Bottom Line at the Top: is it hard to convince yourself to go out of your way for vodka? Well, Gorgeous Vodka and Gorgeous Pepper Vodka are convincing. They’re worth a detour from the usual. In fact, they’re worth a full-blooded “where have you been all my life!” double-handed, full-on kiss on the lips. The neutral elevates drinks and the pepper provides everything you need in a Bloody Mary (and presumably other drinks that require pepper flavor). Sadly, it must be said, the Cranberry Tea flavor is something we have to pass on… no balance, no authenticity, hard to figure out what to do with it. But we buy the neutral vodka each and every time.
Gorgeous vodka is an Idaho potato vodka, which is awesome. It’s awesome because Idaho, as everyone knows, is made out of potatoes and cowboys seasoned with a few Mormons and anti-government survivalists. This is a fantastic backdrop for any vodka. Gorgeous, produced out of Distilled Resources in Rigby, Idaho, has been behind a rather striking array of critically acclaimed and well-regarded vodkas. Finally, the bottle—apropos to the title—is indeed quite gorgeous! It looks, great, has a dash of color, and weighted perfectly for the person lifting and pouring. There’s your hat trick: great story, great pedigree, great bottle. It makes us very excited to try.
Being a potato vodka (and recalling for the uninitiated or partially inebriated that the vast, vast majority of vodka on the market is made from grain), it should have a creamier, earthier, “bass note” as a foundation to the otherwise crisp and neutral-tasting spirit. That bass note is often highly prized by Vodka Martini drinkers and others who are seeking out a distinctive flavor in their vodka rather than hoping to see it vanish into a sea of flavors. No one buys a potato vodka—particularly not one that costs $35—hoping to take a drink and say, “Like, I can’t even taste that there’s alcohol in there!” #holdherhairbacklater. They buy a potato vodka because they want something that stands out over a $12 mass-produced grain vodka that doesn’t taste like anything. This is how we’ll approach it. We picked another grain and potato vodka blend made in a very striking bottle at around the same price point with Ultimat Vodka. We’ll spec it out with some high-end, martini-style drinks where one expects a little sophistication and expected to sip instead of shoot.
Gorgeous currently produces two different flavors with a pepper and a cranberry tea (which are sort of oddly un-Idaho). These come in at a respectable 80 proof… we love that because a lot of flavored vodkas get watered down at 70 or even 60 proof. These should stand up mixing! They’re also generally unsweetened… we love that also because a lot of flavored vodkas on the market have heavy hands with the added sugars and end up lurking in the vicinity of liqueurs. These should be candidates for serious mixology! For comparisons, we used Absolut Peppar (naturally) and, instead of a cranberry analogue went with a tea analogue with one of our very favorites in Absolut Wild Tea. This is very stiff competition but, again, we’re in an elite class. If Gorgeous can stand proud in this company it should be worth consideration in any serious bar. Let’s see if Gorgeous is proletariat or bourgeoisie.
Gorgeous Vodka vs Ultimat Vodka, Neat
We always try to get to know things neat and with a little ice out of the gate. Spirits should be introduced to the world naked, like newborn babies. Plenty of time later for clothes, adornments, and other accoutrements.
Ultimat is a prestigious thing among the critics. It’s European! It brags about winning various blind taste-tests. Smelling, one gets a little honey and sweetness on the nose. Blissfully absent is any heat, alcohol burn, or other off-putting sensations. On the palate, it’s gentle and sweet with the tiniest of needle and mineral fade. Chilling brings out more of the honey and wildflower note but introduces a bitterness on the mineral fade. That bitterness signals the potato in our mind. As vodkas go, good. But not blow your hair back good. “I’m not mad at it,” muttered one of our number.
We do like handling that Gorgeous bottle! Feels nice. The aroma also sings of honey and wildflower… this must be what potato is signaling this night to our taste buds. It smells cleaner than the Ultimat. Its texture is much more oily, its needle and burn far reduced. There’s no mineral fade whatsoever and that’s good, here, because the lingering aftertaste is all honey and pleasantness. Ice introduces some bitterness and that earthy note that comes with many potato vodkas. The texture is beguiling… it’s lighter than other spirits. It feels spritely, ethereal versus others that feel heavy.
In summary, this is not too close. Whatever critics saw in Ultimat, in our opinion the Gorgeous comes in as something much more interesting and greatly more fetching to the mixologist.
The Vesper is that classic James Bond drink: very fun to order, fun to drink, and an easy way to strike up a conversation at the bar. We’re going right with bond: 3 parts gin (we used Tanqueray); 1 part vodka; half-part Lillet Blanc; garnish with a slide of lemon. What will be fascinating to see is if the vodka can peek its head out above the ranks of juniper, white wine, and citrus arrayed against it. If so, it’ll be a stalwart vodka indeed.
