, and suggests cocktail recipes with names like “Blueberries And Bonapartes” and “French Alps-tini.” Pinnacle’s roster of 22 flavors is impressive, eclipsing that of noted purveyor of bizarrely flavored vodka Three Olives, but two abominations in particular stood out: whipped cream and cotton candy. How could two products that barely qualify as food translate to booze? Since cotton candy and whipped cream have flavor profiles that basically boil down to “sweet as fuck,” how would these be any different than vodka mixed with simple syrup? And, most importantly, what the hell do you mix with cotton-candy-flavored vodka?
Honey-pepper-flavored vodka from Ukraine may not be the most obvious answer to that last question, but we just happened to have some on hand, thanks to commenter Idiotking, who brought some by the office in what we can only assume, after tasting it, was an act of aggression. Along with the three vodkas, we presented our officemates with a variety of mixers and leftover booze and encouraged them to go all chemistry-set on the stuff. The resulting free-for-all saw both Pinnacle bottles nearly drained, the creation of shots with names like “Clown Vomit” and “The Liposuction,” and a kitchen that smelled like the back room of a shady Ukrainian circus.
Taste: Both the cotton-candy and whipped-cream vodkas went down surprisingly smoothly, but even more surprisingly, they tasted strongly of their respective flavors. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they smelled strongly of their respective flavors, and our taste buds were just along for the ride. Nevertheless, the flavor scientists at Pinnacle deserve props for accurately approximating the scents of two products that don’t really have distinct scents. But just as Bonnie Bell can somehow make lip gloss that smells of Dr. Pepper, Pinnacle has managed to make vodka that smells of dyed spun sugar. Truly these are glorious times we live in.
While novelty and extreme sweetness help the first shot go down smooth, it’s hard to imagine returning to the bottle for a second round, unless you’re going for a diabetes-cirrhosis twofer. If you prefer more of a gut-punch with your booze, Nemiroff honey-pepper vodka might be more your jam, particularly if you have a fondness for things that taste like cardboard. Perhaps the sweetness receptors on our tongues had been blown out by the Pinnacle vodkas, but Nemiroff had nothing remotely resembling the flavor of honey—nor that of pepper, really, unless we’re talking about dried-out black pepper that’s been in the back of the spice cabinet for five years. Certainly it’s nothing like “chili pepper… followed by thick set honey, light cloves, cinnamon and gingerbread, extending with crème brûlée and vanilla,” which is how it’s described in marketing-speak. Or maybe it is, but we were too busy coughing for our brains to register anything other than “yuck.”
Shockingly, nobody attempted any honey-pepper vodka cocktail experimentation—outside of a “suicide” shot combining the three flavors, which was best forgotten—but the whipped-cream and cotton-candy flavors got thrown into coffee, Coke, juice, and whatever other beverage we had sitting around, resulting in one of the most boisterous Taste Tests in recent memory. Our experimentation didn’t necessarily result in the next “Blueberries And Bonapartes,” but it most certainly made us tipsy.
• “I could smell the cotton-candy vodka from down the hall. I thought Siegfried and Roy were in the office.”
• “Bartenders are always getting asked for a cocktail that evokes memories of being molested by carnies.”
• “This reminds me of something John Wayne Gacy used to brew.”
• “It tastes like pancake syrup. Not just maple syrup. Like syrup when it’s on a pancake, and starchy.”
• “Strongly medicinal cotton candy. It wasn’t gross, but why would you buy this? It also tasted like Red Bull, so you could double up on the grossness if you mixed it with that stuff.”
• “For something with such a sweet, sweet smell, that still tastes pretty bitter. Like vodka, strangely enough. It isn’t terrible, it just isn’t like cotton candy, or really anything but vodka with a little artificial sugary flavoring.”
• “Dare I say the flavor was complex? First it hits you with the strong medicinal alcohol flavor. Then it washes over with vanilla. Really, it’s vanilla vodka. Though I guess the chemical flavor gives it that hint of Reddi Wip.”
• “The whipped-cream vodka tastes like store-purchased cake frosting and alcohol. Like a grade-school birthday party gone wrong.”
• “The mixture of whipped-cream vodka, Baileys, and amaretto tastes like caramel on a vanilla sundae.”
• “Tastes like Baileys, but smoother and not as thick. It even has a milky quality. And it’s the gentlest, most aftertaste-free vodka I’ve ever tried. No wonder this stuff is mostly gone. I can see this being a terrific mixer.”
• “It’s more like cream soda than dairy. I’m guessing the early trials resulted in bottles of cheese.”
• “Cotton-candy and whipped-cream vodka are good with just about anything light or sugary. They were so delicious that I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I like them. But at least they actually contain alcohol, as opposed to your standard foo-foo flavored drinks.”
• “The cotton-candy/whipped-cream vodkas were surprisingly palatable, but woe be upon any diabetics who try these. They follow the Mary Poppins doctrine of alcohol consumption: A spoonful of sugar helps the liquor go down. Was there a warning label against combining these with any sort of pre-sweetened mixer?”
• “Go in the kitchen and smell it, it smells like a strip club in there! Now throw in some glitter and call it a day.”
• “This stuff tastes like it was dragged through a Ukrainian forest by a traveling circus, only to be hand-filtered by my Ukrainian landlord, Eugene.”
• “What the shit is this? It doesn’t really taste like anything—it’s just gross. No idea why someone would drink this, other than to take away the pain of your miserable Ukrainian existence.”
• “The real crazy stuff got underway long after the cameras shut off. We mixed the honey-pepper vodka with some of Jun’s Tabasco sauce and it made it almost tolerable. The Tabasco flavor still was not enough to nullify the disgustingness, however.”
• “Honey-pepper vodka straddles the line of plausibility; I can’t seem to make up my mind whether the idea is repulsive or just crazy enough to work. Thankfully, the result is clear: This is awful and should not be consumed by anyone with a functioning digestive tract. After a certain amount of this, I would not be surprised if it completely dismantled your ability to ingest food or liquid of any kind.”
• “Wow, I can taste the honey, the pepper, and the vodka each individually, with a two-second delay between them. Kind of an interesting experience, unfortunately with a nasty, mouthwashy aftertaste at the end. Clearly the only solution is to keep drinking until I can’t process the aftertaste anymore.”
• “Honey-pepper vodka burns going down, and inevitably coming back up.”
• “It's been 30 minutes since I drank that shot, and it still feels like being punched in the stomach.”
• “I definitely sensed a delayed reaction while drinking the honey-pepper vodka. It was as though my stomach said ‘Oh shit’ before my mouth did.”
Where to get them: Your local booze emporium.