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Hangar One Straight Vodka


By Robert Plotkin

Ansley Coale and Jorg Rupf may not be household names, but they're known as the fathers of American small batch vodka. At the turn of this century, each had earned renown as craft distillers—Coale with Germain-Robin of Mendocino County and Rupf with St. George Spirits of San Francisco. Having perfected the art of distilling brandies, the two decided to combine their skills and resources to create all-world Hangar One Straight Vodka.

Introduced in April 2002, the handmade vodka is a sophisticated spirit crafted in several steps. The process begins with premium Midwestern wheat distilled in a custom-built column still. The light, clean spirit is then steeped with California Viognier grapes. Although the varietal is challenging to cultivate and its vines yield relatively little fruit, the gold colored grapes are exceptionally delicious and highly sought after for winemaking.

The grape-infused spirits are then redistilled in small, copper Holstein pot stills. Because the fruit varies from year to year, Rupf and master distiller Lance Winters remain closely involved throughout the distillation process to best ensure the brightest small batch spirit.

That they achieved their objective is an undisputable historical fact. Those searching for an elegant vodka loaded with charm and character need look no further than Hangar One Straight Vodka. The crystal clear spirit has a voluptuous, oily textured body and delightful grain and grape aromas. The entry is smooth and spicy warm. It quickly fills the mouth with semisweet chocolate, anise and brandy-like grape flavors before tapering to a crisp medium-length finish.

The 80-proof gem is a trailblazing spirit. Although scores of other American vodkas have been released since its debut, Hangar One Straight Vodka remains at the head of the class.

Not a trio to rest on their laurels, Coale, Rupf and Winters proceeded to release a trio of critically acclaimed and highly popular fruit-infused vodkas, each of which is a mixologist's dream come true.

As the name states, small batch Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka obtains its singular personality from Kaffir limes. The 80-proof spirit is handcrafted by macerating the Thai-sourced fruit in Hangar One Straight Vodka and then sending the infused spirit through the alembic still. The artisanal vodka is highly aromatic with a zesty, spry citrus palate and an exceptionally refreshing finish.

Equally brilliant is Hangar One Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka. The spirit's identity comes from an Asian variety of the lemon called the "Buddha's Hand." Its intense citrus aromatics and flavor are derived from the thick fleshy pulp. The fruit is macerated and the infused spirit is then distilled in Hangar One's copper pot still. The finished vodka is like an 80-proof slice of summer. The vodka has ideal clarity, a generous citrus nose and the concentrated flavor of tree-ripened lemons.

Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka is brimming with the gentle aromas and flavor of tangerines. In this instance, the distillery macerates its vodka with freshly picked Mandarin orange blossoms. The finished spirit is unlike any other flavor on the market. It has the wafting aroma of just peeled tangerines and a refined orange flavor ideal for showcasing in contemporary cocktails.

In 2004, the distillery's phenomenal success prompted them to move their facilities to an even larger hangar at the abandoned Alameda Naval Air Station. Giddy from having more elbowroom, they soon began releasing limited seasonal offerings they dubbed the Alchemist Series.

The first of these was Hangar One Fraser River Raspberry Vodka, an altogether captivating spirit produced each June from Washington State raspberries. The freshly picked berries are macerated in vodka, after which it is redistilled in the alembic still. Before bottling, raspberry juice is added for complexity and a touch of natural sweetness and color.

The vodka has a lush, supple body and focused aromas of sun-drenched raspberries warming on the vine. It immediately bathes the palate with a lavish array of long-lasting, delightfully dry, true-to-fruit flavor. Hangar One's raspberry gem is a backbar tour-de-force.

Next came Hangar One Wasabi Infused Vodka, a breathtaking treat from start to finish. Its tight knit aromas are sinus clearing and completely enthralling. The vodka washes over the palate delivering payloads of wasabi and horseradish flavors. While the heat hits the upper registers, it falls just short of going combustible.

Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka is a seasonal bottling distilled with intensely flavorful and aromatic Bartlett pears from the high desert country of Colorado. The naturally colored spirit has a lightly spiced pear bouquet and a lingering finish with hints of clove and ground nutmeg.

In a world fond of its vodka, the chant "USA! USA!" can once again be heard reverberating in bars and restaurants around the globe. Salud Hangar One!