Van Gogh Vodka

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When it comes to first-rate vodka, there are a couple of names inside the industry that come to mind instantly.  Van Gogh is certainly one of them.  This distillery is well-known for its smooth, clear classic vodka, which is a very nice botanical gin.  What’s more they have 22 flavored vodkas in total with the 2009 release of its delicious Dutch Caramel.  Another new vodka with the name Van Gogh Blue was also released in 2009.  It is ultra smooth and distilled from three select wheats.  In a mere 12 years, Van Gogh Vodka has made quite a name for itself within the vodka industry, and according to the company’s CEO Norman Bonchick, there are no intentions of slowing down any time soon.

Van Gogh’s Vodka Philosophy

In 1997 Van Gogh Vodka got its start as Luctor International.  It had one gin which was called Leyden.  Van Gogh Gin replaced it within two years.  The basis for the gin comes from a recipe that that discovered at Schiedam distillery.  It is smooth, just like many newer generation gins are.  However, it also has the classical stylings that dry Dutch gins are known for.  Van Gogh did not release a vodka until 2000.  It eventually started to release flavored vodkas.  The company changed its name in 2008 to Van Gogh Imports.

The company has the most 5 and 4 star-rated vodkas.  Van Gogh Vodka considers itself to be the flavored vodka movement’s leader.  Their dedication to quality and innovation has never stopped, and although clear vodka is many drinker’s staple, 80% of its business comes from flavors.

Van Gogh Vodka

Van Gogh is currently sold in 37 countries.  Its most popular market is the United States.  A flavor that may be very popular in one area of the world, could be less in demand in someplace else.  According to Norman Bonchick, even throughout the U.S. this comparison can be made.  He says that in terms of the professional bartender, the most popular vodka depends on what area of the US you are talking about.  Flavor vodkas have a larger market in the East compared to the Central and much more than the West.  Bonchick says that west coast bartenders have a tendency to mix their own infusions.

It’s a different story in the home market.  Part of Van Gogh’s philosophy for their flavored vodkas is to assist novices with easily impressing their guests.  Bonchick says, “just take some flavored, colored vodka, shake it up some, pour it into a glass, and just like that you are a mixologist, a genius.”

About Van Gogh:

Clear and flavored small batch gin and vodkas.  Average 80 proof (40% alcohol/volume)

Double infused flavors include: Black Cherry, Coconut, Melon, Pineapple, Wild Apple, Dutch Chocolate, Double Espresso, Espresso, Citroen, Pomegranate, Orange, Mango, Raspberry, Vanilla, Mojito Mint, Banana, Acai-Blueberry.

Gin, Van Gogh Blue (wheat) and Clear Classic 80-proof Vodka.   Distilled and bottled in Schiedam, Holland at Royal Dirkwager Distilleries

$30/750 ml bottle: average retail price

Flavor Inspiration 

So where do they get their ideas for their flavored vodkas?  Consumers request flavors.  They average 15 suggestions per week.  For any potentially viable flavor, Van Gogh’s team takes the idea to bartenders for their input.  If it still appears to be a good idea, it takes 6 months to develop and implement the perfect flavor.  However, every flavor has its very own story.

The first try is not always successful.  You might recall that a couple of years ago there was a big pomegranate craze, with a huge infusion of pomegranate vodkas hitting the market.  Van Gogh grabbed onto the idea and rushed its development process and released a spirit.  Although the results were amazing, the company wasn’t completely satisfied.  So the Master Distiller perfected it by adding some of the natural bitter qualities of the fruit and removing some of the sweetness.

Van Gogh Flavored Vodka

Sometimes a new opportunity opens up.  A caramel-infused vodka was being produced by just one vodka company.  So when it recently went out of business, Van Gogh seized the opportunity.  After the discontinued vodka was sampled, Bonchick knew they could do better.  They came up with a deep brown, melt in your mouth vodka that has been deemed as the most romantic of alcohols.

The successful releases of the Double Espresso and Espresso from Van Gogh is another interesting story.  Coffee is the world second consumed beverage behind water.  So of course the team at Van Gogh wanted to capitalize on that fact.  As pointed out by Bonchick, although some flavors may have cyclical popularity, the success of espressos is permanent.

Aim For The Real Taste

There is one quality that the flavored vodkas from Van Gogh possess that I really appreciate.  This is how closely they resemble the real flavor.  Quite often when sweets, fruits or other flavors are combined with alcohol, there is a big loss in the real flavor.  However, when it comes to Van Gogh’s vodkas, this definitely isn’t the case.

If it is a banana flavor, you taste actual banana.  When you are drinking their espresso flavored vodka, it feels like you are in a local coffee shop drinking a fresh brewed cup of espresso.  When tasting their apple vodka, it feels like being transported into an apple orchard.  Van Gogh works hard to bring together aroma and natural taste.  None of their vodkas that I have tried have missed the mark, although I’m not real fond of Mojito Mint.  It’s just not my taste.

The flavor comparison is taken so seriously by Van Gogh that a taste test has been established to make sure the vodkas they produce are as close as possible to what the intended flavors are.  So they check the flavor’s accuracy using a taste test.  According to Bonchick, the process involves sipping straight vodka, one chilled, and then biting into the standard flavor (for example, a banana).

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