|Claire Smith, head of spirit creation and mixology at Belvedere Vodka|
Claire Smith, head of spirit creation and mixology at Belvedere Vodka, is not afraid to mix it up when it comes to crafting top-notch spirits. She’s also not shy about calling out newfangled vodka flavors that should be banned (cotton candy, whipped cream, you know the lot). We caught up with Smith during the Aspen Food & Wine Classic to talk about Belvedere’s latest flavor, Lemon Tea, and the process of creating flavored vodkas that appeal to a sophisticated palate.
How do you choose the hits from the misses when it comes to new flavors?
CLAIRE SMITH: Some ingredients work, some ingredients don’t. Yuzu, for instance, is a lovely and aromatic Japanese citrus. You would think it would macerate spectacularly, it just doesn’t.
What are your most popular flavors?
CS: Pink Grapefruit has been killing it since it launched in 2010. I think Lemon Tea has gotten off to a great start. When you taste it, it really is super refreshing and has lovely characteristics that remind you of sitting by the pool and drinking iced tea. That has really hit the ground running.
How is Belvedere Lemon Tea different from the other tea vodkas out there?
CS: Well, it’s not a sugar bomb. We start with green tea and black tea, soften it with chamomile, and add some aromatic flavors like ginger and lemongrass. Then we sweeten it with a little bit of honey. The idea is that when it’s hot outside, you don’t want to be messing around with a lot of ingredients—so, we’ve done all the hard work for you. You just add iced tea or lemonade or half and half.
What are the new mixology and flavor trends?
CS: I think that we’re seeing a lot of citrusy drinks, not using just citrus, but using herbs, spices, and a lot of ingredients that mimic citrus. Herbs can really lift the acidity. Vinegar works in cocktails as well. It’s a way of avoiding the citrus fruit and still bringing in a lot of balance.
What trends are you happy to see gone?
CS: Everything that’s hyper-synthetic: bubble gum, candyfloss, fruit loops. I saw cola flavored vodka the other day. If you come to our distillery, like when you go to a gin distillery, we have botanicals. Our botanicals are not juniper-based, like gin, but we have a whole bunch of grapefruits and lemons and limes. That’s what we’re doing as a point of difference for us.