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Artless Spirit

Grape-based Hanson organic vodka is on the up-and-up

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'Don't waste your time." That was the advice liquor distributors gave Scott Hanson about his organic vodka idea. "People don't care about organic spirits."

Hanson went ahead anyway, piled on gluten-free and non-GMO certifications and joined One Percent for the Planet. It may be the crunchiest vodka on the planet—and distributors are lining up for it.

A Marin-based artist-entrepreneur turned movie producer, Hanson got interested in spirits while working on the Prohibition-themed film Lawless. "We learned a lot about whisky-making in the process," he says. Meanwhile, several of his sons who had studied grape vodka in France approached him about starting a craft spirits company. After trying out various grapes, filtration and distillation processes, and enlisting the help of celebrity mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, they settled on a formula.

This year, the family crushed nearly a hundred tons of organic grapes at a facility in Sonoma, doing much of the work themselves, through distilling the wine (while vodka is usually made from grain, grape vodka is not the same as brandy or grappa) and hand-marking the text-heavy, candid labels.

Hanson says he loves it when people blind-taste his vodka against Grey Goose. Last week, Bohemian staff gamely took up the challenge. We sussed out the Hanson from two similarly priced brands immediately. Chopin Polish potato vodka embarrassed its price point, reeking of straight-up rubbing alcohol. Grey Goose had a neutral aroma, a quality mouthfeel and hinted of grain. Sweet-toned and fruity in contrast, Hanson original vodka is slick on the palate, with slight notes of berry-flavored mineral water. Sipped from shot-sized cups, it was clearly preferred—for mixing, with caveats. The cool-toned Goose might work better for some cocktails, while the Hanson might nicely complement the bitter olive in an ice-cold martini.

We also tasted Hanson cucumber-flavored vodka. The vegetal, rindy aroma reminded tasters of cucumber water; some said they prefer their cuke vodka less "sweet." Vodka tonic, I say. The ginger-flavored vodka is made with fresh, macerated ginger, and smells it. Nicely spicy, made for a Moscow Mule.

Like the pith of peeled, mandarin oranges to some, Tang to others, Hanson mandarin-flavored vodka split the vote. Irish coffee hits it right for the Hanson espresso-flavored vodka, because the coffee aroma is authentic. Also evoking chocolate liqueur and Kahlúa, this might garnish some vanilla ice cream—like Straus Family, certified organic and non-GMO, for instance.

Hanson of Sonoma tasting room, 22985 Burndale Road at Highway 121, is scheduled to open in December 2014.

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