Although vodka makes up a staggering amount of total spirits sales each year, it’s often considered a second class citizen among spirits journalists and enthusiast. Unflavored vodka is often scoffed at for its neutrality, and flavored vodka for its artificiality. The truth, though, is that there is a huge number of people who drink both flavored and unflavored vodka. The reason is simple: vodka asks very little of us. It’s an easy drink, the same way a light or Mexican beer is. You don’t have to think about vodka, it’s just there for you to drink.
When it comes to flavored vodka, the rainbow of flavors seems never ending. If you can think of a flavor, odds are there’s a spirit company sitting in a room right now with that flavor on a list that they are considering. Vodka flavors don’t seem to be limited to actual flavors either. Three Olives famously has both Purple and Dude Vodka, while Oddka has Electricity Vodka. With the wide expansion of flavors, the real sweet spot in the flavored vodka space seems to be in confectionery-themed vodkas like cake, whipped cream, and caramel.
Another interesting trend in this space is flavored vodkas being released at lower ABVs. Smirnoff Vodka, who has traditionally released their flavored vodkas at 35% ABV or 70 proof, has been one of the key brands to lead the lower proof charge. Two of their recent releases, Smirnoff Kissed Caramel and Smirnoff Iced Cake, both are bottled at 30% ABV or 60 proof.
Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka (30% ABV/ 60 Proof, $12.99) smells remarkably like frosted white cake with a strong vanilla frosting note backed by baked white cake. The base vodka is extremely hard to pick out in the nose – it’s there, but extremely subtle. Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka also has almost no vapors, so you can stick your nose deep into the glass without being hit by them. The nose also has a creamy quality to it, almost as if it were liquid, alcoholic frosting in a glass. The entry is very soft and sweet, as with the nose it leads with vanilla frosting and then moves to white cake with subtle coconut. In the midpalate the base vodka emerges but it presents as vanilla and powdered sugar with the slightest white pepper bite. The finish combines the sweet vanilla frosting and cake notes with an undertone of vodka. It’s at the finish where you know you’re drinking vodka, but just barely. The mouth feel on the Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka is soft and round but not overly fatty.
Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka is pretty sweet on its own, but none of the flavors feel artificial or unpleasant. How much you like this vodka will greatly depend on how appealing the idea of drinking liquid frosted cake is to you. To some, the idea of having the flavor of a highly caloric dessert condensed down to a slightly less caloric glass of vodka is nothing short of nirvana. Others might find the experience of drinking something that tastes like liquid cake slightly off-putting. Either way, compared to the bevy of flavored vodkas out there that taste extremely artificial, it’s nice to have a flavored vodka that is true to its flavor. Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka also mixes well, especially with other dessert-like spirits including chocolate liqueur and Chambord. Muddling strawberries in it also results in an easy dessert drink. The one place where we thought it would do well but didn’t was mixed with hot chocolate. The core of the Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka is how subtle the vodka elements are, but when heated these vodka qualities really take over.
Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka (30% ABV/ 60 Proof, $12.99) reminds us of the smell when you open a box of Cracker Jack, with caramel, salt, light popcorn, and a hint of peanuts. As with the Iced Cake Vodka, the vodka in the nose is hard to pick out and there are no vapors. The entry for Smirnoff Kissed Caramel is soft and sweet with solid caramel right there at the front. There is an underlining salt note and the suggestion of peanuts, but it’s really the caramel that is the star. The vodka qualities emerge sooner with Kissed Caramel than they do with the Iced Cake, with light black pepper notes coming in at the start of the midpalate. The spice from the vodka is slightly higher with Kissed Caramel than it was with Iced Cake. Towards the end of the midpalate the caramel note intensifies – it literally tastes like you just ate a caramel square. This caramel note lingers for an exceptionally long time on the palate (we think way too long).
How much you’ll enjoy Smirnoff Kissed Caramel Vodka will greatly depend on how crazy you are about caramel. This vodka is extremely caramely and that flavor sticks with you for a very long time. We found the Kissed Caramel a little more challenging to mix with than the Iced Cake. It proved to be too much when mixed with chocolate liqueurs and didn’t pair as well with berries. We did find that Kissed Caramel mixes well with ginger ale as well as apple juice and applejack.
Of the two, we were surprised how much more we liked Smirnoff Iced Cake better than Kissed Caramel. The vanilla cream notes were a lot easier to mix with and the finish wasn’t so infinite or off-putting. At 101 calories per 2 ounce pour, Smirnoff Iced Cake Vodka is less than half the calories of an actual slice of frosted cake (which is 239 calories and 9 grams of fat) and yet it delivers a similarly decadent flavor experience. We never would have thought of vodka as something you’d have for dessert, but Smirnoff Iced Cake makes a compelling argument to pick up a glass rather than a fork for dessert.