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Cocktail Hour: Flavored Vodka Is the Flavor of the Moment

Pink Lady cocktail with Effen black cherry vodka, from San Francisco's Bubble Lounge.

One of vodka’s biggest selling points is its tastelessness: It offers bartenders a neutral palate from which to highlight a host of other flavors. Consumers like it too, as a potent yet noncontroversial spirit choice. So it may seem odd that the next wave in the vodka craze is … flavored vodka.

Regular vodka is essentially tasteless and odorless. Made from potatoes or grain, it’s distilled three times to eliminate any impurities and allowed no additives outside of water, which dilutes it to a drinkable liquid, usually about 40 proof.

It is then typically filtered through charcoal, another way of ensuring it’s pure. Vodka producers often go out of their way to tout their better, bolder filtering methods — some using diamond dust or even Herkimer diamond quartz crystals. But these days, the hottest mixers are flavored vodkas.

Overall, vodka is the top-selling spirit in America. Flavored vodkas now account for 27% of vodka sold by volume and are growing gangbusters, apace with overall rising vodka sales.

In addition to citrus and orange, flavors that kicked off the flavored-vodka craze in the ’90s with the Cosmopolitan, liquor store shelves now are stocked with such options as vanilla, ginger, cucumber, pepper, smoked salmon and bacon. Bakon Vodka, a potato vodka with the essence of peppered bacon, has become bartenders’ go-to for Bloody Marys.

But the newest trend in vodka is to go for the sweet tooth. Consider Cupcake Vodka, meant to taste like frosting. Or Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow, Pinnacle Imitation Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Van Gogh Peanut Butter & Jelly.

Effen, launched in the U.S. about a decade ago, has cruised slowly into the flavored scene, adding cucumber only last year to its other two flavors, black cherry and Dutch raspberry. When it comes to sweetness, it also resists going over the top.

For the black cherry, the basis of our cocktail below, Effen avoids the addition of glycerin (common in flavored vodkas) by using vanilla, blending it with actual black cherries. The effect is refreshing, and just sweet enough. The addition of Aperol, an Italian aperitif made from bitter orange, balances this drink perfectly, topped as it is with a float of sparkling Brut Rosé.

Pink Lady

Serves 1

This cocktail is served at San Francisco’s Bubble Lounge.


2 ounces Effen Black Cherry Vodka

1 ounce Aperol

dash of lemon juice

½ ounce Schramsberg (or other) Brut Rosé

twist of lemon


1. Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a martini glass.

2. Top with Schramsberg Brut Rosé.

3. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Photo: Pink Lady cocktail, from San Francisco’s Bubble Lounge. Credit: Effen

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.