Few words scare me more than “flavored.” However well-executed or -intentioned, it always sounds like there’s a flaw in need of covering. Like some “actual” thing did not suffice.
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But I have learned, over the years, to trust Grey Goose. The brand was a pioneer in the super premium vodka category, launched in the summer of 1997, and remains on top of the pile today. They haven’t released something new to the market in more than five years. When I had the chance to try its newest offerings—a flavored trio called Essences—I was game.
Give credit to François Thibault, a quiet legend in the business, who not only created the core Grey Goose recipe, but oversaw its careful expansion into the dangerous flavored realms of vanilla, melon, lemon, orange, and others, not to mention pear—a revelation, if you’ve never given it a try. I was fortunate to meet and taste with Thibault, the company’s cellar master, for a tasting a couple of years ago. The Cognac native has an exceptional palate and a commitment to quality. He can be trusted.
And I expect these new products will be successful. It’s the same all-French-wheat vodka (gluten free, crop to glass) but comes in at a little lower ABV (30 percent) and achieves bright flavors without any carbs. The flavor combinations, a fruit with an herb, are not obvious, but the harmony they achieve makes them very easy to make into a refreshing cocktail. For a thorough exploration at home, I kept it simple, trying each on the rocks and then with soda added. With admirable confidence, that’s basically what the brand recommends. The stuff just tastes good. As the weather warms, I won’t hesitate to press one of these into the hands of my arriving guests.
Watermelon & Basil
I started with this one because it sounds refreshing and also because I think watermelon as a flavor is hard to pull off. Jolly Ranchers are good. But has there ever been a really successful watermelon bubble gum? Something that you weren’t, in actuality, just hate-chewing?
This is a very well-executed flavored vodka, delightfully refreshing—even “vibrant,” as the brand says. I was immediately convinced. The flavor is almost light, dominated by watermelon but not too fruity with the back notes of basil. It’s a warm weather sipper, best served icy cold. Once your garden basil is really in full leaf, smack a piece and toss it in. Got a wedge of watermelon at hand? A slice of lemon perhaps? Throw it in there.
Strawberry & Lemongrass
As original as the combinations in the Essences set are, this one seemed to me the oddest-sounding. So I confess to bias, going in. I like lemongrass but of course associate it with Thai cuisine and spicy soup. So the light sweetness here did not call me back to the glass as with the other two flavors. It seemed the least harmonious. That said, of the three fruits here, I’d choose strawberry last, so I am not the ideal judge of the spirit.
I’d try this as part of a lemonade-focused cocktail, maybe in batches. It’s intriguing but–again, for me–not as winning right out of the glass.
White Peach & Rosemary
Here and there, at high-end restaurants, I have enjoyed peach soups, so I was game for the addition of this traditionally savory herbaceous ingredient. The first sip reminded me of a bellini with a little oompf and a spring in its step. The slight bitterness of white peach, its suggestion of acidity, sits very nicely with the rosemary, which stays in the background a bit, as with the basil, above. While this bottling skewed just a tad on the sweet side for my taste—there’s just a hint of scented candle—people who favor sweet over savory will really enjoy this one. The sweetness helps the fruit flavors mingle well with the bright soda.
My stepfather used to make frozen vodka dacquiris with limeade, bolstered by canned peaches for sweetness, and this peach and rosemary combo would love to get in a glass with some lime. Maybe a mint leaf?
Yes. In fact that’s my final thought on these very tasty products: garnish boldly. They are fun and meant to be, so proceed accordingly.