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Review: Ketel One Oranje

Back when the Rebel Bartender was a teenager growing up with a teetotaling mother, her few experiences with alcohol came entirely from what she could filch from the kitchen.  Teetotaler her mother may have been, but she was also a fine cook, and a moral stance against alcohol was no reason to compromise the quality of a bourbon cake with imitation spirits (hello, Jim Beam!). And of those experiences, the one that stands out most vividly was trying pure orange extract – largely because the stuff was nearly 80% alcohol (hello, scalded sinuses!).

Ketel One Oranje reminds the Bartender quite a bit of that experience, although fortunately without the deleterious effects on mucous membranes.  The nose is almost completely sweet orange, with a bit of alcohol vapor in the back of the throat; the taste is an odd but pleasant sweet-bitter combination of orange juice and orange peel.  And really, that’s all there is to it.

It may come as a surprise to the newly rebellious, but orange is a tricky flavor in mixology.  Straight orange juice tends to overpower everything else in the drink with some alacrity – there’s a reason you rarely see it outside of screwdrivers.  Triple sec, on the other hand, is usually used as an accent, and therefore tends to be fairly weak.  Ketel One Oranje, whatever it lacks in complexity, does fill that middle ground nicely – you can use it to add a distinct orange note without steamrollering the other flavors.  And if you happen to be making chocolate-chip cookies or a buttercream frosting, might the Bartender recommend tossing an ounce or two of this in the mix?  A-

Review: Ketel One Vodka

As Vodka Week approaches its second seven-day span and shows no sign of stopping, some readers might be surprised at the lack of mention of a certain ubiquitously-advertised brand, as a subject or even as a comparison.  There is, in fact, a reason for this, as this particular brand is one that has never failed to disappoint the Bartender, despite the number of variations and ways she has tried it, and she has therefore forsworn spending money on it again, or paying it any attention whatsoever.

That said, other reviewers have described Ketel One as “the vodka {other brand} wishes it was”, and that’s an assessment with which the Bartender will wholeheartedly concur.  The noses are very similar – antiseptic, with maybe a touch of vanilla extract – but there’s a world of difference on the tongue.  The Brand Which Shall Not Be Named inevitably serves up a harsh, one-note medicinal character with an unpleasant burn going down.  Ketel One, while still possessing a touch of that medicinal burn, is significantly more complex – the immediate lemon-rind flavor gives way to a slight richness mid-palate and an almost peppery finish.

As for the martini test, K-1 (as it should be referred to in hip ‘n’ swingin’ circles, if it isn’t already) proves itself perfectly competent.  The harshness is muted some by the cold, mostly leaving the lemon/pepper combination with a touch of creaminess that complements the vermouth nicely.  Nothing to amaze and delight the seasoned drinker, but perfectly palatable and with a nice selection of tasting notes to savor.  For a spirit that regularly retails around $20-$25, it’s a surprisingly decent showing.  B+

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