There’s just no possible way to write a decently comprehensive piece about Kirkland Signature’s bowling-pin-sized vodka offering without addressing the rumor that swirls around it – is it repackaged Grey Goose? Every Costco representative I’ve talked to about the stuff has at least mentioned the rumor, as have many of the people who have seen one of the bottles near my liquor shelf (usually it’s too tall to go with the rest and demands special display). Google was no help, as there were no substantiated claims either way, just a lot of arguing back and forth. The most likely theory the Bartender found was that KS had bought an old Grey Goose distillery and was using water from the same river in France to produce it, but again, it was presented without any evidence.
While taste tests are always going to be somewhat subjective, it seems likely that comparing two products for objective similarities and differences should be far easier to do with accuracy than simply trying a single spirit and giving it a rating. Additionally, the Bartender cites her above-average depth of experience with vodka-tasting, as well as her lukewarm reaction to Goose from the fancy frosted bottle, as qualifications to make the call.
So, are they the same thing? Drumroll, please…
No. No, they are not. And in the Bartender’s opinion, the Kirkland Signature is superior.
The rumor’s foundation is certainly easy enough to see. Nearly identical on the nose and tongue (slightly vanilla-y, slightly sweet, very smooth) it’s not until the finish where the two really differentiate themselves. As previously noted, Goose just sort of fades off into a very mild burn with no real standout flavors. Kirkland, on the other hand, is far more distinctive: a slightly more noticeable burn and notes of charcoal and olive that might lend themselves well to a martini.
Impressive as the Kirkland vodka is, however, the best thing about it might be its price – assuming you already have the Costco membership, you can get a 1.75 L handle of it for $27, less than a single 750 mL fifth of Goose costs. This makes it only a little more expensive than many mid-shelf vodkas, and it completely lacks the bitter finish of those offerings, which makes it simultaneously a fantastic straight vodka and an excellent mixer. Wrap that up with the fact that the bottle practically doubles as a cricket bat or home-defense weapon, and how can you say no? A++ with cherries on top
Once again, it’s time for we Americans to celebrate the independence of our nation. Across the US, millions of people are indulging in those quintessentially Statesian traditions of outdoor barbeques, explosives, and alcohol consumption. Admittedly, the wisdom of combining those last two concepts seems questionable at best, but the Bartender lives in an area recently plagued with wildfires, and has forgone the explosives for this year – thus allowing her to partake of libations freely. And really, what could be more American than inexpensive and readily-available Kentucky bourbon?
For those unfamiliar with the Kirkland Signature line, it’s the house brand for Costco Wholesale‘s chain of warehouse stores. It’s also a store brand of surprisingly consistent quality; one of Costco’s big draws is that they accept returns on anything, no questions asked – if you buy something and don’t like it, you can bring it back (and thanks to the membership system, they don’t even require a receipt). Obviously, this creates an incentive to stock products of good quality, and the Bartender was very impressed by their vodka offering. Therefore, when she discovered they had started carrying bourbon as well, she was extremely interested in trying it, especially as the Rebel Spouse’s stock of 1792 (his preferred brand) was currently gone. And if it could stand up to the 1792 in quality, it represented a significant potential savings – $20 for a liter as opposed to $28 for a fifth.
Alas, Kirkland’s first impression was not positive. At 103 proof, the stuff is extremely hot when drunk straight; what few notes come through the alcohol burn are overpoweringly oaky and sour. Adding a bit of water, or serving it on the rocks, helps some; the flavors open up, allowing some charcoal and molasses notes through and giving it a bit more complexity. It does, however, still burn significantly on the way down; this is pity party bourbon of the first degree.
In all fairness, it’s not without its charms – it mixes up into a perfectly decent whiskey sour, and the strong flavor would probably work very well in bourbon lava cakes. But I wouldn’t really recommend it straight unless you enjoy the sensation of having your taste buds scalded into submission. C+