Sweet Vodkas, The Growing Trend:
Just when you thought that vodka brands had tapped into every marketable flavor possible, they surprise you. Over the years we have seen almost every fruit infused in vodka, a number of coffee vodkas, and a myriad of other random flavors such as caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and honey. While these last few are sweet, they do not compare to the recent trend of dessert-flavored vodkas that are meant to replicate the taste of those indulgent baked goods and other sweet treats that many of us love.
By dessert-flavored vodkas I mean those that capture in the bottle the flavors of cakes, whipped cream and frosting, and even marshmallows. Around 2010 and 2011 we began to see an increasing number of vodka brands producing such decadent spirits and it has taken the flavored vodka category to new heights. Yes, before this explosion there were 'sweetened' vodkas such as the tasty chocolate and vanilla vodkas and those like Van Gogh's Dutch Caramel, but it was rare (if not unheard of) to think of a cake-flavored vodka. And yet, it is a natural progression as drinkers with a sweet tooth have been infusing Skittles, gummies, and other candies in vodkas at home for years. One thing that the home infusionist could not touch, however, were baked goods; you cannot just stick a piece of cake in vodka and extract its flavor.
Will this trend end? I highly doubt it. There is a discernible market of drinkers who truly enjoy these flavored vodkas and the sales numbers reflect that. In speaking with Dean Phillips, President and CEO of Phillips Distilling, in November, 2011, he said that the sales of UV Cake (released in May, 2011) will come close to, if not surpass, the company's UV Blue which is one of the most popular flavored vodkas on the market. Similarly, David Tapscott, Brand Director for Smirnoff said in a statement, "We’re confident that the new Smirnoff Whipped Cream and Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Flavored Vodkas will be broadly embraced, much like their namesake dessert counterparts." If anything, I see the dessert vodka trend expanding. Think about all of the cakes, pastries, and other treats that are left for distilleries to play with, and as long as consumers are interested, they will pursue it.
How Do They Make Dessert Flavored Vodkas:
You may (or may not) notice a distinction in labeling of certain flavored vodkas. In the case of many fruit and herb vodkas, you will often see the word 'infused', meaning the actual ingredient was placed in the vodka to extract its natural flavors. In other cases (and sometimes in the case of fruits as well) you will see the term 'flavored' instead. This is used more often (though not always) when flavoring ingredients - natural or artificial - are added to the vodka in the same manner as flavoring many of the commercially produced foods we eat today. These ingredients can include syrups and other sweeteners, though I doubt any of the distillers will reveal their proprietary recipes for us to replicate in our own bars.
I've contemplated this question of how distillers create such novel flavors in both vodkas and liqueurs and I think it is most similar to how we create new cocktails. There are many drink recipes that replicate the taste of a certain dessert or favorite childhood candy, just think of a Candy Corn Cocktail, a Chocolate Cake shooter, or a Lemon Drop Martini. The same principle applies: someone wants a certain flavor in the drink and they figure out how to make it and it often takes quite a bit of trial and error, but eventually you have something similar.
In my interview with Phillips he said that UV Cake was a suggestion of the vodka's Facebook fans. They took the flavor to product development and the 40 years experience of Jim Aune who developed the flavor, always keeping in mind the taste of frosting and fresh white cake. After that it was tested at the distillery's Friday afternoon tastings. The point, Phillips says, is to "capture biting into a moist, fresh white cake in a bottle." This process is the same that many bartenders use in creating drinks - idea development, experimentation, taste testing.
Mixing and Drinking Dessert Vodkas:
When a new flavored vodka is released it is often difficult to comprehend how to drink it, especially when it is a first of its kind. The first question that came to my mind when hearing about cake vodkas was "What would I mix with that?" It is hard to think outside of what we know and this is where we rely on people who have been working with the flavor for some time, namely the company itself. In the list of vodka brands below I have included their websites when possible as a resource which I recommend beginning with because after the primary product has been developed a number of cocktail recipes are created using it. Without this help many of us would be stuck, but these recipes are a starting point, an inspiration for what may and may not work. Try out some of their recipes, ask yourself what you like and do not like about it, and think of what other flavor combinations may be viable.
Phillips says that their Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe is one of the most popular. It is a simple 1:2 mix of UV Cake and pineapple juice on which you can build. Instantaneously, I think of adding ginger ale for some sparkle, maybe some amaretto for depth, or Frangelico for the nuttiness. Then again, maybe a 50/50 mix of pineapple and orange juices with a splash of apricot nectar and a dash of chocolate bitters would make a delicious neat drink.
