Lance Winters was out walking along the streets of Alameda, California, three summers ago when he happened by an orange tree in bloom. He stood beneath it a long time, taking in its perfume. The life of an orange blossom is short. In a few days the petals would snow down and their fragrance would be lost. Unless, Winters thought, he could find a way to bottle it.
In the morning he went to his job at St. George Spirits, the acclaimed distillery owned by Jorg Rupf. He took some eau-de-vie, poured in orange blossoms and orange rind, and ran it through the still. Winters and Rupf were pleased with their new drink, but they weren't sure exactly what to call it. Several months passed before they realized that one name for what they'd made was flavored vodka.
Many people believe all vodka is distilled from potatoes, but it can be made from just about anything. So St. George's next move was to turn wheat and Viognier grapes into a spirit that met the legal definition of vodka but tasted, not surprisingly, a bit like an eau-de-vie, with quiet suggestions of cherries, plums and pears. They called it Hangar One Straight Vodka. Then they expanded the selection to include three Hangar One flavored vodkas: mandarin orange, kaffir lime and lemon-and-jasmine-scented Buddha's-hand (a type of citron). Most flavored vodkas won't pass muster at room temperature; Hangar One's, in contrast, tastes fresh and alive. But Winters says he sometimes introduces them to ice in a shaker, "and they're like a cocktail all on their own" ($30 to $36; www.hangarone.com).