Vodka has had quite a run. From its early introduction to the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s to its boom after World War II, vodka has had a long march from “exotic” or “foreign” spirit to the largest spirit consumed in America. The tipping point for vodka really came in 1976 when it finally surpassed whiskey as the #1 spirit in America. Vodka’s growth continued in the late 1970s and early 1980s with new brands like Finlandia and Absolut Vodka helping establish a premium category of vodka. Vodka brands also grew and found traction with flavored versions of their otherwise flavorless spirit, including citrus and berry.
It was Absolut Citron that was a real breakout flavored vodka. Absolut Citron helped inspire the Cosmopolitan, a quintessential vodka cocktail that pushed the popular spirit to new heights. In the early 2000s, just when vodka couldn’t seem to get any bigger, companies like Three Olives, Van Gogh, and Pinnacle pushed the boundaries of flavored vodka. By 2008, flavored vodka morphed from citrus and berry to cake, whipped cream, and cookie dough. Other vodka companies furiously tried to follow suit and we saw major brands experiment wildly with flavors like Smirnoff Light Sorbet, Stoli Hot Pepper, and Belvedere Lemon Tea.
Flavored vodka clearly reached its apex in late 2012 when Pernod Ricard released their Oddka brand featuring flavors like Fresh Cut Grass and Electricity. The reception was less than stellar and these fringe flavors failed to find traction in the marketplace. While some brands still saw strong growth in late 2012 and early 2013, especially P-Ditty and Ciroc, other brands saw a decline (including the iconic Absolut). While vodka isn’t going anywhere, its glory days are clearly behind it, and the first fallout will be flavored vodka. Vodka companies have gone in so many different directions all at once with flavored vodka that they’ve started losing their customers. Where once a new flavor release from a vodka company would have garnered some interest or excitement surrounding it, vodka companies are finding lukewarm reception for new flavors and a steady slide with existing ones.
All categories have their defining moment, and there’s no better example of flavored vodka’s than Ivanabitch Tobacco Flavored Vodka. Outlandishly flavored, Ivanabitch is yet another flavored vodka that’s released at a low proof (35% / 70 proof), a trend which has become popular in the flavored vodka space. Lower proof flavored vodkas are often lower in calories (as you’ve got less alcohol, which means more water), less expensive to produce, and tend to be softer and easier to drink. The downside of lower proof flavored vodkas is that they don’t mix as well as their full proof counterparts.
Ivanabitch Tobacco Flavored Vodka (35% ABV/ 70 Proof, $12.99) – the nose on Ivanabitch does indeed smell like tobacco; it’s more the roll-your-own cigarette tobacco rather than the deep, rich cigar or pipe tobacco. In addition, the nose also has cherry notes, dusty oak, and caramel. The aromas aren’t overly artificial, but then again they aren’t very inviting. The entry is fairly thin with a good amount of cantaloupe, cherry, tobacco, and caramel. In the midpalate the vodka picks up some dusty oak, lemon, and a small amount of black pepper spice. The finish is extremely short and driven more by the caramel flavor than anything else. The caramel, cherry, and tobacco flavors linger long after the finish has wrapped up and are generally unpleasant. Overall the mouthfeel of Ivanabitch is watery and thin.
Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Flavored Vodka (35% ABV/ 70 Proof, $12.99) – spearmint dominates the nose of the menthol version of this tobacco flavored vodka. Underneath the mint is tobacco, which, like the main tobacco flavored version, has a dusty quality to it. On the palate, it’s immediately clear that Ivanabitch Menthol is sweetened, more so than the plain tobacco version. On the entry sweet spearmint combines with tobacco, cherry, and caramel. In the midpalate some of underlining vodka flavors begin to emerge including lemon and black pepper. The finish is slightly longer than the regular tobacco version, but no less unpleasant. It’s extremely hard to get the aftertaste of this vodka out of your mouth. The mouthfeel is better with the menthol than the plain tobacco, but only slightly. The added sugar with the mint helps keep it from being so flabby and watery.
Neither the Ivanabitch Tobacco or Menthol can legally contain any real tobacco in them, as infusing or macerating tobacco in a spirit can result in a toxic level of nicotine. While both versions of Ivanabitch do taste tobacco-like, neither are very pleasant. But you don’t need Drink Spirits to tell you that a tobacco flavored vodka called Ivanabitch is dreadful. The fact that the flavored vodka market is so played out that someone would consider releasing something like this is important. Ivanabitch is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine for flavored vodka and a clear indication that the category has now completely run its course. Vodka producers are going to have to go back to the drawing board to find ways to remain relevant, because it’s not going to happen with another “out there” flavor.