Major brands are always looking for the next big thing. In some cases it’s a novel flavor or a new expression of the latest barrel proof. With the monstrous rise of popularity in whiskey, bourbon and other brown spirits clear spirits have started a decline. Vodka in particular has started to slump (-0.3%) even in the face of an overall rise in the sale of hard liquor (1.3%).
This has hit the brand Absolut by Pernod Ricard particularly hard as they rely on vodka sales for a large portion of their portfolio.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the graph lines snaking both directions. So what can you do? Whiskey takes time to produce and the marketing turn from vodka to whiskey can likewise be a shift if you’re not already doing something similar. Most of the major labels aren’t willing to sell in the face of such a boom so you can’t buy your way into popularity.
So someone, somewhere thought, “What if we made a whiskey flavored vodka?”. Flavored vodkas have been a thing for a while now, and while they too are on the decline the idea isn’t without merit.
It runs into a number of difficulties at the outset. You can’t make an *aged* vodka. The regulations in the US and likely any number of other countries simply don’t allow for vodka to have an age statement. Which is why you’ll often see non-whiskey products spending time “Resting” in a barrel. Rested or Infused are the non-regulatory buzzwords that basically mean barrel aged without all the red tape. Next, if you’re making a spirit from grain then putting it into a barrel, it’s really just whiskey. Calling it a vodka means you spent the time on the still to take it all the way up to high proof before cutting it down with water. You lose the “flavor, odor and character of whiskey” that you need for it to qualify under US regulations but you get a lot more mileage out of your spirit.
Something gets lost in the translation here. People like whiskey for more reasons than just the smell of leather and the taste of cinnamon and vanilla. There are subtle differences between vodka and whiskey that can’t really be explained by base ingredients. It may be as simple as time and the x-factor present in a true barrel as opposed to a bag of toasted oak chips. What you get with Oak by Absolut is really just what it says on the label. Oak flavored vodka.
Whiskey snobs won’t be tempted, vodka drinkers won’t see the appeal, whiskey lovers won’t get anything out of this that they can’t get from a similarly priced bottle of whiskey. At $27 a bottle here in Oregon this is way more than I’d pay for vodka and far less than I want to pay for bad whiskey.