NOTE: This is about the brilliant new Headwinds Vodka, from a post written back in March of 2020, just about the time the Earth started to torment us. I grappled with it, then, because I REALLY, badly wanted to cover it for this Christmas season, as there is little in life that makes me any more happy that to give somebody a gift of a bottle they never heard of before and watch their socks roll down past their ankles, while little bluebirds flit around their heads. So, I heavily edited this and am posting it, finally, at just the right time for Holiday Hijinks.
I got a package from FedEx, the other day, 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. For about two weeks.
I located it in my garage, brought it in, took out a Glencairn glass, and poured a half a wee dram.
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 PR person, Rachel Sandstrom Morrison, whose name was on the letter enclosed in the box:
“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 box arrived but it is easily the best Vodka I’ve tasted in the past five years and the best from the PNW, ever.”
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 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: There’s 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 but some just do not need and won’t really benefit from the muddling of a cocktail. 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.
Now…for the best part: I asked my wife to guess how much a bottle of this gorgeous elixir would cost. My stunning accomplice 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 query to Rachel Sandstrom Morrison. Two days later, Rachel’s answer arrived:
$21.99 per bottle.
Folks, TWENTY-ONE NINETY-NINE A BOTTLE!! Reyka – the magnificent Icelandic Vodka, which remains the only current one that even measures up to Headwinds for purity and clarity and complexity and Yum factor – 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.” ESPECIALLY as we head into our virus-riddled holidays, when we all need a lift in our spirits (in BOTH senses) and a circus-grade party on our palates, with as little hemorrhaging as possible in the area of our bank accounts.
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