Making hay at American Harvest vodka’s launch party

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If you missed the American Harvest Vodka launch party last week at Sundown at the Granada, you missed the spectacle of vodka shots poured through a formidable ice slab into the waiting shot glasses of partygoers; you missed the mini-Sloppy-Joe sliders and the low-octane trio channeling Foster the People and the bartenders outfitted in ranch-hand regalia.

But mostly what you missed was bartender Josh Hendrix’s specially created menu of vodka cocktails made with the fresh, sleekly bottled brand, which made me reconsider — for a night, anyway — my typical indifference to vodka-based drinks.

These product launches are generally festive and kitschy occasions; a similar opening last year at Standard Pour for Montelobos mezcal featured ground-worm snacks and what appeared to be a taxidermied wolf. For instance.

American Harvest’s glossy marketing makes the most of the organic spirit’s American roots in a typically import-heavy crop, built around images of straw and happy farmers.  According to the literature, the Idaho-distilled spirit is “proudly handcrafted in small batches from organic American wheat, certified organic ingredients and water from deep beneath the Snake River Plain.” And as it turns out, it’s pretty good: I found the taste pleasant, buttery and crisp, a possible contender for my short list of faves worth drinking straight including Iceland’s Reyka, Russian Standard and Seattle’s Mischief.

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Hendrix says vodka’s virtually blank canvas gives a bartender room to show off flavor-building and technique, with the crispness of a winter wheat vodka a factor in both texture and finish. The two cocktails of his that most stood out to me that night were the Cynar-accented American Apertif and the sake-kissed Harvest Pearl, both of whose recipes are recounted below, courtesy of Hendrix.

While neither drink is on Sundown’s current menu, either is available by request.

AMERICAN APERTIF

1.5 oz American Harvest vodka, 1/2 oz Cynar, 1/2 Lillet Rouge, 1/8 Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur. Stir with ice and strain into glass.

HARVEST PEARL

1 oz American Harvest vodka, 1/2 oz lemon, 1/2 oz simple syrup, 3/4 Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur. Shake with ice, pour into glass and top with Zapanga sparkling sake.

— Marc Ramirez, posted 2/23/13

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