Spring has sprung and drinking opportunities will be increasing in frequency over the next couple of months. (Because you tee-totaled all winter, right?) One of the biggest spirit movements over the past five years has been flavored vodkas and much like your auntie’nem’s favorite wine, this is a highly polarizing trend. As someone who finds other creatively-flavored beverages to be absolutely disgusting (Blueberry coffee? You clearly aren’t old enough for caffeine, grow up) AND who strongly finds other spirits to be far more pleasing than vodka, I have to admit---a lot of these fruity, sometimes-sweet concoctions make for a darn good cocktail.
Here are a few of our favorite flavored vodkas, which all do far better in a mixed drink than they do on their own. Grab a bottle, some juice and some friends and turn up for the holiday weekend. Turn all the way up, you party animal, you.
1) Absolut Ruby Red: One of the country’s leading vodkas since 1979, the brand introduced the first flavored vodka—Peppar (yes, pepper, for Bloody Marys)---in 1986, long before anyone could have predicted some of the cartoon-colored, cringeworthy varieties to emerge in recent years. The Ruby Red has that familiar Absolut clean, clear and grainy burn, but with perfectly bitter, citrusy notes of grapefruit. Keep it simple and mix 1 part vodka to 3 parts grapefruit juice, or enjoy with tonic.
2) New Amsterdam Pineapple: New Amsterdam should be mentioned in any conversation about quality spirits at affordable prices (around $15/bottle), and I'm a big fan of both the vodka and the gin. They've only been making the latter since 2011, and have already rolled out an impressive line of flavored offerings. The brand-new Pineapple variety tastes a lot like a piece of hard candy, but in a good way. We sampled it with orange-banana juice, but I think it would be fantastic in a punch, or with cranberry.
3) Pinnacle Peach: Pinnacle has a whopping 30 varieties of vodka, ranging from “perfectly logical (Pineapple, Coconut),” to “surprisingly good” (Salted Carmel, Cinnabon---no, really!), to “I would never put that in my mouth to find out” (Gummy, Cookie Dough.) Of the 10 or so I have sampled, my favorite is Peach. I am pretty sure that Peach is number 2 behind “Red,” in terms of being the official flavor of Black America. Pinnacle Peach (say it 3 times fast) is a perfect addition to a fruit punch and also shines in the brand’s signature “Peach Parade” cocktail, which is essentially a peach Cosmo: 2 parts Pinnacle Peach Vodka, 1 part DeKuyper Triple Sec, 2 parts cranberry juice, 1 part fresh lime juice. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.
4) Smirnoff Sorbet Light Coconut Pineapple: I was made skeptical by the "sorbet" tag, but this is one of the best light spirits I've sampled. It has that signature Smirnoff bite, but the tropical fruit notes are pleasing and don't taste artificial. How did we enjoy it? Equal parts vodka, pineapple juice and guava nectar, on the rocks. A little bit of paradise in your mouth.
5) Van Gogh Rich Dark Chocolate: I don't really play with chocolate. It's pretty serious around these parts. But while I love the traditional chocolate martini recipes (how did chocolate martinis get old enough to have tradition?!) made with half-and-half or a cream liqueur, I try to avoid indulging in those things, because lactose. I was delighted to find that the Van Gogh adds extra rich cocoa flavor to a dairy-free version, plus a bit of spice. This one doesn't work in a red Solo cup, kids. Shake 2 ounces Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur with 1.5 ounces of the Van Gogh Rich Dark Chocolate, strain and serve in a martini glass with a sexy garnish of chocolate shavings, or perhaps a sprig of mint, and a swirl of chocolate syrup. It's also amazing with equal parts Bailey's Irish Cream.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com's Senior Drinker. Tweet her: @jamilahlemieux