The once flavorless, bland, and boring spirit shines bright in the Hudson Valley. Plus, try out these eight great vodka-based cocktails.
About eight years ago, tequila emerged as the trendiest booze (no doubt due in large part to George Clooney’s Casamigos brand). A few years later, craft bourbon and gin became bar stars. So, it should come as no surprise that vodka has finally made a major comeback.
While vodka accounts for a third of U.S. alcohol sales by volume, mixologists have not given it much love. In fact, a decade ago it became so unfashionable to order vodka in bars and restaurants that many upscale spots removed it from their shelves. But thanks to the booming craft distilling movement, vodka is having a moment. “There’s been a rebirth of the vodka industry, with a well-made, cleaner product,” says Brian Facquet, owner and founder of Do Good Spirits in Roscoe. “A younger generation now appreciates vodka as a quality product, not the horrible tasting cheap stuff that’s hidden by other flavors in a mixed drink.”
For old-school cocktails such as Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys, vodka needed to be odor-free and tasteless to let the orange and tomato juice flavors dominate. In fact, the official government definition for vodka was “to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” But the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau removed that phrase in 2020.
Today’s artisanal vodkas are prized for their flavor, and many are meant to be enjoyed straight up. Elias Barber, head distiller at 1857 Spirits in Middleburgh, produces several varieties from his family farm’s estate-grown potatoes which, he says, have a sweet, clean flavor that appeals to sophisticated palates. Karl Johnson, owner of Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, notes that his Viskill Vodka—distilled from winter wheat and filtered over three days with carbonized coconut husks—is so smooth that it’s ideal for sipping on its own.
At Cooper’s Daughters Spirits in Claverack, owner Sophie Newsome and head distiller Rory Tice wanted customers to get excited about vodka, so they created one infused with local ramps and another flavored with pumpkin to allow consumers to experience seasonal flavors year-round, While sipping vodkas have become very popular, plenty of people prefer vodka cocktails—and there are local distillers crafting vodkas that make ideal mixers, too. “By using high quality ingredients, we can make a distinctive vodka to use as a mixer,” says Stephen Theiss, owner of Hudson Valley Distillery in Clermont. Other regional distillers, including Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits in Valatie and Lynn Hason of Spirits Lab in Newburgh, agree that there’s a demand for an excellent, versatile, neutral spirit that allows other ingredients—such as handmade syrups and organic botanicals—to shine.