You won’t find American black vodka, because US government regulations say domestic distillers can’t call a spirit vodka unless it is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”
Other countries aren’t as strict in their definitions. Among the international black vodka offerings are Russia’s Eristoff wild berry vodka and Znapps black licorice vodka from Sweden.
In North America, the most popular and easy-to-find black vodka is Blavod. The UK import is unflavored, making it a versatile base. Catechu, an extract of the Acacia shrub commonly used in astringents and breath fresheners, is what gives Blavod its black color.
Though its color makes it fun for parties, this is no novelty liquor. It is smooth, with a slightly spicy finish. Like most imports, it tastes stronger and more complex than typically neutral-tasting American vodkas.
For the most dramatic presentation, layer drinks made with black vodka. Place the ice and mixer in the glass first. Then slowly pour the vodka on top over the back of a spoon and serve right away. When making drinks that need to be shaken or muddled, keep in mind that mixers and liquor can either lighten the drink or turn it a muddy brown.
Drink of the Week will feature several Halloween cocktails using black vodka, but here’s a simple one to start with.
1/4 cup ice
½ cup orange or tangerine juice
1 ½ ounces black vodka
1 black licorice twist, for garnish
Place ice in a highball glass. Pour juice into glass. Pour vodka over the back of a cocktail spoon into glass so it sits on top of juice. Slice ends off a licorice twist and use as a straw.
Photo of black vodka cocktail array photo by marthastewart.com.