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Skyy's New Vodka: Skyy90

What's The Difference?

Standing on a rooftop deck taking in the expanse of the Bay Bridge and the East Bay, I'm sipping a vodka martini that tastes very little like vodka and more like limoncello. I saw the bartender make it, there was nothing but vodka poured over ice, shaken and served in my oversized martini glass. The vodka is Skyy's newest product, Skyy90 and the lack of "vodka" flavor seems to be the point.

Vodka's popularity in recent years seem to hinge on the fact that the higher end producers have figured out how to make it taste like virtually nothing. In earlier years as a cocktail server I was often asked by young girls, just barely old enough to drink, what they could order that didn't taste like alcohol. Flavored vodkas were only just beginning to surface on the market, but they were always an easy go to. A mandarin cosmo went down nice and easy, and was much more sophisticated and packed more punch than a Midori Sour.

As martinis grew in popularity many classics also came back, including a simply straight vodka martini. Vodka drinkers that preferred the flavored variety or mixers were lured by high-end brands like Belvedere and Grey Goose that offered a soft, barely-there flavor. With a little olive juice there was nothing harsh about them. The market exploded and soon you could choose from Turi, Mor, Chopin, and Pearl just to name a few. To compete, mid-range vodkas like Smirnoff, Stolichnaya, and Finlandia began offering premium bottlings under names Silver Label, Cristall, and Gold. Now San Francisco's own Skyy Vodka has stepped up with Skyy90, "The first modern luxury vodka with taste by design."

What does that mean? Honestly I'm not quite sure. The promo materials define modern luxury as "better taste through higher design" and keep referring to the "taste of luxury." It brings to mind thoughts of licking a Mercedes' leather interior. Skyy90 didn't taste a bit like leather, instead I detected a bit of lemon and vanilla, just a subtle sweetness that made it go down very easy. I can honestly say I enjoyed every sip, but did the $25 million investment made by Skyy really produce a vodka so much better that I would pay $10 or more to drink it over my usual Stoli?

I did a taste test, both Stolichnaya and Skyy90 simply shaken with ice and served up. Tasted side by side, the Skyy90 was smoother and had a very distinct lemon flavor. The Stoli was a bit harsher and burned a little going down, but the flavor and texture were richer and there was a nutty characteristic. Surprisingly when they warmed up a little, I could hardly tell the difference. An edge came out of the Skyy90 that the chill hid. A little cranberry thrown in there and you wouldn't know the difference.

Ultimately the Skyy90 will please many people I'm sure, but I want my vodka to have a little kick, and there was really no denying that the Stoli just had more going on. As you reach higher on the shelf, not only are more impurities filtered out, but the flavor diminishes as well.