Bottom Line at the Top: Bluewater Vodka bills itself as a sipping vodka and that's exactly how we see it. We found it best in its purest setting: sipped neat and chilled if you like. As it blends in other flavors it tends to diminish in its ability to distinguish itself (which is the unhappy case with almost any vodka). But with the price right in line with other "premium vodka" brands on the shelf, it seems like an easy recommendation to grab the stylish, flavorful, and sea-worthy vodka.
Bluewater Vodka is made in Everett, Washington in the Pacific Northwest home of both the wheat grain they use for their base distillate and the Cascade Mountain spring water that they blend it down with. The story of local, organic production with hands-on distillation techniques should sing to all of those invested in the craft movement. The name itself is an homage to the water... and indeed, the Pacific Northwest is surrounded by water... it freezes in the mountains, falls from the skies, flows across the land, and roars in the ocean. It's everywhere. It's a kind of feel-good vodka in the sense that it makes you feel good about purchasing it.
We sought to compare the vodka to some straight-up, Big Market competitors to see how it holds up. For these, we looked to a famous, Russian brand made from wheat and called for by name in most bars: Stolichnaya. Our second was an upstart American vodka made from wine grapes in California and often seen at bargain basement prices: New Amsterdam. Neither of these labels use organic ingredients, neither claim to use spring water, and certainly neither use batch-method distillation. Is it worth the extra work to find?
Bluewater vs Stoli and New Amsterdam, Neat
God do we hate the term "smooth" when judging spirits and particularly hate it when judging vodka. But Stoli smells "smooth"... this to mean it smells, neutral, nice, with a light undercurrent of honey and caramel if you look for it. The New Amsterdam does not smell as sweet but carries an undertone of earth. They're very, very close in aroma. The Stoli tastes lightly sweet on the tongue, gives a little need on the sides, and slides down with a kind of charcoal aftertaste. There's a mineral quality (the lyricist in us says "slate, wet stone, or granite) to the vodka. It should go down great as a shooter, to the great pleasure of Russians everywhere. The New Amsterdam is much more neutral, much more flavorless. It carries no needle (perhaps a better executed distillation) but the aftertaste is acrid rather than charcoal. This is clearly a mixing vodka.
Bluewater gives a very faint citrus aroma... which is odd to us because critics would lead us to think that usually arises from wine grape vodka like the New Amsterdam and this is made from grain. We'll also go ahead and say it: maybe it's the power of suggestion but we feel like there's a seascape aroma to the vodka; maybe it picks up a salt tang like the famous Islay single malts. It's all very much backstage, behind-the-curtain sorts of aromas and we're hard pressed to pick it repeatedly out of a lineup by scent alone. The taste is cool... an almost minty cool. It's as neutral as the New Amsterdam but carries a mineral-quality aftertaste and fade. It may not be quite as complex in nature as the Stoli but the execution of the spirit offers none of the needle of Stoli as well.
Assessment: Bluewater is clearly the better executed and better tasting of the vodkas. It matches the Stoli in taste and is far better executed than New Amsterdam. If you're going to shoot vodka, it's worthwhile stretching for the Bluewater.
Bluewater vs Stoli and New Amsterdam in a Vodka Martini
Begging forgiveness from all the gin enthusiasts out there who won't hear of a Martini made from vodka, this is a Vodka Martini with 3 parts vodka, one part dry vermouth, and a touch of lemon bitters to finish it. Chilled on ice, it serves as an icy drink for those who don't want to shoot their vodka but prefer not to drink heavily infused spirits. The Stoli made a Martini that smelled faintly of the grain but then was swallowed whole by the vermouth. One may as well just drink the vermouth.
The New Amsterdam performed decently in this setting... but the careful connoisseur will notice an unpleasant aftertaste and finish, which is a defect we noticed earlier. This is not a vodka to stand on its own.
Bluewater in a Martini is... well, it sets off the vermouth and lemon. It tastes mostly of the vermouth. This is very likely the point of Vodka Martinis. The good news is that it should set off very nicely the subtle touches of herbs, garnishes, flourishes, or other niceties that a mixologist may want to employ in a vodka-based cocktail.
