When I moved to Charleston a week ago, there were things I expected. I expected to get lost, which I have — more than once, I’m ashamed to admit. I expected to be completely freaked out by the large roaches, or palmetto bugs as I’m told they’re called down here. What I did not expect, however, was a ride in a blimp.
Yep. That’s right. A blimp.
The blimp I was fortunate enough to ride over Folly Beach and the marshes of Charleston was the Hangar 1 Vodka blimp, which is currently touring the country promoting the liquor.
“We wanted to explain the story of our brand and introduce it to people who were unfamiliar,” says Hangar 1 Brand Manager Kensey Davis. “It’s a fun story to tell.”
Founded in 2001, Hangar 1 Vodka is a unique vodka company made by St. George Spirits in Alameda, Calif. The company’s name is derived from the place the vodka is distilled: in an actual hangar located at the old Alameda Naval Air Station. What makes Hangar 1 special, besides the locale of their distillery, is how it’s made. Using Viognier grapes and Midwestern wheat, their vodka is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The grapes seem to cut the harsh taste of ethanol out of the vodka and replace it a light sweetness that keeps it smooth all the way down.
Hangar 1’s flavors are also a bit out of the ordinary. They use real, all-natural fruits and flavors to give their vodka authentic taste. Their regular flavors include straight, kaffir lime, mandarin blossom, citron “Buddha’s Hand,” Fraser River raspberry, and spiced pear. Two of their limited addition flavors are wasabi and chipotle, which are actually quite spicy, I might add.
It was after tasting all of their distinctive spirits that I was strapped into the blimp — pilot headphones and all — and flew over Charleston. As blimps are very light and only go about 30-35 mph, they don’t fly steadily like airplanes. I just about bit my lip in half and squeezed the handle off the door whenever there was turbulence. However, the views and peaceful buzz of the engine seemed to override the fear that I felt as we bounced around in the air.
As much as I enjoyed the ride, I don’t know how the crew could do that for six months, the length of the full trip. The tour started Memorial Day weekend in Orlando and will include stops in 30 different cities, Charleston being one of them. At each stop, the Hangar One blimp flies over the city for a few days, and the crew, media, and other guests celebrate at a landing party.
Another part of the tour is the Hangar 1 Landing Cocktail Contest, where local bartenders from every city are invited to mix original cocktails. “They’re like mad scientists out there,” says Davis. “They’re drinks are so unique and special.” The drinks they concoct are very creative and a delight for the taste buds, especially in the heat of late June. I got to try a raspberry lemonade cocktail, which was a mixture of their Fraser River raspberry vodka, lemongrass water, and simple syrup. Cool, refreshing, and fruity, the drink was a perfect combination of smooth vodka and crisp summer fruitiness, a winner in my book and almost as mind-blowing as riding in the blimp.
The bartenders and their drinks will be listed on the Hangar 1 Facebook page and voted on by the public. The Charleston contestants will be posted in the next few days, so keep an eye out for them. The winner of the contest will receive an all-expense paid trip to the Hangar One Distillery, courtesy of Lightship Group, as well as a chance to work with their distillers.
So for the next few days, keep your eye out, and you might just catch a glimpse of the Hangar 1 Blimp floating quietly over the city.