It’s a trend 500 years in the making. Cask-aged vodka, or starka, has been popular in Eastern Europe since the 15th century, when families buried barrels of the stuff when a child was born and dug it up to drink on their wedding day. There’s a reason they went to all that trouble: “The barrel mellows the vodka and makes it more complex,” says Lee Medoff, founder of Bull Run Distillery and one of the creators of the Oregon Starka Project, a collaboration of three distilleries to create signature barrel-aged vodkas. “Meanwhile, the spirit pulls flavors out of the wood—vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and fruit.”
Although bottles of flavored vodka have been taking up more space on shelves in recent years, they mostly came from artificial ingredients. Thanks to a growing interest in more natural, less processed food and drink, barrel-aged vodka is now becoming widely available in the States. Here are the bottles to get you started. The first four work beautifully in cocktails that call for whiskey, like a Manhattan or old-fashioned. But before you get out your shaker, we suggest you sip them straight, something only Russians dared to do with this once bland liquor.
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