Assessment: final judgment : one might detect a trace of a cleaner mouthfeel and finish on the Bluewater over the Stoli but the difference is small. They perform well above the bar set by New Amsterdam. We'll say here that the Bluewater performs fine for this and likely most other similarly styled drinks with olive juice, lime, or what-have-you.
Bluewater vs Stoli and New Amsterdam in a Moscow Mule
At the time of this writing, you can't go anywhere without seeing a bar serve up a Moscow Mule in a copper. It's the new Old Thing that's trendy again. In this case, it's welcome because it's set off a wave of good drinks with even more excellent ginger beers. We made ours with with 3 parts ginger beer (we used Gosling's, though one notes they designed theirs for the rum version of the Moscow Mule called the Dark and Stormy) to 1 part vodka with that dash (one-third part) of lime juice for the sour. In the Stoli (and surely Russian vodkas set off the scene in Hollywood when the Moscow Mule was invented), the drink simply sings. It reminds one why the world loves Moscow Mules. It flies off the palate in bursts of flavor and finishes clean... then it begs to be repeated. Surely may romances we're founded and later foundered on this one cocktail.
The New Amsterdam is consumed on the nose by the ginger beer, which is the least surprising thing ever since little can stand up to the intense Gosling's ginger.
Bluewater has a lot to compete against in the Stoli. Our Washington product does fine... not better, but fine. Same crisp finish; same easy-drinking quality. In blind settings it was impossible for us to tell the difference between the two. Which is to say, Bluewater will be outstanding in this setting.
Assessment: final judgment : really, it's hard to go wrong with vodka and ginger beer. But both the Stoli and the Bluewater showed better than the New Amsterdam. The latter was adequate but, if you're going to spring extra dollars for the ginger beer anyway, you may as well go the extra mile and get a good vodka. Both Stoli and Bluewater fit that mold amply.
Bluewater vs Stoli and New Amsterdam in a Bluewater Campaign
The Bluewater Campaign is a cocktail recommended by Bluewater Distilling. It's a very classic style of upscale martini-styled cocktail calling for 3 parts vodka; and 1 part each of Cointreau (orange liqueur), Campari (Italian bitters liqueur), and lemon juice with a half-part of simple syrup. Shake on ice and serve up in a martini glass. Between the citrus and the heady herbals of Campari sound like a sophisticated mix and it will be very interesting to see if vodkas can be distinguished from each other in all of those flavors.
Mixing this drink with the Stoli, one is immediately overwhelmed by the Campari. It's a highly distinctive flavor even when mixed with citrus and diluted (we gave it a good thorough shaking). People who love their Negroni cocktails or are otherwise familiar with Campari will recognize it immediately. The recipe is quite good... the sweet and the citrus blend very nicely to balance the powerful astringent character of the Campari, which leaves a lingering aftertaste (and begs for a bit of water to chase it). Hard to imagine vodka drinkers going after this drink but easy to imagine all of those folks who love spicy character and are sick of the cloying nature of sweeter cocktails. Vodka being vodka, it highlights the bitters and citrus rather than a rum or blanco tequila that would have its own flavor notes.
The New Amsterdam... the same drink. No difference that we could detect. Still an excellent drink but we couldn't detect the difference in the vodka.
In the Bluewater, we couldn't necessarily appreciate a difference in taste but we did detect a difference in texture. The Bluewater offered a silky texture on the front of the palate that made the drink a little extra enticing. Any distinction in flavor, though, was lost (at least to us).
Assessment: final judgment : this is a sophisticate's drink. If you're going to buy Campari and Cointreau then squeeze some fresh lemon juice, it seems unlikely that you're going to get vodka out of a plastic jug off of the bottom shelf. This is a dramatic drink and it calls for a bit of a dramatic story and this is where top-shelf vodka serves its role beautifully. The Bluewater claims a little extra story and worth it from that standpoint. That and the silky texture!
[Disclaimer: we received a 750ml bottle of Bluewater vodka for review purposes free of charge. All other products mentioned here were purchased on our own.]