A funny thing happened to me on my way to avoiding the canned-beverage craze. I discovered a canned cocktail that I really like. It happened at POP Bubbles + Seafood, during the Seattle Wine & Food Experience. There, in the festival hall, Ian MacNeil, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Glass Distillery, was pouring samples of his new Glass Vodka Soda. At first, I mistakenly assumed that he had entered the booming hard-seltzer market. But he quickly explained the differences between his canned vodka sodas and the White Claws of the world. After tasting, re-tasting and then re-tasting some more, I feel pretty good about speaking in effervescent tones about these new offerings. As the weather warms, there will be plenty of reasons to throw a few cans of your favorite beverage into your cooler or backpack. And with this in mind, here are some refreshing things to know about Glass Vodka Soda.
Glass Vodka Sodas are available in Meyer-lemon, ruby red–grapefruit and mandarin-orange flavors, plus an unflavored version. But unlike many other flavored drinks, there is nothing sugary or overly fruity about them. They taste almost exactly the same as a vodka soda you’d make at home or order at a bar. Light. Crisp. Refreshing. The only difference is that these canned vodka sodas replace the traditional lime-wedge garnish with compounds that provide just a hint of their respective flavorings.
MacNeil (above) worked with Flavorman, a beverage development company based in Louisville, Kentucky, to develop its formulations. Each combines natural oils and extracts, obtained from around the world, with vodka and purified carbonated water. Flavorman sourced the lemon oils for the Meyer lemon vodka soda from farms in Italy and California. Its other ingredients include Mexican lime oil and extracts from the bark of ho wood trees. The compounds include solvable aromatics that are released through carbonation. As I popped open a can of the mandarin orange vodka soda, for example, I was greeted by a scent that reminded me of cutting into a ripe orange. Ditto for the ruby red grapefruit.
It’s not hard seltzer
Brands such as White Claw and Truly are leading the hard seltzer craze, which shows no signs of slowing down. But Glass Vodka Soda is a significantly different product. Like beers, hard seltzers are brewed. A malted grain releases sugars, and yeasts convert these sugars into alcohol. While beer is made from malted grains, hard seltzers are derived from gluten-free malt sources, such as cane sugar. Most of the hard seltzers I’ve seen in stores come in at about 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Glass Vodka Soda, on the other hand, is exactly what its name says it is. Each can contains the equivalent of about 1.5 ounces of Glass Vodka, plus purified carbonated water and its flavor compounds. At 10 percent ABV, it offers about twice as much alcohol as a typical beer or hard seltzer. And a touch less than what you’d find in a glass—or can—of wine, which typically ranges from about 11 to 15 percent ABV.
The difference in alcohol sources also means that large liquor stores in some states, including Washington, can’t stock Glass Vodka Soda next to hard seltzers. At the Total Wine & More in Seattle’s Interbay area, for example, hard seltzers are near beer. Glass Vodka Soda sits with other “pre-mixed cocktails,” about seven aisles away.
It’s healthy … sort-of
The popularity of hard seltzers stems largely from their ability to provide a tasty low-fat/low-carb/low-calorie and gluten-free alternative to beer. I’m not ready to assert that this makes them good for you. But maybe “less bad” is a better term. And the nutritional values of Glass Vodka Soda will probably also appeal to the health conscious.
For starters Glass Vodka Soda is also gluten free. And a 12-ounce can contains 184 calories, zero grams of fat and no carbs. For comparison, a 12-ounce can of Truly hard seltzer contains 100 calories, zero grams of fat and 2 grams of total carbs. Since Truly contains 5 percent alcohol by volume, you’d need to drink two to get the same amount of alcohol as you would from one can of the vodka soda. Not that that’s the only reason to drink.
Meanwhile, a 19.2-ounce can of White Claw contains 170 calories, zero fat and 3 grams of total carbs. For a 12-ounce serving, this would translate to about 106 calories and 1.9 grams of total carbs. For additional comparison, a 12-ounce can of Budweiser, with 5 percent ABV, contains 146 calories, zero grams of fat and 10.6 grams of carbs.
It’s made from wine
Wheat and potatoes, plus corn (thanks Tito’s), are probably the most commonly known sources of vodka. But MacNeil makes his vodka from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc that he buys from Chateau Ste. Michelle and other Washington state wineries. By the time the distillate reaches 190 proof, almost all of the wine characteristics have been removed. But the wine base is a factor credited for giving Glass Vodka, which is bottled at 80 proof, notes of honeysuckle and a smooth finish. In an impromptu side-by-side tasting with a wheat-based vodka that I like, I found the Glass Vodka to have a slightly fuller mouthfeel than my Brand X, along with a few savory and gin-like botanical properties.
It almost came in bottles
Cans are king these days. But MacNeil is a glass art enthusiast who serves on the Board of Trustees for Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. And he designed the bottles for Glass Vodka to resemble decanters, complete with glass stoppers. He encourages customers to keep them around after finishing the vodka inside. And when he began developing vodka sodas about two years ago, he says he briefly considered distributing them in bottles. Ultimately, he decided that cans would be easier for customers to carry around and recycle.
It has a sibling on the way
Glass Distilling sold nearly 4,000 cases of vodka last year and is on track to sell more than 8,000 cases of vodka soda within the first year of its release. And the distillery’s fans already have a fun reason to look forward to 2022. That’s when MacNeil expects to release the first batch of his limited-production brandy. He’s been distilling some of his wine to brandy standards in small batches each year since launching in 2012. These are currently aging in cognac barrels. And MacNeil anticipates that the first vintage will be ready for release in about two years, which will coincide with his distillery’s 10th anniversary.
Glass Distillery welcomes visitors at its Seattle facility, near T-Mobile Park. The tasting room is open to the public Wed.–Sat., and by appointment on other days. Visit the website to learn more.