Black Death Vodka

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The World's Most Controversial Vodka...More Show Than Go...

Jul 25, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Critically acclaimed vodka

Cons:So sweet!

We Built This Vodka, We Built This Vodka On Rock & Roll…

I've only have Black Death vodka twice in my life, once in the States and more recently in Zurich, during one of my infamous "layovers", where my plane gets cancelled and I end up plastered in an airport bar. With my love for trying new vodkas, and Black Death's reputation and bottle, there was no way that I wasn't going to try it, after draining a few Danzka martinis of course. What I found was something wholly unpleasing to my palate, something that sent my tastes reeling. Another bad vodka to toss away? I'm still not so sure about that:

The Controversy

In the fairly new world of novelty vodkas and strange names/packaging, Black Death is actually an old rocker. It first appeared in the American market in 1991m imported from Luxembourg by Cabo Distributing of California. With its morbid name and grotesque skeleton mascot, it soon ruffled the feathers of the omnipresent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, who accused Black Death "the misleading impression of bubonic plague and poison." How's that for marketing strategy? Cabo took the ATF to court in CA in 1992, and won the right to sell Black Death, and rock & roll won another victory...

Tasting Notes

As with any vodka, the distillation of the product factors heavily into its taste and body. Which is what makes Black Death so different from the competition, since it's distilled from beets instead of the traditional grain or potatoes. Beets, a source of natural sugars for centuries, give their sweet character to Black Death in spades.

If you've ever made caramel at home before, you know the nose of Black Death. The aroma wafting up out of the bottle is one of cooked sugar, that rich sweetness that clings to the nose. The body is extremely smooth, with an uncharacteristically light finish that will please non-vodka drinkers and frustrate more traditional vodka purists.

The taste follows the nose, and is quite sweet, almost to the point of me wanting to call it a "dessert vodka". What exactly is the sweetness? The Vodka Companion calls it the flavor of burnt sugar, but I tend to think of it more of a blend between caramel and turbinado sugar, that indulgently silky "brown sweetness" that you expect in the crust of a crčme caramel or other such dish.

Man, my teeth hurt just thinking about Black Death…

It should be noted that as alternative a product as it is, Black Death still holds with the 98% of vodkas that are the traditional 80 proof, so nothing deadly in terms of strength.

Serving Notes

I don't enjoy this product, but as always I'm providing some serving information for those who choose to disregard my opinion and experiment anyways:

The Vodka Companion recommends Black Death as a great mixer, and I could see that being true due to its sweetness…God knows it's not a sipping vodka. Here are two long vodka drinks that could benefit from its cane sugar notes:

The Simple Caconti Black Russian

1 ˝ oz Black Death vodka
1 oz Kahlua
Lemon Peel

To Prepare: Mix liquid ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon, Serve and Enjoy!


Vodka Gimlet

2 oz Black Death Vodka
1 oz Lime Juice
˝ tsp Confectioner's sugar

To Prepare: Mix ingredients together with ice, then strain. Serve in chilled martini glasses and enjoy!

The Devil's Advocate

As I have recently taken to expressing the dissenting opinion in my reviews, I feel it only fair to state that Black Death won a gold medal at the prestigious London International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was also awarded the Greenall's trophy for the Best White Spirit in the 1993 International Wine and Spirit Competition, for what that's worth.


The Final Verdict

In the world of vodka there are two ways to make it big: quality and coasting. Stolichnaya is quality, Absolut is coasting. The former relies on the sheer superiority of its product, while the latter depends on marketing and reputation to fill its coffers.

It seems to me that Black Death may be coasting, but I'm not ready to make that decision yet. My beef with it is the sweetness, the almost liqueur-like character, and yet that's a matter of personal taste. My final advice is as such: If the idea of a sweet vodka appeals to you, grab it up, and if not leave it alone. So much for Advisor's wisdom…



*Some Black Death details garnered from Altculture.com


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