Here's Why the Vodka You're Buying Is About to Turn Brown

Here's Why the Vodka You're Buying Is About to Turn Brown

Dark days are coming for the liquor industry.

By Aly Walansky

Ever wish the vodka in your glass could be just a little...darker? If you answered no, then what you're about to hear may alarm you. Vodkas, gins and other clear spirits are turning browner. With the ever-growing demand for craft bourbon, whiskey and other so-called brown liquors, reports Quartz, sales of clear liquors are plummeting. So vodka and gin are learning how to behave more like their deeper-hued cousins: Spending time in a barrel, for instance, to age and get a more complex flavor and color. The visual effect is so startling, a vodka-Diet Coke fan like Taylor Swift might wonder why her vodka looks brown before she's even added the cola.

Absolut has already debuted a brown vodka aged in wood barrels, which mellows the spirit and adds subtle woody characteristics. “If these same barrels were used to age something else previously, like a cognac, port, or bourbon, these characteristics will be inherently infused into the secondary spirit," Cassandra Rosen, partner at wine and spirits consulting firm, FK Interactive, tells The Feast. "These flavors enhance the sipping experience, as well as cocktails. One could compare it to adding spices or seasonings to a recipe.” 

Will tanning clear liquors ultimately make them more appealing to craft-spirit-seeking consumers? The jury is out. “As a bartender myself, I like a spirit with a personality,” Topher Bertone-Ledford, bar manager and industry consultant with Sons of Essex, tells The Feast. “If I make you two different vodka martinis, the general consumer would be hard pressed to tell them apart, unlike two different bourbon old-fashioneds," he adds. "This is in part because I feel like since the 80s, vodka and subsequently gin have been using the brand model for market expansion, as opposed to focusing on what ingredients go into making their product and why their production is better than their competitors."

Creating better craft vodkas and gins will take more than just mimicking the production methods used to make brown spirits, he says. “If large vodkas and gins want to start competing with the whiskey market, they should focus on the origins of whiskey, the pride the industry takes in how it's produced and the distinct flavor differentiations between the brands," Bertone-Ledford suggests. "Simple coloring, or back-end flavoring of vodkas or gins, may attract a few to its novelty but the concept is not sustainable." Creating a new spirit should be "a result of new ingredients or a better process.  Otherwise smart consumers will realize that it is a large company dressing up an unpopular product in a Halloween costume,” he adds.

Speaking of which, if the vodka-soda you're drinking at that Halloween party stars looking a whole lot more like a dark-and-stormy, you're not (necessarily) drunker than you thought.

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