By Katie Little, CNBC.com
A Splash of Bacon, a Sip of PB&J
Stir in one part candy store, one part alcohol and a splash of cocktail risk-taking. For many vodka producers, this is a recipe for success, as they seek to capture the American consumer and draw attention to their brands through creative new flavors.
Flavored vodka accounts for approximately 27 percent of leading brand vodka volume, and continues to grow in popularity as total vodka sales also increase, according to market research firm Technomic.
In 2011, David Ozgo, senior vice president of economic and strategic analysis at the industry's trade group, the Distilled Spirits Council, counted 115 different flavors in the vodka market.
"They included everything from the basics, like orange, vanilla, and lime, to the more exotic: ginger, pepper, horseradish, bacon, and wasabi," Ozgo said. "Such flavors allow trained mixologists and at-home bartenders alike to develop new and interesting cocktails."
Brand marketers use new flavors to drum up press coverage for their companies and to keep their brands top-of-mind for bartenders when they're mixing up new cocktails, said Donna Hood Crecca, Technomic's senior director in the adult beverage resource group.
"There are some really wild new flavors coming out, and a lot of them relate to very sweet flavor profiles, which is different from a few years ago," Crecca said. Before, the focus was on more savory flavors.
Today's top three best-selling vodkas are all sweet: Pinnacle Whipped Cream, Absolut Citron, and Smirnoff Raspberry, Crecca said.
Company: Bakon Vodka
Suggested Price: $29.95
Bacon lovers hankering for a taste of the farm may go hog-wild for this vodka flavor. While Sven Liden, co-founder of Black Rock Spirits, which produces Bakon Vodka, acknowledged that this pork-inspired liquor does not pair well with everything, he said it does complement savory combinations and chocolate and cream-based drinks well.
"There were so many fruit/candy flavors on the market, and we really like more of the savory options," he said in an email. "We were at first joking about adding cooked bacon to a drink, but once we thought of the Bloody Mary and tried it out, we were hooked (and) decided we should produce it commercially."
The brand has grown quickly since its launch two-and-a-half years ago and is now distributed in 43 states.
"The Bakon Mary"
1.5 oz. Bakon Vodka in a pint glass filled with ice.
Fill glass with tomato juice
1 dash each of celery, salt and ground black pepper
2 to 4 dashes each of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco
Shake and pour into a salt-rimmed pint glass. Garnish with a celery stalk and your favorite pickled vegetables, or even a slice of bacon.
Company: Pinnacle Vodka
Suggested Price: $14.99
Eating raw cookie dough is called a health hazard. Drinking cookie dough vodka straight is called a shot.
This vodka follows in the sweetly flavored footsteps of the brand's Whipped flavor, which launched in March 2010 and was the original whipped cream vodka.
"At the time, the vodka category was crowded and many of the flavors available were more mainstream and fruity," said Marguerite Allolding, the marketing director at White Rock Distilleries, which owns Pinnacle. "We saw a huge trend starting in the non-alcohol category with desserts and sweet treats, and thought it would be interesting to see if this trend could succeed in the vodka category. Interesting enough it has, and we inspired many other vodka brands to explore the desserts, candies, etc., for their vodkas."
Allolding added that the company recently added two news flavors, blackberry and cucumber watermelon.
2 parts Pinnacle Cookie Dough
1 part milk
Splash maple syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Company: Van Gogh Vodka
Suggested Price: $27.99 for 750 ml
Craving a cool drink in addition to the comforts of childhood?
Enter Van Gogh's Peanut Butter and Jelly flavored vodka. Norman Bonchick, the company's chairman and CEO, said the flavor, which began selling in mid-March, is already the company's most popular flavor introduction to date.
"Peanut butter and jelly is one of the most iconic American flavors that enjoys enduring popularity with adults," he said. "With our PB&J vodka, we have translated that beloved flavor pairing into a smooth and refined spirit, featuring peanut and raspberry flavors. We believe PB&J will appeal to anyone who loves a good cocktail."
The company sells several other unusual flavors, such as banana, espresso, and rich dark chocolate.
"Nuts & Berries"
By Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru
1.5 oz. Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
0.75 oz. berry liqueur
0.75 oz. milk or cream
Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.
Company: Smirnoff Vodka
Suggested Price: $12.99 per 750 ml
Smirnoff continues to see growth in its confectionary line, which includes Fluffed Marshmallow and Whipped Cream, said David Tapscott, the company's brand director.
"We feel that the confectionary trend is so special because it taps into the nostalgic side of our adult consumers, and allows them to indulge in a bit of sweet decadence," Tapscott said.
While Smirnoff did not mention any upcoming flavored vodkas by name, Tapscott said the company looks forward to expanding its confectionary vodka line and plans to announce additional flavors to its portfolio later this year.
1.5 oz. Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Vodka
0.5 oz. maraschino cherry juice
3 oz. cola
Combine and pour over ice, and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Company: Alaska Distillery
Suggested Price: $35.99
Smoked Salmon Vodka is one of Alaska Distillery's top-selling flavors, said Bella Coley, its chief operating officer. The flavor can be used in a Bloody Mary and also works well with fish and pasta dishes, Coley said.
On April 20, a date that is often identified with the cannabis plant, the company plans to release its Purgatory Hemp Seed flavor. Although the spirit has not been officially released yet, Coley said the company already has received more orders for it than for any of its other products.
2 oz. Smoked Salmon Vodka
2 oz. Clamato
4 splashes Tabasco sauce
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
Combine ingredients and shake or stir.