I got a package from FedEx last Tuesday. Usually I have some idea what’s in them and where they came from but this one really was totally out of the blue. I had no idea and the return address was somebody’s name in Portland. I actually brought it in from the porch and set it aside because I was busy with dogs and had a phone surgically attached to my earhole, so I decided to get back to it Later.
Then I forgot where it was.
Don’t get old if you can help it. Trust me, the trade-off between accrued wisdom and aches, stiffness, and inability to track small objects is not really worth it.
I located it in my garage, brought it in, and opened the box after dinner, that same night. I looked at it, puzzled, but then took out a Glencairn glass and poured a half a wee dram.
I was STUNNED. For a moment, it didn’t even register as Vodka. It had botanical notes that conjured up Gin or some exotic Scandinavian liqueur. It was shockingly smoooooth, aromatic, complete, delicious. I went back into my Pour Fool email and searched the name and up popped a message from one Rachel Sandstrom Morrison, sent February 25th: Wanna try this stuff? Have you heard about it at all?
Yes, and No.
Hence the package.
I immediately told my wife about it and she tasted it. BOOM, Part Deux. The exact quote, I believe, was, “Oh, my GOD!” Or words to that effect, invoking a deity. Then, I replied to Rachel Sandstrom Morrison:
“Rachel, I am FLOORED by this Vodka. FLOORED. I’m sitting with my wife and trying to think of adjectives that describe it. “Silky”, certainly but it’s also gorgeously aromatic and tongue-painting and subtle and flat-damned delicious! I’ve rarely been as impressed by a new product as I am by this one. Do you have a retail price yet? I’m searching the website but haven’t yet found one. Whatever it is, it’s a bargain. I have to confess that I never heard a syllable about it before your email but it is easily the best Vodka I’ve tasted in the past five years and the best from the PNW, ever.”
All of which I still stand by today, after several tastings.
As you see in the photo, Headwinds Vodka wears its Pacific Northwest pride on his sleeve – its literal sleeve. That yellowish label is made of thinly shaved wood, a proclamation of its makers’ dedication to and appreciation of this gorgeous, weird, somewhat isolated (still!) soggy corner of America. It’s the brainchild of a young-ish marketing guy from Portland, named Jason Dyke, who doesn’t look old enough to sample his own product but who obviously has an old – and immaculately tasteful – soul. The liquid itself is filtered six times(!) through Oregon hazelnut charcoal (! Redux). It is pristine, beautifully aromatic, silken, thoughtful, absolutely expressive of the PNW, and as immediately alluring, even seductive, as any Vodka I’ve tasted in a LONG time. (If you’re not up to speed on the Pacific Northwest and why so many of us go into raptures about our own backyard, there are photos scattered around this page that should explain it.)
The flavors follow the nose: caramel, wood, hazelnuts, and hints of coconut and overtones of honeysuckle and jasmine. On the tongue, melon and mint and a hint of stonefruit merge gracefully. It finishes with a touch of baking spices and bit of vanilla toffee. The continuum of these flavors adds up to a genuine Experience, a parade of sensual delights that is wickedly easy to drink and avoids the dozens of Vodka cliches and off-notes that mark a lot of artisan spirits, these days.
In the past, Vodka was expected to be colorless, odorless, and tasteless and used almost solely as a mixer. Russians, those chronic dissenters who virtually invented the stuff, drank it straight, frequently icy cold, for centuries but the filtration process was rudimentary and spewed out off-flavors and people, not infrequently, DIED from impurities. (And massive over-consumption, of course) When Vodka came west, then, makers became fanatical about filtration and a natural part of the filtration process is the charcoal stripping impurities…and flavor elements, thus launching the long, persistent crazy train of trying to make Vodka, in effect, all buzz and no flavor.
In Headwind, however neutral the liquid may be coming out of the still, the hazelnut and the creamy, unctuous corn that provides the base grain remain remarkably present, with the dogged persistence of corn, as a grain in distilling, hanging in there through the six trips through the charcoal. The result is a glycerine-like silkiness and mild viscosity that slips across the tongue like satin.
In every dimension that counts in evaluating – and enjoying – a Vodka, Headwinds hit every right note squarely but with great subtlety and finesse. Just a frankly magnificent Vodka, right up there, for me with Reyka and Snow Leopard and Hangar 1 Fog Point and St. George and Chopin Potato Vodka and Hanson of Sonoma, atop the artisan Vodka heap. And this Headwinds has to be in the conversation for best of the lot.
Now, a personal note: Headwind is NEVER, not even as an experiment, going to be mixed with anything, at least in my house. It plainly needs NO help at all. There are a small ocean of Vodkas out there which desperately need or would at least benefit from the addition of fruit juices or nuts or flowers or candy or marshmallows or geckos or salvaged machine parts or whatever busy bits are going into spirits, these days. And that’s fine and those neutral Vodkas have a definite place in our liquor cabinets. But some just do not need and won’t really benefit from the muddling of a cocktail. You either enjoy Vodka on its own merits or you just use it to add octane. Either is fine. But using Headwinds as a mixer is a disservice to the work that went into it and the quality it shows in every single sip. Just my $.02.
IF, however, you just cannot help yourself, I’m betting your Headwinds-infused cocktails will set a new standard for your home mixology that you will be VERY reluctant to fall short of again. WARNING: may be habit-changing.
Now…for the best part: I asked my wife to guess how much a bottle of this gorgeous elixir would cost. As you see in my email to Rachel Sandstrom Morrison, above, no mention of suggested retail $$ was included in the shipping box. My stunning wife guessed about fifty bucks and said she’d pay that in a heartbeat. I guessed maybe $65, based on what I tasted and what the current market allows. I sent an email reply to Rachel Sandstrom Morrison and waited, quite ready to lay in six or eight bottles of Headwind as soon as I could find it on a shelf. Two days later, Rachel’s answer arrived:
$21.99 per bottle.
Folks, TWENTY-ONE NINETY-NINE A BOTTLE!! Reyka is similarly priced but has gone up to $24 to $26 in most shops, just this year. Somewhere down the line, Headwinds is going to have a price hike but I doubt that it will break the $30 threshold anytime soon. So, the time to be buying this PNW masterpiece is NOW, and the quantity to be purchasing is “A Shit-ton.”
Headwind Vodka is a giant step forward, both in creating a new take on American Vodka and in planting the flag for Oregon and the Northwest as one of the two or three true hotbeds of artisan distilling. This stuff does, in fact, have a gale-force headwind in its sails and if quality means anything at all, any more, in a few years the name “Headwind” should mean the same thing as “Grey Goose” and “Tito’s” and the other best-selling brands, when it is heard or read by American Vodka lovers. 100 Points