We know, gin is just a bit too gin-y for you vodka drinkers. Some bottles can feel like sucking on a pine branch, while others are so oversaturated with “local” ingredients that you don’t know what to make of them—or with them. But don’t give up just yet. There’s a new booze on the block whose expressions are comprised of plant-based botanicals and natural essences. Distinct from flavored vodkas, which can be loaded with artificial coloring and ingredients, botanical vodkas and other spirits are flavored naturally, with complementary components. These are three to try, along with a cocktail idea for each.
Last year, the Netherlands’ vodka company released three expressions made with real botanicals, natural fruit essences, 100% non-GMO grain, zero carbs and absolutely no artificial flavors or sweeteners: Cucumber & Mint, Grapefruit & Rose, and Peach & Orange Blossom.
“The distillation process and taste are so distinctive from flavored vodka and offer such a unique alternative to wine that [we] refer to the different variants as varietals,” says brand director Jim Ruane. (As a distinction from flavored vodka, the essences and botanicals here are distilled at the beginning of the process rather than introducing them at the end, meaning they’re better integrated into the final product.)
Ketel One uses recipes from the Nolet family and a copper pot still for the most authentic taste experience. This flavor “enjoys lush, juicy white peaches and bold notes of fragrant orange blossoms,” says Ruane.
When Intrepid Spirits CEO John Ralph was visiting South America, he learned just how intrinsic the coca leaf was to the local lifestyle. People brew coca leaf tea to combat altitude sickness and chew the leaves to boost energy. When he returned from his trip, he researched the French Vin Mariani, an elixir made with red wine and extracts from the coca leaf that was popular during Victorian times, leading to the invention of Coca-Cola. The inspiration led him to create Cocalero Clásico, a lightly sweet product that straddles the gin and liqueur categories.
“Fans of amaro will appreciate the complex blend of botanicals, while gin drinkers will find Clásico to be a much more pleasant drinking experience,” says Ralph. The spirit is made from a guarded recipe of 17 botanicals and herbs—coca leaf, juniper, ginseng, green tea—using a steam distillation process found in the perfume industry, which extracts essential oils. Ralph drinks it straight, very cold with a slice of lime, but also calls it an exciting base for cocktails like the Margarita, Mojito or Spritz.
Founder and CEO Allison Evanow is a pioneer in the botanical spirit category, launching the first one on the market a decade ago. “The qualifying factor to be called ‘botanical’ anything is that you have to actually use the real plant in some way,” she says. From this launching point, distillers can even cross into other categories like botanical whiskey (such as Pow-Wow botanical rye, a brand infused with orange peel and saffron among others).
Square One botanical vodka is distilled from organic rye and water from the Snake River and infused with chamomile, citrus peel, coriander, lavender, lemon verbena, pear, rose and rosemary. “I think bartenders especially, but also more knowledgeable consumers, are now understanding that a reference to botanical spirits is simply a broader genus term for a spirit that relies on its main flavor profile from a collection of botanicals regardless of spirit category type.”