If you haven’t heard of Bendistillery, you’re not alone. This boutique company out of Bend, Oregon produces four main alcoholic spirits: Crater Lake Vodka, Crater Lake Gin, Crater Lake Rye and Crater Lake Reserve Vodka. They also offer a few flavored varieties that are pretty unique considering the public’s love for fruity-infused vodkas — pepper, hazelnut espresso, and sweet ginger.
When it comes to the flavored variety, everyone has a different taste and style they prefer. Some folks like candy-focused flavors while others want to imagine that their special spirit has been steeped in fresh fruits for hours. But when it comes to really judging a vodka on its own qualities, we like to go with the plain, untainted spirit, straight-up, trying it both chilled and at room temperature. Bendistillery sent us their regular Crater Lake Vodka to try, and since we love drinking we decided to find their Reserve version as well so we could compare the two. What we found surprised and delighted us.
Crater Lake Vodka Review
Taken straight, the scent is crisp, clean, and the first sip felt like ice water on the tongue and throat — only slightly thicker and more substantial, with a silky quality to it. There was a slight hint of vanilla, followed by a peppery heat that tasted very satisfying. This vodka is incredibly smooth, and when shaken on ice and poured into a glass it was very easy to drink. And, on a particularly warm California winter day, we mixed it with club soda and lime for a refreshing, bright beverage that may very well become a new favorite.
In comparison, Crater Lake Reserve Vodka is supposed to be even finer. As the story goes, Batch #333 of Crater Lake Vodka was mistakenly left to filter over 100 times through Bendistillery’s charcoal and crushed lava rock filtering process, and the result was an extraordinary vodka that was even smoother than its predecessor.
That was difficult for us to determine. From our perspective it held the same flavor, though perhaps a little lighter on the tongue. It still was as satisfying as the other, and when enjoyed at room temperature it actually had a slightly cool feeling on the mouth. It was definitely enjoyable. But, when mixed with soda or tonic, there was no discernible difference. Our basic takeaway was this: Both are great and the Reserve is wonderful if you’re drinking the vodka in its pure form, but if you’re going to mix it then go with the cheaper version.
Putting it in perspective, when we drink Grey Goose with soda or tonic it’s wonderful, but when we try sipping it straight there’s a “shudder” to the finish. With either version of Crater Lake, there was none of that uncomfortable quality.
The folks at Bendistillery would probably be overjoyed if their vodka was sold in every bar, restaurant and store like Chopin, Grey Goose or Ketel One, but part of what makes Crater Lake so special is that it can only be found in 20 states. Each bottle is hand-marked with its own unique batch number to guarantee its authenticity and craftsmanship. Likewise, these top shelf, American-made spirits are hand-crafted and produced with all-natural and local ingredients, which includes using water from Crater Lake in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon — known for being some of the purest in the world. The company credits much of their award-winning success to these waters, but our fear is that this line will grow too big and that quality will be lost.
Therein lies the juxtaposition: We want the company to succeed, but we’d love for them to maintain their boutique style. Perhaps the only thing to do at this point is sit back, sip a fine Crater Lake martini, and watch as the story unfolds.