King cake vodkas
Three king cake flavored vodkas are currently on the market in New Orleans. (Todd A. Price / NOLA.com | The TImes-Picayune)
Now, the marketplace for king cake vodka is crowded. Taaka followed in 2013 with a budget option. An outfit called Pinnacle offers a third king cake vodka in 2014.
Which king cake vodka is the best? (And yes, we recognize that "best" is a highly relative term in this context.)
To settle the question, I assembled a distinguished tasting panel that included myself, a nationally known wine writer (to protect his reputation, he insisted that his name not be used) and any other adults in the room of legal drinking age. Because we're professionals and recognize that each spirit should be presented in the proper context, all three king cake vodkas were tasted in plastic go-cups.
Lucky Player (80 proof): We arranged our tasting chronologically, starting with the brand that invented the category. Lucky Player proudly announces that it's produced in France, a country never known for vodka until a clever marketing campaign made Grey Goose a star.
On the nose of Lucky Player, we detected a heavy note of almond extract, sugared bread and fruits, mainly cherries. "It doesn't smell like king cake," said one taster. "It smells like cherries."
That dominant cherry bouquet becomes a cough syrup flavor in the mouth. Said one taster, "It just keeps getting worse."
Taaka (60 proof): The budget entry from Taaka practically counts as local. It's made by the Sazerac company. Although Taaka is produced in Kentucky, so are Herbsaint and Peychaud's bitters.
One taster raised questions about the color of Taaka, which had a yellowish tint instead of the water-like clarity one expects of vodka.
The nose and the taste were dominated by almond extract, sweet icing and a bit of cinnamon. Did it taste like king cake? No, not really. Rather than king cake, Taaka was closer to your garden variety grocery store vanilla cake. (Oddly enough, the label promised an "imitation king cake flavored vodka" instead of a king cake flavored vodka.)
Pinnacle (70 proof): At NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, we've been tasting one king cake every day of the 58-day Carnival season. After a while, the many variations on this Mardi Gras staple made us wonder what exactly counts as a king cake anymore. Pinnacle vodka of Deerfield, Ill., has its own opinion in that debate. It's king cake vodka promises "imitation cinnamon roll" flavor.
The initial nose of the Pinnacle vodka was sugary with an overwhelming aroma of floor polish. Thankfully, that foul odor dissipated quickly. A plastic smell and taste, however, remained. It was as if the vodka was trying to capture the taste of a king cake with the baby melted inside.
One taster, a native New Orleanian, found that the Pinnacle took her back to her childhood. "It smells like," she said, "if you took an old McKenzie's king cake and sniffed the bag."
Verdict: If we were forced to drink king cake vodka, our panel would opt for Taaka. Perhaps the lower proof (and thus the larger amount of water in the bottle) made it slightly more palatable? Taaka also is the cheapest option among the three.
Personally, this parade season I'll be drinking beer.