Potatoes? Passe. Grains? Groan. Vodka producers these days are exploring new horizons — oranges, anyone? — to make unusual and artisanal vodkas.
"A cocktail's not just a cocktail; it's an experience now, so that demand has called for anything and everything that can be different," says Tammy LaNasa, Dallas corporate beverage director for Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, which includes 20 Sullivan's Steakhouses and nine Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouses nationwide.
One of the latest entries in the vodka vanguard is 4 Orange, which is distilled directly from oranges, as opposed to other vodkas where flavoring is added.
The vodka is made from orange molasses that remains after oranges have been juiced. Four different varieties of oranges are used, hence the name, and the result is a clear vodka with a distinct tang of orange.
"The response has been fantastic," says Timo Sutinen, vice president for marketing and business development at Imperial Brands Inc., which produces 4 Orange Premium Vodka. "When people hear that 4 Orange is made from Florida oranges, they have to taste it. Once they taste it, we have won them over."
The distillery is next to the orange juice plant in Florida and, in a green touch, the leftover mash from the distilling process is sold to local farmers for cattle feed. There's no alcohol in the product but "cows seem to like it," Sutinen says with a laugh.
The most popular spirit in America, vodka classically is a neutral product made most often from some type of grain.
But it can be made from just about anything starchy or sweet, inspiring distillers' creative spirit.
"The sky's kind of the limit for what you can make vodka from," says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com and author of The Business of Spirits.
Some examples: Ciroc Ultra-Premium vodka is made entirely from grapes, Vermont Spirits Gold is made from maple sap, and on an equally sweet note, there's Bee Vodka, triple-distilled from New York State honey at the Hidden Marsh Distillery in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The distillery is owned and operated by the Martin family, who started out as beekeepers more than 30 years ago.
LaNasa expects to see more variations as distillers get in touch with their creative spirit.
"This orange vodka is going along with that fresh ingredient trend that I actually don't think is a trend," she says. "I think it's here to stay."