Flavored Vodkas Flood the Market

An unusual number of “new” vodka flavors are out this month: ABSOLUT BERRI AÇAÍ, Skyy Infusions Ginger, Ciroc Coconut and Red Berry and 360 Double Chocolate and Cola. I haven’t tried them all, but I know they have one thing in common: None will bring a single new customer to your bar. Flavored spirits are now for the most part retail products, partially because there are only so many vodkas a full-service bar can carry at one time.

That’s quite a change from a few years ago, when new products lived or died by the selling proposition that spirit brands were made on-premise. But as restaurant traffic struggles and liquor store sales climb, suppliers naturally go where their ultimate customers go. There are a few survivors of the vodka bar phenomenon of the 2000s, when every city seemed to have a few operations competing to shelve the most vodkas and the most modern (meaning vodka-based) Martinis. They are hard to find now, though some still flourish, and most operations culled their vodka stock at the first signs of financial meltdown in 2008.

Two evolutions killed those bars: the return of the classic cocktail and the incredible proliferation of flavored vodkas. Creative customers armed with a few flavors of their own found they could make quite credible drinks at home compared to what they were paying $8-10 for; that wouldn’t keep them out of vodka bars, but the ubiquity of the flavors did weaken the appeal of those places, selling what, in many cases, was just flavored vodka plus citrus juice.

No, they won’t bring you customers, but I do recommend creative bartenders sample them anyway. First, because it’s your business to know the market, but more importantly, because the cordial business has been slow to respond to the contemporary bartender’s plea for flavors that are higher in alcohol and lower in sugar; the better-flavored vodkas may make better culinary and financial sense as cocktail ingredients than the overly sweet cordials made today. Of course, fresh is always best, but if you can’t manage to support squeezing your own ginger, and that tallboy can of coconut water turns sour before you can use it all, there might be a way for you to grab one of the latest vodka waves.

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