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Crystal Head Vodka

Review: Crystal Head Vodka  (74.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published March 10, 2011

I think I shall begin this review with a video and let the man behind this spirit, Dan Akroyd, tell you in his own words about his Crystal Head Vodka.

I found the video quite interesting, and the information it contained corroborated well with what I was told about Crystal Skull Vodka, (at The 2010 Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival), when I was first introduced to it. The Vodka bottle is indeed just as Dan Akroyd described, shaped like a Crystal Skull, complete with two crystal skull cups to serve it in. The pleasant woman at the festival who talked to me at the Crystal Head booth went to great lengths explaining how this is a quadruple distilled premium Vodka, filtered with real diamond filters, produced using only the freshest water found in Newfoundland. She gave a great presentation, but I’ll be honest, she already had my full attention with the crystal skull decanter and the two skull cups.

My buddy Dennis who was with me at the show was just as smitten by the presentation as I was, and as fortune would have it he was given a bottle (er skull) complete with Skull cups as a Christmas Present from one of his pals. Dennis often joins me for my informal tasting sessions on various Sunday afternoons, and a few days after our first Vodka tasting (See Tasting Nemiroff Vodka) he invited me over to sample the spirit within the crystal skull. We couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures with his camera before opening the bottle, and being the Dungeons and Dragons geeks that we are we thought we would add our own skeleton warriors to the party.

The First Impression 8.0/10

I (rightly or wrongly) feel that presentation is even more important for the Vodka category than it is for other spirits. This is because a spirit which has much less flavour, and very little aroma and colour, must impress visually to initiate the purchase decision in the consumer. The Crystal Head Vodka is all about such a visual presentation. A crystal skull decanter and a set of crystal skull glasses pretty much have me hooked from the get go.

Broken TopperBut… when Dennis opened the bottle for the first time the synthetic cork closure broke. The wooden top came off the synthetic stopper (there was not enough glue to hold it in place) leaving the cork wedged firmly in the bottle without an easy way to get it out. With a little ingenuity, we got the stopper out; but… the first impression I received from this experience was of corners being cut in what was supposed to be a premium product.

The First Sip 14.5/20

We had chilled the sample of the Vodka overnight (in the freezer), and with my crystal skull glass filled, I let my nose take a few cautious sniffs. The first wiff was what I would call vegetal. It had the smell of a raw spirit just off the still. You might think this is normal for a Vodka, but I do not think it should be normal for a Premium Vodka. In my opinion, only the center cut of the distillation should be used in Premium Vodka, and it should not contain this level of rawness. Additional light candy notes were apparent as well; but, I would have to describe this initial aroma as medicinal. As I let the first small sip settle on my tongue, I felt the bite was perhaps a little sharp. A light metallic aftertaste which was slightly bitter followed, and the Vodka warmed my throat a little more than I would like.

Taking a Shot 13.5/20

I tested this Vodka several times and on several different days. This stuff warms the back of the throat a more than it should, and it has a light but distinct burn going down. As the Vodka settles in the throat the burn increases making this a little uncomfortable. The aftertaste, which I noted in the initial first sip, was more pronounced when taking a shot. Again it is slightly bitter and slightly metallic, and it has a tendency to linger well after the shot is consumed. When the Vodka is allowed to warm up a little more, the aftertaste and the burn increase substantially.

Out For Dinner 15/20

When I sampled the Crystal Head Vodka with bread, cheese, and ham I noticed the metallic flavours and the burn associated with the spirit were each tamed to an extent. The flavours and textures of the food seemed to be helping especially with the aftertaste. However, there still was some of that slight bitterness in my mouth and in back of my throat from the Vodka which lessened my enjoyment. And although the metallic taste was gone, things still didn’t taste quite right. I felt the food was improving the Vodka rather than the other way around.

Cocktails 23.5/30

A good Vodka will allow the flavour of the cocktail to shine through. I like to drink Cosmopolitans with fresh lime and cranberry juice.

 

My preferred recipe for the cosmopolitan is as follows:

Cosmopolitan

2 oz Vodka
1 oz Triple Sec
1 oz lime juice
1 oz Cranberry juice
1 tsp of Grenadine
orange peel

Shake all the ingredients over ice
Strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with Orange Peel

I use the grenadine as a sweetener to bring the colour of the cocktail to a nice almost rosy pink.

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The Cosmo I built with the Crystal Head Vodka tasted fine, but it wasn’t stellar. That nice firm juicy flavour that a good cosmopolitan has, was missing. The same was true for the screwdriver I tried. It turns out that even when mixing with Crystal Head, the results are rather average.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.

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Final Thoughts:

In Canada we have this great rock band called Trooper that had a string of hit songs in the late 70′s and early 80′s. I think their only crossover hit into the United States was a song called “Raise a Little Hell“. It would have been nice if I could have selected that particular song as the theme for this Vodka which is being promoted by another great Canadian, Dan Akroyd, (think about it, a mystical crystal skull  raising undead minions…that song could have worked beautifully).

However, Crystal Head Vodka contains more window dressing than substance. My knowledge of the quadruple distillation; the diamond filters; the crystal skull decanter; and the so-called freshest water in Newfoundland cannot save me from forming the opinion that what we really have is an average Vodka all dressed up to the nines. In that vein, there is a song from that same Canadian Band, Trooper, that actually does sum up my feelings on Crystal Head Vodka quite clearly. It is called “Three Dressed Up as a Nine“! Have a listen if you like.

