Review: Sommarøy and the Art of Lower-Proof Spirits
Can low-ABV gin and vodka replicate the experience of a fully-proofed expression?
What we’re drinking: A gin and vodka from Sommarøy, a lower-proof spirits brand
Where it’s from: Sommarøy hails from Chicago. It was just launched by entrepreneurs Michael Barkin (former Trunk Club cofounder) and James Cosma.
Why we’re drinking these: During
Dry Damp January, we were looking for spirits and drinks that still offered the mouthfeel and backbone of alcohol but wouldn’t get us too rocked as we sat inside and gloomily watched the 4 p.m. sunset.
Enter Sommarøy. These new spirits are 55-proof (27.5% ABV), so about 2/3 the alcohol and 70 calories per 1.5 oz. And yes, the first question I had was regarding how these could legally be classified as vodkas or gins, which have to be at least 80-proof according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
“When we were registering with the TTB, we initially listed as a light vodka, and they said ‘we don’t have a category,’” says Cosma. “So we have to go under specialty spirits, where there is a flavored vodka category [which has a lower ABV requirement]. To achieve that, we use the most minuscule amount of neutral flavor possible, so as not to affect the profile we wanted.” (Cosma also suggests that defined categories for “light” spirits could be just 2-3 years away.)
Low-Proof Spirits Are on the Rise
Not quite whiskey or vodka, some bottles skirt the 80-proof standard
The biggest obstacle for the Sommarøy team is getting people to understand that a lower-proof option that handles like a regular gin or vodka is actually available. “It’s a challenge at retail. There’s going to have to be a lot of education and awareness,” admits Barkin. “In a lot of places we’re sitting alongside Tito’s and Hendrick’s. But there’s nothing really telling you that there’s this option for low-alcohol spirits that are also craft.”
Let’s see if the low-proof spirits hold up.
How they taste: Both the gin and vodka are the same corn-based spirit to start, and both come in at 27.5% ABV.
- Sommarøy Vodka: There are subtle corn notes here, and the overall viscosity and mouthfeel remind me of an inoffensive vodka that’s indistinguishable from a normal-proofed version.
- Sommarøy Gin: Interestingly, it’s a pine note that dominates here on the nose, while juniper and citrus equally coat the palate.
These aren’t like most no-alcohol spirits I’ve tried recently; the mouthfeel and texture of booze is present, and mixed into a martini or with tonic water, I really didn’t know if anyone would notice a difference. If they both lack complexity, they make up for it in functionality and balance. They’re not necessarily sexy drinks — the word “rectifier” came up more than once in our conversation — but a mixed drink with one of these is certainly a more flavorful option than most canned cocktails or mocktails made with zero-proof spirits.
Fun fact: The brand is named after a Norwegian island where the summer sun doesn’t set for half the year. “So the idea is you could drink this all day, from sun up to sundown,” says Barkin.
Where to buy: Sommarøy Spirits are available directly online and at some Whole Foods locations nationwide, and also across Chicago at Binny’s Beverage Depots and Dom’s Kitchen and Markets.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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