One bottle in a handful of potato vodkas that have slowly made their way into my collection is the Virginia-made Cirrus from Parched Group LLC, Richmond, Virginia. 80-proof, $27.99/750ml (Virginia ABC). It’s been all the rage among my friends this past year, so much so that one of them was kind enough to gift me this bottle. Thanks, Neal.
On the occasion of the final Friday of 2016 I retired to our bar to prepare my warm-weather end-of-week cocktail, the Vesper. It’s also my drink of choice for auditioning new gins and vodkas, and since I’d planned to give Cirrus a go I made an exception for the season.
Before beginning preparation, though, I poured a one-ounce shot for an unadulterated taste. This bottle had been resting in our basement beer fridge for a few months, so it was well-chilled.
While vodkas are regarded as “neutral” spirits, those that begin life as potatoes bear a noticeably earthy flavor. They are not neutral. For reference, try a sip or two of Boyd & Blair, from Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, LLC. 80-proof, $35.39 (Virginia ABC), my go-to potato vodka. Close your eyes and you might imagine the scent of freshly tilled soil, or the taste of a moonshine let to rest for a few months in glass, in a root cellar. With that quality in mind, I expect a potato vodka to stand up in a Vesper, and not be overwhelmed by the gin.
For neutral flavor try most any grain vodka, or the corn-based, 6-time distilled Tito’s from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Austin, Texas. 80-proof, $21.99/750ml (Virginia ABC). Tito’s Handmade distills almost every bit of flavor out of the spirit leaving a very mild, ever-so-slightly sweet product. You’d never guess it emerged from the second run of the still differing in no way from a 100% corn whiskey.
The all-time winner for neutral vodkas, though, has to be Divine Clarity from Murlarkey Distilled Spirits LLC, Bristow, Virginia. 80-proof, $28.59/750ml (Virginia ABC). Murlarkey’s claim to fame on this spirit is their 16-place column still which, after filling, heating and observing the initial output runs pretty much on autopilot. In goes a fermented potato mash, out comes a spirit so devoid of unique flavor it could be used in anything requiring an alcohol boost. A recent distillery tour left me with this question: why use a more expensive potato-based process when you’re going to boil the living hell out of the product16 times? That much distilling leaves absolutely no flavor. None. Nothing can survive that.
Back to Cirrus’ audition. In a nut, Cirrus comes up a little short on flavor. As a potato vodka I’d rate it three stars out of five. It’s not a bad vodka – a vodka you might delight in if you’re not looking to challenge your taste buds much. Tito’s lovers may find Cirrus a nice change of pace. Anyone looking for an earthy, flavorful potato vodka will keep looking. I’d place Cirrus’ flavor somewhere between a top-shelf grain vodka and a top-notch potato vodka.
I’ll give Cirrus another rating, though, among all vodkas as a group. In that crowd it rates a solid four stars out of five, because we’re talking mildly flavorful vs. largely flavorless from most of the rest, including the usual top-shelf names.
Stirring an ounce of Cirrus with three ounces of Watershed Gin from Catoctin Creek Distilling Company LLC, Purcellville, Virginia, 80-proof, $34.29/750ml (Virginia ABC) and one-third ounce Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif wine, I strained the result into a chilled coupe and garnished with a wide, thin, twisted slice of lemon peel, which I first used to rim the glass. Here’s where Cirrus stands above many other vodkas. Its mildly earthy flavor adds complexity to the drink, without drowning Cocchi’s slightly bitter contribution. This cocktail variation provided an enjoyable repast for the end of the week, the month, and what has become a year to forget. A couple more Vespers and perhaps I could.
In summary, Cirrus proved a drinkable, if not remarkable vodka adding mild complexity to white liquor drinks. Vodka Martini fans should give it a try as an entrée to fuller flavored potato vodkas.
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