New Old Bay vodka gives cocktails a savory flavor made in Maryland
The alcoholization of the best-known seasoning for flavoring Chesapeake Bay crabs was unavoidable. Bartenders have long spiced up their Bloody Marys with Old Bay, and in 2017, McCormick, the Maryland company that owns Old Bay, partnered with Old Line’s state-based George’s Beverage Company for its own blend. Bloody Mary. In 2013, Philadelphia Distillers launched “The Bay,” a vodka flavored with “traditional Chesapeake seasoning,” which looks like a copyright protection code for the iconic yellow can.
After success with an Old Bay hot sauce, the company has teamed up with George’s again for a new vodka of its own. (A timely selling point: it’s from Maryland – take that, Putin!). As an East Coast Virginia native, I felt compelled to give it a try, and enlisted a few colleagues, including our in-house Old Bay aficionado, drinks and nightlife reporter Fritz Hahn. , a diehard Marylander who has written extensively about the spice mix.
We’ve tasted it on its own, as well as in some of the simplest recipes from the brand’s website: a simple mix with lemon seltzer, a martini messed with olive brine, a mule-style drink with ginger beer, and a bloody mary made with the aforementioned mixer.
At the opening of the bottle, the perfume does not betray it; you could sniff and sniff and miss a hint of Old Bay and all the boiling crab and seafood good times the scent conjures up. Served directly, we especially highlighted the peppery notes of the famous spice blend, with perhaps a trace of vegetable celery seed. I didn’t detect those hot, spicy elements that give Old Bay its complexity.
So by itself it might not be the tastiest of quaffs, but I don’t have much of a problem with that: vodka, especially when served cold, isn’t known for its subtle bouquets or its complex flavor profiles. In fact, its blending ability is one of its most prized qualities (perhaps after its buzz properties, that is). And speaking of which, Old Bay has a slightly lower ABV than many other vodkas – 35% compared to the standard 40%.
There was no harsh burn or nasty stickiness, and we quickly assimilated it to a clean, simple pepper vodka that lends a pleasantly flavorful twist to cocktails.
Once we started mixing it, we found that the more Old Bay spice we could add to Old Bay Vodka, the better we liked the resulting drinks. It was nicely cut with lemon flavored sparkling water. It was even better in the martini, where it lent a bit of peppery heat to the saltiness of the olive brine, making me crave a plate of Shooting Point oysters. Our unanimous favorite was the combination with tangy lemon juice and ginger beer – mostly because the garnish of a lemon wheel soaked in Old Bay amplified the Old Bay-ness of the drink. And the Bloody Mary made with the brand’s own blend was also a hit – again, due to the preponderance of the signature ingredient.
The lessons I learned were that a) I love Old Bay in my cocktails, which was surprising; and b) If you want Old Bay in your cocktails, head to your spice rack.
Call me superficial, but one of my favorite things about this vodka is its label. It’s instantly recognizable as an Old Bay product with the characteristic red, yellow and blue tones, but has a cleaner design than the old boxes that gives it a fun, retro-modern feel.
It would look fantastic on a bar cart, and it would make an appropriate gift this summer for anyone who lets you crash at their beach house – or hosts the neighborhood crab feast.