In the Ultimat, this is a lovely drink. It begins like a martini but the citrus and white wine gives it a lighter, more summer-driven character that we enjoy. It’s not remotely macho and a curious choice for James Bond because we see this as decidedly waifish and feminine. Then again, a couple of these would be pretty deadly so perhaps sexy and also deadly is exactly James Bond. The Ultimat plays perfect well in this drink, though it’s hard to say yet if we could place it against something else. Let’s find out.
With the Gorgeous, the citrus and Lillet is stronger and the taste is much sweeter. There’s an absence of the bitter fade. Clean and crisp at the end with no lingering aftertaste. “I’m not still tasting kitchen sink towel after I drink this one,” uttered one person, “I like it.” The drink is decidedly better with the Gorgeous. We’re very surprised: if forced to make a wager we would have placed the chips squarely on “no discernible difference.” We have a difference. The bartender who made the Gorgeous is getting a bigger tip.
Our version ended up being a little heavy on the sour and a little light on the orange. So we put the dashiest dash of Grand Marnier on top. That gave the drink a depth that it deserved. The drink has a bitter aftertaste that we we’re starting to associate strongly with the Ultimat. The drink is good if not great. Will the Gorgeous make it better?
The Gorgeous creates a different drink but not a strikingly different as the Ultimat. Good and there’s more of a brown sugar note without the bitter fade. No question the Gorgeous elevated the drink but the difference here is very, very subtle. Where with the Vesper we might go out of our way and avoid the drink if we couldn’t get Ultimat (or some other vodka we adored) we might still be cool with ordering this odd version of the Maiden’s Prayer regardless.
Still: we set out to see if Gorgeous can make a difference. It can! This is a vodka that is proving itself to be worth the stretch for those who care about their drinks.
The aroma is all apple and cranberry… not getting much tea here. That’s ok. Even in herbal teas one often gets more herbal than tea. There is a somewhat disappointing candy-like character to the fruit, though. It smells more like a cranberry-apple Starburst than cranberry-apple. One even finds a bit of bubblegum on the nose. The taste is candy apple. If there is tea, it’s coming on the finish but one wouldn’t say “tea” unless one first read “tea” on the label. On ice, a little tart of cranberry starts peeking out from the edges like faint starlight from the beginning of the universe. But not enough. This really is disappointing after so much hope. We’d prefer to put the regular Gorgeous vodka in a Snapple Cranberry tea than drink this.
In summary: bummer. They missed the flavor profile on this one.
The Absolut Wild Tea, as we said, is awesome. We’ll let one of our number sum this up: “All day; every day. Then clothing optional the rest of the night.”
We were so scared of drinking this. But that lemon zest puts a lovely candied citrus layer on the nose. Then drinking… hey! Maybe we found a use here! “It doesn’t suck!” shouted someone with relief clearly spilling off their smile. The sugar helps the drink immensely (or so we guess). It’s not better than the Wild Tea version but it’s very definitely drinkable. After our poor experience with drinking neat, that’s an achievement.
What happened? Well, it has potential. It’s on the verge of coalescing into something. Clearly, fresh mint would have been superior beyond measure in this drink. “It’s a dirty Moscow Mule with a mint kick.” But do you get any cranberry or any tea out of this? No. If the cranberriness and the tea-ness helped, it’s not entirely clear. Once you know what you’re looking for it’s there but, well, whatever. Not a drink to repeat. All potential.
Absolut Peppar, for those who don’t know, is green or jalapeno pepper flavored, not black pepper. It smells musty and green in the glass. One can almost smell fresh-turned earth (thankfully not fertilized earth, though). The taste is shockingly sweet. The finish is vegetative and peppery… there’s only a faint whiff of actual spicy heat. The rest is vegetative, mineral, and a glowing warmth. The fade is not a pleasant aftertaste; it lingers a bit like chloroform and really begs for some sort of ingredient. Left alone and unsupervised, like teenagers, leads to horror, depravity, and wailing disappointment.
The Gorgeous smells less like turned earth and more like green peppers. In comparison, this is a very good thing. The taste is also sweet. It has none of the stinging heat and none of the chloroform aftertaste. This is actually very pleasant. It’s damned close to a sipping spirit. Where the Absolut says to a person, “You can put me in a Bloody Mary or toss off!” in a Danish/German accent, the Gorgeous invites a more playful, “I’m game for anything you can throw at me!” attitude. We’re eager to see it display itself.
In Absolut Peppar, we had: spicy, peppery, tomato. Whoa! This is an eye-opener for a hangover if there ever was one. The green nature of the Absolut does come through but it’s one distinct voice in a sea of flavors, as is every Bloody Mary. This wakes a person up!
The Gorgeous vodka, we had: spicy, peppery, tomato. The difference lay in the vodka itself. The drink was less bold but it was subtle. There was a more rounded, dignified flavor to the Gorgeous. Our number contained several who swear by Bloody Mary cocktails in the morning and they all agreed: Gorgeous had a clean sweep. Though often in the morning, they are in no position to quibble.