Review: Aylesbury Duck Vodka

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Aylesbury Duck Vodka
Aylesbury Duck Vodka

To understand the importance of Aylesbury Duck Vodka, you need to understand the company behind it. The 86 Company was started by three key figures in the craft cocktail revival, Dushan Zaric, founder of the landmark New York bar Employees Only,  Jason Kosmas, a co-worker at Employees Only, and Simon Ford, a key ambassador at Pernod Ricard, and The 86 Company was created under the notion that a small, nimble brand could serve the needs of bartenders (and, by extension, consumers) better than large spirit brands could.

The pair literally bet everything on this relatively small spirits business, which has grown significantly over the past three years. Rather than own and operate their own distillery, The 86 Company works with distilleries around the world to produce their spirits, including Cana Brava Rum, Tequila Cabeza, Ford’s Gin, and Aylesbury Duck Vodka. Because The 86 Company doesn’t have a single distiller, they’ve been able to partner with luminaries to help create their products, including eighth generation gin distiller Charles Maxwell, notable rum distiller Francisco “Don Pancho” J. Fernandez, and Master Distiller Marko Karakasevic.

In the case of Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Simon Ford drew from first hand experience at Pernod Ricard promoting a major vodka brand, namely Absolute Vodka. Ford understood the market that Absolut had been chasing as well as the pitfalls and major mistakes they were making in chasing it. Aylesbury Duck Vodka in many ways is a product that answers many of the issues that Absolut hasn’t been able to solve.

Aylesbury Duck (40% ABV, $26/Liter) – Made from soft winter Canadian wheat and distilled in Canada,  Aylesbury Duck Vodka is shipped to the Charbay Distillery, where it’s mixed with well water from Mendocino and bottled.

Core to the Aylesbury Duck DNA is the ethos that vodka isn’t an “odorless, tasteless” spirit, but something that has flavor and character. Here, that character is immediately apparent with a nose that is expressive and aromatic. With a solid confectionary character, the nose on Aylesbury Duck features toasted marshmallow, burnt sugar, soft wheat grain, cream, and a touch of citrus. Notably absent are sharp edges in the nose commonly found with some of the more neutral vodkas.

The entry of Aylesbury Duck follows the nose very closely with marshmallow, toasted wheat, vanilla, and shortbread cookie. Unlike Absolut Vodka, which has a slight tropical note to it, the flavor profile for Aylesbury Duck is entirely confectionary focused.  Aylesbury Duck has a nice sweet character, which it gets from the grain (as the brand does not add any modifiers to its vodka). The mouthfeel is also spot on: it’s not as heavy or oily as Absolut, but it still manages to be soft and round, like you’d expect from a wheat vodka.

In the midpalate things dry out ever so slightly with the addition of a slight peppery note, which isn’t strong enough to make things spicy, but enough to help give the vodka some nice structure. The journey from the initial sweet shortbread cookie entry to the slightly spicy and drier midpalate is a really solid one. The finish is clean and dry with a touch of minerality. There’s a noticeable cooling on the palate which lingers for quite a while. This cooling is the mark of quality distilling and there’s no question that the distillation here is nothing short of impeccable.

While the packaging on most vodka bottles goes towards positioning it within its price point, the Aylesbury Duck bottle has a very different goal. As with the other bottles in The 86 Company’s line, the Aylesbury Duck Vodka bottle was designed specifically for bartenders, with an easy-to-open twist cap, a tapered neck making it easier to pour and grab from the well, a scale etched into the glass to show exactly how much is left in the bottle, a cut-out middle grip to make the liter bottle easier to handle, and a label that’s more information focused than brand focused.

So why should a consumer care about a brand designed for bartenders? It’s the same reason why a consumer would want to drive a car designed for a race car driver. Bartenders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the subtleties of the spirits they work with, especially if they are creating quality cocktails. The little things really matter, and while a consumer doesn’t need to worry about pulling a bottle from a speed rack, the fact that they can look at the bottle and know exactly how much they have left is helpful. But ultimately it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts, and in that respect The 86 Company undeniable brings the goods.

The 86 Company has created a product for an extremely difficult market, and they’ve hit the sweet spot with a vodka that has great flavor, character, and is impeccably distilled. Aylesbury Duck is a fun and playful brand, uncluttered by a rainbow of legacy flavors and brand image that other vodkas in its class have to deal with. More importantly, it’s a quality product, priced well, and in an innovative package. It’s hard to imagine this product hitting its mark any better. 94 Points

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+Geoff Kleinman, is the founder, and managing editor of DrinkSpirits.com. He is a nationally recognized spirits columnist and staff reviewer for Whisky Advocate Magazine. Geoff's work has appeared in dozens of major magazines including Playboy Magazine, Black Book, and Mixology Magazine. He is a current sitting judge for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, the founder of the Society of Modern Journalists, holds BAR certification from the Beverage Alcohol Resource Group, is a Certified Cognac Educator, and a Kentucky Colonel