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How to navigate the flavored vodka boom time

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Twin Liquors supplies Austin bars as well as its 70 stores statewide, including nine in San Antonio, so Jabour sees the trend from a few angles. "Two-plus years ago the sweet tea category was the rage. Now we're seeing cake and whipped vodkas are the rage. Even certain types of flavors that historically haven't sold are, like peach," he said. "It becomes more like fashion of sorts than the spirit industry. What vodka is fashionable this year? It may be cake vodka or whipped vodkas right now, but what is it gonna be next year?"

If the Chinese name their years after animals, there's something weirdly American about us naming ours after flavored liquor. This is the Year of the Fluffed Marshmallow.

The movement is an irritant for some in the spirits world. Steve Mahoney, owner of the Green Lantern on San Antonio's North Side, called the flavored vodka boom "overdone." "We don't have flavored vodkas because we don't want to rely on that. We don't want to use it as a go-to," he said. Mahoney uses his own concoctions, infusions that are in some ways more adventurous, and certainly fresher, than the flavored liquors.

As the flavored vodkas ebb and flow with fickle national trends, they'll perhaps end up revealing cultural preferences reflecting the state of the American mind. Fluffed marshmallow and whipped cream say we're feeling pretty decadent and peaceful at the moment, but beware the time when our palates prefer blood and beans in our martinis.

Ultimately more interesting to watch are those bars which infuse their own liquors, reflecting as they do the local tastes, those flavors shaped by region and culture rather than trend and market share. •

Next Week: Local infusers challenge the palate with sweet potato, ghost chilis and, of course, beef.

Award for "Most Texas" infusion goes to...

In 2008, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission seized 400 bottles of rattlesnake-infused vodka from Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch in Palo Pinto County. Each bottle contained a 10-inch rattler. Bayou Bob said he was selling them for medicinal purposes only, as an aphrodisiac or some kind of spiritual fortifier.

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