Is organic alcohol really any better? The Granville Room's Trevor Kallies shakes up three organic cocktails for our team of judges to taste test
The word “organic” has the same effect on me as the word “Chanel”—both attempt to elevate my rank to that of a god, as opposed to that of a mere mortal who knows no better. Companies and consumers alike are using “organic” like a brand, promising it will make us jump higher, run faster and maintain an acceptable amount of chest hair.
Always the skeptic, I needed to find out if indeed these claims are true or just marketing gimmicks, and report the results to you, my fellow readers.
Is organic better? To determine this, I’ve formulated an unbiased approach using a double-blind statistically random sampling of my own refined taste palette combined with those of two female friends who aren’t afraid to tell a guy he smells like Old Spice—the kind from Grandma’s pantry, not the deodorant.
And just how will we test it? By sacrificing my body like an athlete with a champion’s heart. By boozing, of course.
Our testing ground was behind the closed doors of downtown Vancouver’s popular resto-lounge, the Granville Room. Leading our little experiment was manager Trevor Kallies, who would let us pass judgment on the new line of organic cocktails being introduced to the Granville Room menu, which he will present at the EPIC sustainable living show this weekend as part of a workshop on organic cocktails.
The judges: Marina Dyck, Jill Etmanskie and myself, Davin “Processed Meats on Aisle 4 Make Me Happy” Luke
The controlled variable: Grey Goose Vodka
His opponent: Prairie Organic Vodka from Minnesota—delivered in a stylish, clear, rustic bottle
The competition: Trevor will make three organic cocktails, mixing the Prairie Organic Vodka with all manner of organic flavoured waters, organic juices, organic herbs, organic fruit and so on. Meanwhile, Three’s Company will taste each one, grading it on taste, presentation and overall quality. In the case of one cocktail, Trevor will also mix a non-organic version using the Grey Goose Vodka.
(Okay, okay, you don’t have to tell me. I know. This is so scientific it would make your Grade 10 chemistry teacher shed a tear and give you a C+ for effort.)
Let's get on with it...
Drink #1: Sage Advice
A martini-like concoction made with organic crushed sage and a cinnamon-orange-peel herbal water that Trevor picked up while exploring the aisles of Choices. The drink’s strong leafy sage flavour, says Trevor, makes it perfect as an after-work refresher.
The Judges Verdict:
Davin: “I love it!”
Marina: “I love it!”
Jill: “I love it!”
Obviously, it’s our first drink so we have nothing else to compare it to aside from a glass of water. And if water tasted so damn good, we wouldn’t have invented Kool-Aid. Thus, the “I love it!” conclusion is too preliminary at this point to pass the litmus test. Let’s continue to the next drink…
Drink #2: My-My Mango
A tropical drink made with crushed ice, organic ginger ale and mango. This drink is well suited for a hot day by the pool.
The Judges Verdict:
Davin: “Great presentation with the mango slices. I love it but would definitely be a sissy if I drank this on a boys’ camping weekend.”
Marina: “I like the fact that the organic ginger ale adds a bit of a twang to the flavour.”
Jill: “I like the sweetness.”
Drink #3a: Peppered Smash
An “outside-the-box” vodka soda-style drink flavoured with organic cane sugar, organic lemon juice and cracked pepper. This is your staple I-am-an-librarian-by-day-but-spank-my-ass-and-call-me-Veronica-cause-its-5p.m.-on-a-Friday-night type of drink. The Work Horse—tried, tested and true.
The Judges Verdict:
This is Marina’s favourite drink.
Davin doesn’t know how to describe it because his vocabulary is limited to “Good” and “Bad.”
Jill uses her inner-thesaurus and tosses the word “subtle” out there. We all agree. Subtle. Fresh. Deadly at a company party if you’re sitting at the same table as your manager.
Drink #3b: Peppered Smash (non-organic)
Trevor mixes up the same drink again, but this time with non-organic ingredients.
The Judges Verdict:
All of us agreed that not only did the Grey Goose drink taste cheaper, but less refined.
Marina summarized it well by mentioning that the non-organic vodka tasted more processed and less sweet compared to the nicer organic vodka in the same drink.
The Judges’ Picks
Davin: “Sage Advice, Peppered Smash, My-My-Mango and all the drinks displayed at the back bar and the liquor store down the road… but mostly Sage Advice.”
Marina: “Peppered Smash for its creative use of organic ingredients.”
Jill: “My-My-Mango for the tropical flavour and subtle taste of alcohol.”
But were aren't done yet. The final experiment: a Pepsi challenge...
Final experiment: The Pepsi challenge
At the end of the day, we agreed that all three organic drinks were delightful. The organic ingredients combined with the organic vodka made great cocktails, no doubt. But that seems more a result of the fresh, high-quality organic ingredients, like the fragrant sage and mango, the surprisingly gingery ginger ale and the like-just-squeezed juices.
It seemed to me, you could just as easily use regular vodka to get the same delicious results. And seriously, even if organic is healthier, let’s be honest: this ain’t baby green salad we’re talking about, it is booze. And a bottle of the organic vodka has a price premium of around $10–15 more per bottle, which would put it at a similar price point as Grey Goose.
Therefore, the final test—which I humbly decided to volunteer for—must be a direct “Pepsi” challenge between Grey Goose and Prairie Organic… Shots!
Having poured the shots and served them to me one at a time, without letting on as to which was which, Trevor asks me to describe where on my tongue I can taste and “feel” the vodkas. The first shot of vodka tingles the back of my throat, while the second shot of vodka tingles the front of my tongue and my nose.
I have to choose between the two kinds of tingling, so I choose the back over the front because that’s what I do when I take the bus.
According to Trevor, lower-quality drinks generally tend to emphasize the back of the mouth, where you taste more bitterness with your tongue, as opposed to the higher quality spirits where the sensation is felt at the front and the sides—where the sweetness receptors are located.
So, to sum it up, I chose Grey Goose—arguably the lower quality vodka—though I must admit, it was a tough call; I could have gone either way. It seems it really depends on personal preference, the drink’s other ingredients and the occasion.
That doesn’t say much in terms of results if you were looking for a black-and-white answer. However, all this effort has not gone to waste because I did learn something new about perception. The best way to think about organic is not to hard label it as “premium” or “inferior,” but to think of it as an alternative choice among the given options—like pondering which pack of gum to buy at a convenience store.
Trevor Kallies’s tips, facts and industry trends
1. The sign of a good cocktail is one that doesn’t let the taste of alcohol overpower the other flavours in the drink.
2. A common mistake when mixing cocktails is to add too much citrus, which will obliterate any other flavours in the drink. Be especially careful to avoid this when mixing mojitos, Trevor says.
3. There is a continual need to be creative and re-invent, as customers like to compare differences and try something new. So bartenders are always on the lookout for interesting flavour combinations, often looking to the menus of upscale restaurants for inspiration. “If you see certain flavours being combined for a dish, chances are those ingredients will make a great cocktail as well,” he says.
4. Organic spirits—organic wine especially—are becoming increasingly more popular. “People want to know what they are putting in their bodies,” says Trevor.
5. Sustainability is emerging as an industry standard. A lot of clubs and lounges, including the Granville Room, which is a member of Green Tables, are slowly moving towards making their operations more efficient, implementing a wide variety of measures like installing energy efficient lighting and introducing comprehensive recycling programs and composting.