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You may (loosely) interpret my score as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing Vodka.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are still preferable.
85-89    Excellent!  Shots or cocktails!
90-94    You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 80    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89     Silver Medal (Recommended  for shots and mixing)
90 – 95     Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots)
95.5+       Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

11 Responses to “Crystal Head Vodka”

  1. Brad said

    This one was really just about the presentation. I bought the bottle because it was a nice-looking piece of glass, not knowing what to expect from the spirit itself. I found it to be underwhelming, but even after that, I didn’t really feel bothered spending the $60 for this one. I won’t buy another bottle, because the spirit itself was mediocre at best, and now I’ve got the nice, unique piece of glass to act as a divider on my liquor shelf. Now, I’ll stick to Grey Goose and Russian Standard as the usual suspects for my liquor shelf. Better-tasting spirits by a wide margin in my opinion, and at a fraction of the cost due to more traditional glass.

    Maybe Dan A. just jumped on board with this one because he couldn’t play Indy in the last movie…

  2. Mike said

    I’m no connoiseur but I prefer vodka with some taste (though not a harsh taste). In absence of taste, smoothness and fullness of body are prefered. I was actually quite impressed by the drinkability of Crystal Skull. But aside from the bottle, hardly worth fifty bucks IMO.

  3. Jonathan L. said

    As some know,I don’t drink alcohol but this bottle I just HAD to own, even though it’s just vodka it’s one of the coolest looking bottle in my collection, I also got the 1.5 liter version, closer to a human size skull than it’s little brother. I would agree about price to quality ratio, we obviously pay for the bottle but what a bottle :)

    I enjoyed your review as it honestly reflects the actual taste and not the marketing behind it.Is there a vodka that is truly worth more than 50$ in the world? Vodka seems to be appreciated for having little to no taste, so a tasteless vodka would probably be considered a high end one?

    • Value is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Some people prefer Vodka with no taste, others prefer vodka with slippery nuances of flavour. When I evaluate vodka, a light spicy grainy flavour or a hint of citrus never knocks the score down. It is unwanted flavours, like metallic aftertaste or raw lightly bitter vegetal flavours which knock the score down. The Crystal Head has both.

  4. Mike said

    I had this vodka and found it reasonably smooth. I had no background info on it so was expecting something rough.

    As for the diamond filtering, Danfield’s Canadian whisky also claims to make use of this technique. In fact it is one of their main selling points, though they don’t bother to offer any real information on how it works or why it might be better than other types of filtration.

    • Hi Mike:

      I’m glad that you appeared to like the Crystal Head more than I did. I found I just could not sip it comfortably, I had to mix it to eliminate the burn. (I did just recheck my math and realized I added the scores wrong and it scored a 74.5 instead of 73.5 so I had to change that.)

      The Diamond filtering is a gimmick in my opinion. They run the Vodka through Herkimer Diamonds, which, as Frederick pointed out, are actually quartz. The supposed mystical powers of quartz have been bandied about for at least a century now and if you believe in that power then I guess that might make you believe it will impart something mystical to the Vodka. I guess the next step would be using high powered magnetic fields…

  5. Edoc said

    I was going to mention about the diamonds, but Frederic beat me to it. A gimmick!

    Why would real diamonds be a good filter for anything anyway? They absorb nothing.

    • Of course its a gimmick, the entire Vodka is a gimmick from beginning to end. Crystal Skull mythology and Diamond filtering are being used to peddle symbology, not Vodka. And I suspect the gimmick works. Even though my buddy Dennis didn’t think the Vodka was fantastic, he loves his glass skull and the skull cups.

  6. Frederic said

    The diamonds are Herkimer Diamonds which are actually quartz. And the filtration is based on a new agey belief that HD’s have a purifying effect.

    Crystal Head Vodka sponsored a Mixoloseum Thursday Drink Night, and Dan Akroyd showed up to the chat room. I was impressed at how much he was into the concept of the product and involved in its development and was not just putting his name on it after the fact. He loved nerding about the spirit. With that said, there are plenty of vodkas that are just as good for half the cost. So the other $20+ must be for the bottle (and the marketing).

    • Hi Frederic, its good to see you on my Blog again. I wander over to the Cocktail Virgin about once a week and enjoy your efforts immensely!

      That video I put at the front of the review really captures Dan’s ‘Nerdy’ enthusiasm as he gets into the mythology of the Crystal Skull and the Herkimer Diamond filtration. I did wonder about all of that effort that was put into the purity of the spirit. If you think about it, the more runs through the distillation process, and the more filtration which is used, the closer one comes to producing pure ethanol. I am not convinced that great Vodka should strive to be pure ethanol.

      I sense we agree on the overall quality of the spirit, and I hope you enjoyed the song at the end!

      Cheers!

      • Frederic said

        I did not get a chance to watch the video here (I can do that later in the afternoon here at work), but I will try to later. I agree that stripping out all the flavor is the unfortunate trend. U’luvka was the last (unflavored) vodka that impressed me for flavor and quality.

 
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