Flavored vodkas dominate the new liquor market 

The news on booze

Who knew that sweet tea-flavored vodka was going to be such a big hit? We're guessing that no more than a handful of people. But in hindsight, it all makes perfectly good sense. We — especially us southerners — love sweet tea, and vodka is one of the least intrusive liquors around. It's like a ninja hiding in the shadows. It's there, but you don't see it. Now, it seems as if every distillery is getting in on the sweet tea trend — and that's fine with us. The stuff's mighty tasty. But there's more to flavored vodka and infused liquor in general than just a bit of southern hospitality. And heck, some of the best new offerings aren't even infusions at all. They're Old World standbys. Read on.

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Seagram's Grape Twisted Gin

The Grape Twisted Gin — an extra dry gin with "natural grape flavor" — is extremely fruity in aroma,and the strong grape flavor is just slightly more subtle. It tastes less like gin and more like punch. Or grape bubblegum. The fruity sweetness comes through even when mixed with tonic or ginger ale.

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Firefly Peach Tea Vodka

This spring, Firefly introduced four new sweet tea-flavored vodkas to the national market — Raspberry, Mint, Lemon, and Peach. The peach flavor stands out as the cleanest-tasting and most drinkable of the bunch with a deep, caramel-like tea taste and an assertive peach/apple flavor. Perfect for drinkers in the real peach state (sorry Georgia). Cut with lemonade or mix with tonic and lime.

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Zwack

This exotic curiosity from Hungary is gaining a funny reputation as sort of a Jägermeister-lite. It's been known in Europe as Unicum for years. Dark ruby-brown, Zwack's flavored with dozens of herbs, aged in oak, and colored with caramel. The cherry and sweet cinnamon notes are strongest in the aroma, while the flavor tends to be more woody, bitter, medicinal — almost Chartreuse-like. It can be served straight as an effective apéritif or digestif, or cut with a variety of mixers — from Red Bull to Bailey's. Ice cold in a shot glass works nicely, too.

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Smirnoff Pomegranate Fusion and Smirnoff Melon Twist

The Pomegranate Fusion, featuring a blend of pomegranate, citrus, apple, and honey, has a floral and clean aroma that only hints at the tart fruitiness in the flavor. The cranberry-like pomegranate flavor isn't too powerful, making for a smooth sip. The new Melon Twist is similarly clean in aroma and flavor, but with a more pronounced citrus/honeydew accent. Both are perfectly ready to be shaken or stirred into a martini glass or served on the rocks with a slice of lime.

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Sobieski Vodka

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The unassuming and relatively inexpensive Sobieski is the No. 1 selling vodka in its native Poland. Made mostly from rye and spring water, it's exceptionally smooth and drinkable. There's a slight, bready fruitiness in the aroma, and clean alcoholic graininess in the flavor. There's no need for exotic fruits or additional seasonings in this un-gimmicky vodka. Try it in a martini or a bloody Mary, with club soda or tonic, or in a cold shot glass with a quick squeeze of lime.

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Three Olives Root Beer Flavored Vodka

It almost seems like a shame to add extract or root beer ingredients to such a pure spirit as Three Olives Vodka. However, after a few sips of this stuff, you might be inspired to compose your own funky cocktail recipe. We liked it chilled in a shot glass, on the rocks with a dash of tonic and cherry juice, or mixed with ginger ale. Is a root beer float martini possible? With some Bailey's or an amaretto and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, sure!

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Burnett's Espresso-Flavored Vodka

This espresso-flavored vodka was recently issued alongside Burnett's Sweet Tea-flavored vodka. Mahogany-brown in color, this caffeinated spirit has more of a mellow, chocolate-creme, sugary flavor than the roastier Van Gogh's Double Espresso Vodka. Well-chilled, it's perfectly delicious straight.

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Bacardi Classic Mojito

In the warm spring and summer months, one of the most refreshing and flavorful rum cocktails is the mojito, usually made with freshly muddled mint, squeezed lime, light rum, and ice. Bacardi puts it all together ahead of time here with a pre-mixed mojito cocktail, which has gained popularity in Charleston over the past year. The sweet and convenient Classic Mojito accents the lime flavor more than the mint. Add additional splashes of rum and club soda or ginger ale, with a garnish of lemon or lime to jazz it up.

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