Vodka Mixes it up with a Twist of Flavor

Keeping an eye toward the future of flavors, P&Fnow presents Mintel’s occasional US restaurant menu surveys (Menu Insights), seeking out which taste trends might move from the dining table to the store shelf.

According to the recent Mintel Report, “White and Dark Spirits: The Consumer, U.S. 2007,” vodka is currently the dominant white spirit consumed in the US market, mainly due to its neutral flavor profile and mixable nature. In fact, consumer research shows that 23% of US adults drank vodka last year equating to an estimated 49 million Americans.

Originating in Eastern Europe, vodka is believed to stem from the Russian word “voda,” meaning water. Although it is still traditionally drunk neat (straight, no mixer) throughout its homeland, it has become an extremely popular addition to many cocktails and malt beverages in the United States and has established itself as an innovator with regard to flavor.

Flavored vodka is nothing new; it has been around since vodka’s introduction hundreds of years ago. Back then distillers used flavors and additives to mask impurities and to make the liquor more palatable. As better techniques were developed over the centuries, the craft of flavoring vodka became illustrative of the distiller’s skill.

Today, a few of these original flavor enhancers are seeing a comeback within the market, including vodka infused with dried lemon and orange peels or combinations of ginger, honey, cloves, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices, even pepper. Now flavoring is as much a mark of quality as it is an art, with fun and fresh new flavors constantly popping up in order to keep pace with today’s capricious consumer.

While we can expect to see flavors continue to focus on refreshing versions of old, homeland favorites, we will also see a copious amount of creative, new flavor fusions. Examples of flavors to look out for include: berries such as acai, banana, honey, pear, ginger, espresso and chocolate—or any combination of these, such as ginger pear or chocolate espresso.

The Latest Launches

So far this year, Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) has shown a plethora of new product offerings focused on flavor. Just this month, Smirnoff announced its newest addition to the Smirnoff Ice family. Keeping pace with the overflow of pomegranate madness at the close of 2006, Pomegranate Fusion was launched, a premium vodka malt beverage made with natural flavors.

Earlier this year, Cherry Rocher’s Magic Fusion brand introduced a new assortment of flavored vodkas on the French market featuring innovative and intriguing combinations. The range includes: Cranberry Cherry; Pineapple Lychee; Apple Caramel; Banana Ginger; Watermelon Gooseberry; and Strawberry Grapefruit.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Black Fly Beverage Co. revealed its newest vodka-based beverage in May of this year. The Black Fly Blackcurrant Blueberry Vodka Cooler is made with real blackcurrant and wild blueberry juice.

Other producers and distillers are also upping the ante by adding inventive new flavor variations to their existing line-ups. Royal Dirkzwager Distilleries in Schiedam, Holland, has a few standouts from its Van Gogh Vodka range. These include Acai-Blueberry, Banana, Mojito Mint, Pomegranate and Dutch Chocolate, as well as the uniquely caffeinated Espresso and Double Espresso variations. 

Hamptons Vodka, available in 100% fruit flavors with no carbs, sugar, preservatives or syrup, has added a few interesting twists to their vodka as well, namely Banana, CherryVanilla and ChocoRaspberry. The ChocoRaspberry is produced from real black raspberries and imported chocolate. This is a great example of the trend towards flavor fusion, or the combining of complimentary flavors to create a more complex tasting experience. In fact, all of Hampton’s flavors are melded (or fused) with the vodka rather than infused (soaked or steeped), to create a multi-layered taste.

Pear, as mentioned earlier, is also making its way onto the scene. Grey Goose recently launched its newest addition, La Poire, which is subtly flavored with the essence of the Anjou pear. Absolut added Absolut Pears to its arsenal of flavors in January of this year, a vodka with a fresh delicate taste and no added sugar or sweeteners.

Flavors Behind the Bar

While all of these flavors can be enjoyed on their own, they also act as inspiration for adventurous flavor mixes, allowing for an unlimited selection of fun, new cocktail offerings. Mintel Menu Insights, a division of Mintel that tracks restaurant flavor trends, offers a look into the creative vodka concoctions currently being served behind the bar.

According to Menu Insights, the martini is presently the vodka drink of choice. Vanilla is the number one flavor of vodka used in all martinis, and it is closely followed by citron and raspberry. Stolichnaya and Absolut top the list of brands, with Stoli Vanil being the vanilla vodka most frequently used and Absolut Citron the most popular citrus variety.

Menu Insights also highlights some exciting and influential newcomers, including flavors such as mandarin and blood orange, wild/mixed berries and mango. Innovative and enticing flavor combinations are continuously being created in order to satisfy the consumer’s thirst for variety. A quick search of the Menu Insight’s database gives us a taste of what the end of 2006 had to offer.

The Orange Crush, presented by Janos Restaurant, includes a combination of Domaine Charbay Blood Orange vodka, Alize Passion Fruit liqueur and fresh squeezed orange juice garnished with an orange slice.

Claim Jumper restaurants highlight the Black Opal, consisting of Smirnoff Raspberry Twist vodka, Finlandia Cranberry vodka, Dekuyper Wildberry schnapps, Pucker Sour Apple schnapps, Bols blue curacao and cranberry juice. Claim Jumper also offers a cocktail they refer to as a Girls’ Night Out. This drink packs a sweet punch, with Absolut Mandarin vodka, Absolut Citron vodka, Finlandia Cranberry vodka, passion fruit syrup, fresh lemonade and cranberry juice.

Dave and Buster’s also has a few notable concoctions. Absolut APeach on a Beach, created at the San Antonio, TX, location, is a mix of Absolut APeach vodka and DeKuyper Razzmatazz, plus cranberry juice, topped off with a blue raspberry sugar rim. Meanwhile, The Fruit Chew touts SKYY Melon vodka and banana liqueur under Red Bull and DeKuyper Island Blue Pucker. Mixologists in Providence, RI, are given credit for the Pink Monkey Freeze, a decadent, chilly fusion of Stoli Ohranj vodka with banana liqueur, butterscotch schnapps, strawberries and ice cream.

Looking to the future, Mintel expects that exotic fruit flavors, chocolate, espresso and a variety of different spices will continue to make an impression in cocktails, fusions and single flavor vodkas, while pomegranate and cranberry will continue to gain momentum within the market.

The Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) tracks new product launches, trends and innovations internationally. For additional information regarding GNPD, visit or call Mintel International at 1-312-932-0600.

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