North Bay Bohemian – Did local, organic vodka change anything on New Year’s Day?

05 Jan North Bay Bohemian – Did local, organic vodka change anything on New Year’s Day?

In 2020, I resolve to buy more organic products. I’ll support local farmers; at the farmers market. And, of course, I’ll cut back on the booze. Right after I drink this Bloody Mary that’s locally sourced with organic ingredients.

At the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, I spy a stand that still has tomatoes—however improbable—in late December. Growing just a stone’s throw or two across the freeway, the tomatoes at Hector’s Honey Farm go gently into these lately frosty nights with the help of row covers. True, some look a bit rough this late in the season—but so do I.

Funny thing about tomatoes in late December is, while they may be hardy, they are not so juicy. The good news is, no desperately hungover people are waiting on my tedious juicing attempt, which nets 2-plus fluid ounces from nine small, and ironic, Early Girls. I add freshly grated horseradish, a bit of Goodfellas-thin sliced garlic, a pinch of paprika-based spice from Sonoma County’s own J. Christopher Co., sea salt from Jordan Winery and foraged Meyer lemon juice. (If you can’t find a Meyer-lemon bush in the North Bay, take off those dark glasses).

Round one: Mixed 1-to-1 with an international brand of vodka, this pink cocktail looks like a Greyhound, but smells of fresh tomato. However, the ethanol lifts the horseradish aroma too far to the fore. Hanson of Sonoma habanero vodka ($28), made from organic grapes, cools the aroma and adds a spicy element, while Spirit Works vodka ($30), distilled from organic California wheat, introduces a vanilla aroma, and black pepper and garlic details. It’s kind of like gazpacho.

Round two: Bloody Bob’s “all natural” Bloody Mary mix ($6.50), produced in Healdsburg, has everything but the celery stick, and a bit of latent heat, too. But, mixed in equal parts with the international rotgut, only the tomato paste note stands out—like pizza sauce. With the Hanson’s, there’s an accent of pepper, while Spirit Works shows that sweet vanilla note.

But the revelation comes when I mix up a 2-to-1 ratio of vodka to Bloody Mary mix. Now, the mix can’t hide the character of the vodka. The international brand is characterless, leaving the tomato purée to still lay heavily on the palate—my main complaint with most iterations of this cocktail—with a cold metallic tinge, while the Hanson’s unflavored version (with a sweeter aroma than the habanero) and the Spirit Works add a welcome sense of “warmth” to what’s supposed to be a recovery tonic, after all.

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