We’ve been looking at some celebrity backed spirits over the last few weeks, and one we’re often referenced but never actually reviewed was Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka. I figured it wasn’t fair to talk about it unless we put the time into actually cracking open a bottle and finding out what’s inside, so that’s exactly what we are doing today.
If you’re old enough to be on our site, you should know who Dan Aykroyd is. But just in case, here’s a quick refresher: Aykroyd is an American actor who first came to fame on Saturday Night Live in the 1970’s. Throughout the years, he would have a very successful movie career, starring in such films as Blues Brothers and the Ghostbusters franchise. He also is a keen businessman, launching the House of Blues franchise of restaurants (piggybacking on the success of Blues Brothers) in 1992.
Aykroyd’s involvement with the Ghostbusters franchise is no coincidence. Together, he and the masterful Harold Ramis wrote the script for the original Ghostbusters movie. Dan is a noted spiritualist, a believer in the spirit world and ghosts as well as UFOs and aliens. In Dan’s own words:
I am a Spiritualist, a proud wearer of the Spiritualist badge. Mediums and psychic research have gone on for many, many years … Loads of people have seen spirits, heard a voice, or felt the cold temperature. I believe that they are between here and there, that they exist between the fourth and fifth dimensions, and that they visit us frequently.Aykroyd, Dan (April 18, 2009). “Psychic News”. Psychic News Issue #4001.
As a shrewd businessman, Dan saw the need in the early 2000’s for an additive-free vodka. And drawing on his fascination with the occult and specifically taking inspiration from the (mostly debunked) myth of the Thirteen Magical Crystal Skulls, he created the Crystal Head Vodka brand with his friend, artist John Alexander. Developed at the same time as (but not in coordination with) the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he worked with George Lucas to ensure there would be no conflict — in fact, he was actually asked to provide the vodka for the opening of the film.
Dan ain’t wrong — there’s a lot of bad stuff in some vodkas on the market. From sugar to glycerol, there are some pretty sketchy things that can definitely work their way into the bottle. Here in the US, there’s an allowance for up to two grams per liter of sugar and one gram per liter of citric acid, intended mainly to change the texture of the spirit.
For Crystal Head Vodka, this product starts as a crop of 100% sweet corn from Ontario, Canada. The corn is milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid.
According to the marketing materials, the liquid is distilled four times but they don’t really expand on that much. I get the feeling that they are using a variation of a multi-column distillation process to produce the neutral spirit needed for their vodka, with each still counting as a “distillation”. In any case, the spirit leaves the still at or above 95% ABV, making it a neutral grain spirit that has been stripped of pretty much everything except ethanol and a touch of residual water.
After making the raw spirit, they add a bit of Newfoundland water until they have something that is 40% alcohol by volume. That liquid is then filtered four times (as you’d normally expect) before being passed through three chambers containing something called Herkimer diamonds. Despite the name, though, they aren’t actual diamonds — just a specific clear quartz from upstate New York. According to some believers, these minerals do things like amplifying spirit energy, but those claims have never been able to be scientifically proven.
Whatever the case may be, after the magic rocks, the spirit is bottled and shipped out the door.
It’s probably telling that there’s vastly more detail on Crystal Head’s website and Wikipedia page about the bottle than there is about the contents.
John Alexander is the other half of the founding duo for Crystal Head, and is an artist in New York. Alexander designed the skull glass as a reference to the mythical Thirteen Crystal Skulls, but it’s a bit creepy and macabre in its own right. The bottles are produced on contract by Bruni Glass in Milan.
I gotta admit, for a marketing gimmick, the bottles are really well designed. They are absolutely striking when you first see them, and definitely become a conversation piece when on your bar at home. It’s well executed as well, without any rough seams from the molding process.
I truly appreciate that there are basically no labels marring this bottle. You get to see everything straight through the glass, and it’s a great effect. The branding exists (it’s on transparent stickers at the base of the bottle), but it’s just enough to make the ATF happy without getting in the way of the rest of the art.
Normally, what you’d expect to see in such a highly refined spirit is pretty much just raw alcohol, but there’s more than that in the nose here. It might be on the lighter side of the intensity scale, but there is something present. The first thing I actually get is the raw corn, a little black licorice or star anise, and then just a tiny hint of nail polish remover solvent.
And for a sugar free vodka, it’s actually remarkably smooth on the palate. I get the same anise black licorice note as I did in the aroma — almost like a very washed-out pastis — and a tiny bit of black pepper spice. The flavors play together nicely, providing an actually delicious combination that works really well. On the finish, there’s just a tiny bite of bitterness, which probably would have been covered up if they added a hair of sugar, but there it is.
The flavors are already really light to begin with here, and adding a bit of ice tones them down even further. But — interesting to note — they aren’t completely eliminated. Even the faint anise aroma sticks around after the ice joins the party.
The biggest change here (for the better) is that the faint bitterness on the finish seems to have disappeared. There’s a bit more solvent coming through, but otherwise the flavors are all there — like a glass of pastis that you’ve mixed in a 1:50 ratio with water. As it sits, the flavor almost develops into a refined vanilla note, definitely herbal and earthy.
Cocktail (Vodka Martini)
I generally don’t like vermouth. I don’t like things flavored with wormwood in general, but that’s just a personal preference. And even though I’m not a typical fan, even I have to admit that this is pretty good.
That anise flavor comes through in the cocktail, adding some depth and complexity beyond what’s in the vermouth. Which I’d hope it does — this is a 1:6 vermouth to vodka ratio, for heaven’s sake. Even that little bit of vanilla works its way in here making for a delicious combination.
I think it needs a dark cherry to make it perfect, but that’s just me.
Fizz (Moscow Mule)
This is a bit interesting. Usually, when I use a mule as a diagnostic test, it’s a bourbon-based Kentucky mule and what I’m looking for is for the spirit to make itself known. But with a vodka-based Moscow mule, I’m looking for the opposite — I’m making sure the vodka doesn’t add any overpowering flavors or clash with the ginger beer.
In this case, I don’t think I detect anything untoward. Even the anise or licorice flavor is way in the background, only a part player in the supporting cast if anything. It’s a delicious cocktail that the vodka just supports nicely.
This is a legitimately great vodka. Despite the supernatural origin story and ties to the occult, the end result is a great looking bottle with great tasting contents.
Which is exactly why I can’t give this a full five stars. The benchmark for a vodka is that it is a neutral spirit, but there’s definitely a flavor in here. I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try, but it isn’t the best vodka ever.
|Crystal Head Vodka|
Produced By: Crystal HeadProduction Location: Canada
Owned By: Globefill Inc
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $47.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious vodka that is heads (but not shoulders) above the competition.