Vodka is a consistently well-loved spirit in our area of the South. You can’t go to a local restaurant or bar without seeing vodka cocktails on the menu. This month, I wanted to dedicate time to this spirit to explore and contrast the vodkas being created here. There are so many wonderful craft vodkas now being distilled in the South, and so we’re featuring three unique North Carolina vodkas that you should be drinking: Bedlam Vodka (Durham), Boots Vodka (Wendell), and Social House Vodka (Kinston).
Legally in the U.S., vodka is defined as “spirits distilled from any material at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)” as to be “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” Unlike whiskeys and other brown spirits that use barrels to mellow their flavor and are distilled at a lower proof, vodkas are produced to a high alcohol level and thereby, a high purity at distillation. They are then diluted with water before being bottled — typically around 80 proof.
When we think about the base ingredients in vodka, we think of potatoes due to the influence of Russia and eastern Europe. However, vodka can be distilled from any fermentable base (potatoes, corn, rice, grapes, sugar or wheat), and it can be a blend of these base ingredients too.
The three fantastic N.C. vodkas run the gamut: rice (Bedlam), corn (Social House) and a blend of sweet potatoes and corn (Boots).
Do a quick Google search for “rice vodka,” and you will discover there are not many distilled in the U.S., making N.C. fortunate to have such a unique vodka. Bedlam’s use of rice, sourced from the American South, produces a smooth spirit with a soft subtle sweetness on the finish. It has more depth than many vodkas and is delicious in a classic cosmopolitan cocktail.
Corn and sugar as bases will typically give you the most neutral flavor when fermented and distilled. The local corn Social House Vodka uses yields a quick and clean finish. Social House is an approachable and easily mixable vodka. I love making a lemon drop cocktail with this vodka!
While both Bedlam and Social House are bottled at the standard vodka level of 80 proof, Wendell-made Boots “Troop Strength” Vodka is bottled at 90 proof or 45% ABV. This higher proof spirit allows it to stand out in cocktails, especially when when mixed with ice. Boots Vodka’s base of a blend of sweet potatoes and corn creates a “hybrid” flavor profile. It has a rounded mouthfeel that’s creamy with a bit of sweetness and then packs a bigger punch due to its higher proof. I’d recommend using this vodka in your next Sunday brunch bloody mary!
Vodka made right here in North Carolina is a fantastic way to explore our home spirits. The next time you’re at the ABC store or your favorite local restaurant, I hope you’ll seek these out!