The Wacky World of Dessert-Flavored Vodkas

Pinnacle and other vodka brands are following a trend and creating some fun dessert-flavored vodkas
Rusty Clark/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Just when you thought that vodka brands had tapped into every marketable flavor possible, they surprise you. Over the years we have seen almost every fruit infused in vodka, a number of coffee vodkas, and a myriad of other random flavors such as caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and honey.

While these last few are sweet, they do not compare to the recent trend of dessert-flavored vodkas. These vodkas are meant to replicate the taste of those indulgent baked goods and other sweet treats that many of us love.

Trying to Define 'Dessert Vodkas'

By dessert-flavored vodkas, we are talking about those that capture the flavors of cakes, whipped cream and frosting, and even marshmallows in the bottle. Around 2010 and 2011, we began to see an increasing number of vodka brands producing such decadent spirits and it has taken the flavored vodka category to new heights.

Yes, before this explosion there were 'sweetened' vodkas such as the tasty chocolate and vanilla vodkas and those like Van Gogh's Dutch Caramel. Yet, it was rare (if not unheard of) to think of a cake-flavored vodka.

One could say that this is a natural progression as drinkers with a sweet tooth have been infusing Skittles, gummies, and other candies in vodkas at home for years. One thing that the home infusionist could not touch, however, were baked goods. After all, you cannot just stick a piece of cake in vodka and extract its flavor.

Will This Trend End?

It's highly unlikely that dessert vodkas will disappear anytime soon. There is a discernible market of drinkers who truly enjoy these flavored vodkas and the sales numbers reflect that.

In speaking with Dean Phillips, President and CEO of Phillips Distilling, in November 2011, we discussed the May release of UV Cake. At that time, Phillips projects that the new vodka's sales would come close to, if not surpass, the company's UV Blue, which is one of the most popular flavored vodkas on the market.

Similarly, David Tapscott, Brand Director for Smirnoff said in a 2011 statement, "We’re confident that the new Smirnoff Whipped Cream and Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Flavored Vodkas will be broadly embraced, much like their namesake dessert counterparts."

Since those statements, we have seen the dessert vodka trend expand considerably, though it has slowed down a bit. Between 2011 and 2015, there were a number of new releases as distilleries had plenty of cakes, pastries, and other treats to play with.

After that, it seemed like the releases were more sporadic. There have been many unsuccessful flavors taken off the market. We've even seen brands like Cupcake Vodka, that were dedicated to this niche disappear completely. Yet, as long as consumers are interested, vodka makers will pursue it in some form.

How Do They Make Dessert Flavored Vodkas

You may (or may not) notice a distinction in labeling of certain flavored vodkas. In the case of many fruit and herb vodkas, you will see the word 'infused', meaning the actual ingredient was placed in the vodka to extract its natural flavors.

In other cases, (and sometimes in the case of fruits as well) you will see the term 'flavored'. This is used more often (though not always) when flavoring ingredients - natural or artificial - are added to the vodka. It's done in the same manner as flavoring many of the commercially produced foods we eat today. These ingredients can include syrups and other sweeteners.

I've contemplated this question of how distillers create such novel flavors in both vodkas and liqueurs. It is similar to how we create new cocktails.

There are many drink recipes that replicate the taste of a certain dessert or favorite childhood candy, just think of a Chocolate Cake shooter or a Lemon Drop Martini. The same principle applies: someone wants a certain flavor in the drink and they figure out how to make it and it often takes quite a bit of trial and error, but eventually you have something similar.

In my interview with Phillips, he said that UV Cake was a suggestion of the vodka's Facebook fans. They took the flavor to product development and the 40 years experience of Jim Aune who developed the flavor. Aune kept in mind the taste of frosting and fresh white cake before it was tested at the distillery's Friday afternoon tastings.

The point, Phillips says, is to "capture biting into a moist, fresh white cake in a bottle." This process is the same that many bartenders use in creating drinks: idea development, experimentation, taste testing.

A Few Dessert Vodkas To Explore

  • 360 Vodka - Double Chocolate, Glazed Donut
  • Burnett's Vodka - Hot Cinnamon, Orange Cream, Sugar Cookie, Whipped Cream
  • Pinnacle Vodka - Pinnacle's offerings are continually changing though they are the top brand for dessert vodkas. At times they offer up five varieties of 'Whipped' vodkas and well over 40 flavors in total.
  • Smirnoff Vodka - Cinnamon Churros, Fluffed Marshmallow, Iced Cake, Kissed Caramel, Peppermint Twist, Whipped Cream, Wild Honey, along with a variety of flavored 'Sorbet' vodkas
  • Three Olives - Bubble, Cake, Loopy (as in Fruit Loops), Whipped Cream
  • UV Vodka - UV Cake, Candy Bar, Chocolate Cake, Sugar Crush, Whipped
  • Van Gogh Vodka - PB&J, Dutch Chocolate, Dutch Caramel

Mixing and Drinking Dessert Vodkas

When a new flavored vodka is released it is often difficult to know how to drink it, especially when it is a first of its kind. The first question will often be, "What would I mix with that?"

It is hard to think outside of what we know and this is where we rely on people who have been working with the flavor, namely the company itself. In the list of vodka brands below I have included their websites whenever possible as a resource. Developing cocktail recipes is one of the steps in marketing a new-to-consumer vodka.

Without this help, many of us would be stuck. These recipes are a starting point, an inspiration for what may and may not work. Try out some of their recipes, ask yourself what you like and do not like about it. Then, use that experience to think of what other flavor combinations may be viable.

Phillips says that their Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe is one of the most popular. It is a simple 1:2 mix of UV Cake and pineapple juice on which you can build.

Instantaneously, I think of adding ginger ale for some sparkle, maybe some amaretto for depth, or Frangelico for the nuttiness. Then again, maybe a 1:1 mix of pineapple and orange juices with a splash of apricot nectar and a dash of chocolate bitters would make a delicious drink as well.

When I first heard of Smirnoff's Fluffed Marshmallow the first thing that came to mind was (what else?) S'mores. How would you combine the three ingredients of that campfire favorite? Quite simply, it involves taking Smirnoff's Dark 'n Fluffy recipe and rimming the glass with finely crushed graham crackers.

In reality, these vodkas are meant to be fun and something used to easily create sweet tasting cocktails. Take the novelty of their taste and see what you come up with, simply enjoy the experimentation.

Here are a few drinks to get you started...

Dessert Vodkas, Love 'Em or Hate 'Em

There are two sides of the debate over dessert-flavored vodkas. On one hand, you have the indulgent drinker who enjoys sweet drinks and have very quickly fallen in love with these new flavors. On the other hand, you have the cocktail and liquor purists who think that any flavored distilled spirit beyond liqueurs is a travesty.

It is the same controversy that surrounds drinks like the Martini and the thousands of drinks that take the name 'martini.' As an objective observer, these debates can be rather entertaining.

If you think about it, it's really not that serious of an issue. It's alcohol and it's supposed to be enjoyable. Everyone's taste is unique and they should drink what they like, should they choose to partake. The whiskey aficionado doesn't have to drink your Key Lime Pie Martini, just like you don't have to drink their Manhattan.