Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Go Van Gogh

I'm not a vodka guy, though neither am I a vodkaphobe - as far as I'm concerned, whatever gets you through the night... I keep a few bottles around the house, whatever I consider really good, and pass the rest on to friends, neighbors and delivery men. I don't often hold onto flavored vodkas at all...except for Van Gogh, which, as flavored spirits go, are generally unparalleled in terms of pure, essential flavors. In fact, as the international cordial suppliers continue to miss out on the opportunity created by the cocktail revolution - that is, they continue to sell generally artificial tasting, overly sweet and just plain unpleasant liqueurs - bartenders are starting to opt for the 35% abv Van Goghs as flavoring agents. All hail master distiller Tim Voss.

I sat down last week with Norman Bonchick, head of Van Gogh Imports, and tasted all their wares. The good news - the Dutch Chocolate is back and as good as ever, a hot chocolately treat with a slight bitterness, a drying finish with spice and a balanced sweetness. A mistaken change in the formula has been righted, and this is the benchmark chocolate spirit, as far as I'm concerned.

But it's not Van Gogh's best - that nod goes to the Double Espresso, a magnificently crafted spirit that explodes with aromas of freshly ground dark roast coffee bean and tastes like finely filtered and concentrated pure espresso with a shot of spirit. The art of flavoring doesn't get any better, and with the possible exception of Illy Coffee Liqueur, there's nothing close to this Van Gogh.

I was also impressed with the Van Gogh Coconut vodka, quite against my will - "No way I'll like this," I thought and then wham! an aromatic explosion of toasted coconut and coconut cream erupted from the glass, and not a hint of the usual coconut sunscreen notes so often found in such spirits. It's compelling and seductive, and all coconut lushness - a real winner.

Given that these products depend on fresh and seasonal ingredients for their flavors, it's not surprising that some change slightly - the Pineapple was more like pineapple upside down cake than fresh grilled pineapples, which was my overwhelming impression when Van Gogh first sent samples around. I'm told the pineapple can be made twice yearly, which would explain how a particular harvest would change things. Nonetheless, it, too, is outstanding.

Oh, and the new Dutch Caramel Vodka? All I can say is I waved the open bottle under the noses of five unsuspecting friends, and they all said the same thing - "Wow."

My scores: Dutch Caramel: 7
Dutch Chocolate: 8
Double espresso: 9
Coconut: 8
Pineapple: 7

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