When I heard of Smirnoff's Fluffed Marshmallow the first thing that came to mind was (what else?) s'mores. Then I think of how to combine the three ingredients of that campfire favorite. Simply, it involves taking Smirnoff's Dark 'n Fluffy recipe and rimming the glass with finely crushed graham crackers.
In reality, these vodkas are meant to be fun and something used to easily create sweet tasting cocktails. Take the novelty of their taste and see what you come up with, simply enjoy the experimentation. Here are a few drinks to get you started...
- Apple Crisp - UV Cake
- Berry Whipped (shooter) - Smirnoff Whipped Cream
- Candy Corn - UV Cake
- Carrot Cake - UV Cake
- Dark 'n Fluffy - Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow
- Floating on Cloud 9 - Pinnacle Whipped
- Halloween Brew - Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie
- Honey Bun - Pinnacle Cinnabon
- PB&J Frappe - Van Gogh PB&J
- Proost - Van Gogh Dutch Caramel
- Red Velvet Shortcake - Zing Red Velvet
- Roasted Mellow (shooter) - Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow
- Ruby Slippers - Pinnacle Rainbow Sherbert
- Salted Caramel Rocky Road - Effen Salted Caramel
- Spiced Pumpkin - Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie
- Strawberries 'n Cream - Pinnacle Strawberry Shortcake
- Thanksgiving Cider - Pinnacle Pumpkin Pie
- Whipped Sunset - Smirnoff Whipped Cream
Will dessert vodkas break my diet?
First of all, I am not a dietician and have limited knowledge of dietary standards so it is up to you and your dietician or doctor to determine if any alcohol is appropriate for your goals and health.
That said, I did ask Phillips about the sugar content of UV Cake and he pointed out that it is 'comparable' to the brand's clear 80-proof vodka. The evidence is on the UV website where nutritional facts for all of the vodkas can be found. It states that UV Cake contains: 110 calories, 9 carbs, and 0 protein, sodium, and cholesterol per 1-1/2 ounce serving. In comparison, UV Vodka (80 proof, unflavored) contains: 97.5 calories and 0 carbs, protein, fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
If this is a concern, you can find nutritional information on other brands of dessert vodka as well. Another factor that one must keep in mind with cocktails and diets is the mixer and the nutritional value of what you mix with the liquor of your choice, no matter what that is.
A Few Dessert Vodkas To Explore:
- 360 Vodka (website)- Buttered Popcorn, Double Chocolate, Glazed Donut
- Burnett's Vodka (website) - Candy Cane, Hot Cinnamon, Maple Syrup, Orange Cream, Sugar Cookie, Whipped Cream
- Cupcake Vodka (website) - Cupcake, Chiffon, Devil's Food, Frosting, Ginger Snap, Verry Berry
- Effen Vodka (website) - Salted Caramel
- Lucky Player Vodka (website) - Candy Apple, King Cake, Meringue Pie
- Pearl Vodka (website) - Apple Pie, Caramel, Chocolate Covered Cherry, Wedding Cake, Whipt
- Pinnacle Vodka (website) - Atomic Hots, Cinnabon, Cookie Dough, Cotton Candy, Gummy, Marshmallow, Whipped, Cherry Whipped, Chocolate Whipped, Key Lime Whipped, Orange Whipped, Pumpkin Pie, Rainbow Sherbert, Strawberry Shortcake
- Smirnoff Vodka (website) - Fluffed Marshmallow, Iced Cake, Kissed Caramel, Whipped Cream
- Stivy's (formerly Stiffy's) - Jaffa Cake
- Three Olives (website) - Bubble, Cake, Loopy (as in Fruit Loops), S'Mores
- UV Vodka (website)- UV Cake, Candy Bar, Chocolate Cake, Whipped
- Van Gogh Vodka (website)- PB&J, Rich Dark Chocolate, Dutch Caramel
Dessert Vodkas, Love 'Em or Hate 'Em:
There are two sides of the debate over dessert flavored vodkas. On one hand you have the indulgent drinker who enjoys sweet drinks and have very quickly fallen in love with these new flavors. On the other hand you have the cocktail and liquor purists who think that any flavored distilled spirit beyond liqueurs is a travesty. It is the same controversy that surrounds drinks like the Martini and the thousands of drinks that take the name 'martini' and as an objective observer I find it rather entertaining.
Though I do have my own preferences when it comes to cocktails I attempt to not discount a new product solely on the basis of its novelty or trendiness