Dan Aykroyd is out of his own vodka. You would think that would be impossible, but with the release this week of Crystal Head’s newest expression “Onyx,” it’s already in short supply.
“We’ve pretty much sold through now,” says the Ghostbusters actor. “I had one bottle they gave me from the office, but I finished it [Monday].”
But the bigger problem is that we’re nearly out of Dan Aykroyd’s vodka ourselves, after playing around with cocktails for the last few days. It’s weird—and it’s good.
Crystal Head Onyx, the newest Crystal Head, is a vodka distilled from blue agaves, same as tequila. It’s the first vodka to do so commercially—and it’s the first vodka to taste of agave, to taste like tequila.
This sort of hybrid spirit is one of the first examples of a growing trend. Recent changes to the definition of vodka no longer require it to be odorless and flavorless, which means brands like Crystal Head can give their light, clear spirits a hint of character.
“Bartenders are loving it,” says Aykroyd. “It’s very earthy. You’re gonna get citrus, green grass, a little spice, a little peppery in there. There’ll be a fire on the finish if you’re drinking it warm. In a cocktail it’s going to be just beautiful. I’ve been making cocktails with it all week, different types, and it punches through all the [ingredients] that you put in.“
Onyx is a delicious vodka, and were it to meet the qualifications to be called a tequila (it doesn’t), it would be a light and refreshing representation. The hybrid space really works for this new Crystal Head expression: it’s flexible in cocktails, as Aykroyd himself has been seeing for the last week.
“I made a gimlet the other day,” he says, “that was cool: a little lime juice, a little simple syrup, some elderberry flower, shake that up in a martini shaker with three ounces of the Onyx Head.”
“I made a simple screwdriver,” he explains, “with tangerine juice squeezed into a tumbler over ice. I’ve been making simple martinis with it, margaritas—tequila drinks, and daiquiris. It’s not a tequila, but it smells and tastes akin to that beautiful agave flavor.”
Crystal Head has actually been on this “flavor and character” trend for a while, and Onyx marks the third distinct product for the brand. The original Head is made with Canadian corn, and has a sweet and slightly buttery character that works well in citrusy drinks. The second, Aurora, is made from wheat and plays well in savory cocktails—dirty martinis and bloody marys.
Many vodka brands distil from these grains, but many of them also use additives to mask and balance the flavor and texture of their spirits. Aykroyd, who is surprisingly well-versed in the science of distillation, is adamant about never doing this with Crystal Head.
“We don’t add fusel oils, he explains. “Most lesser vodkas add glycerol, which is a cousin to antifreeze, and that’s to cut the alcohol scent. They add limonene, to cut the flavor of the alcohol, and they add sugar. So we strip all the oils out, and that’s why the natural scents and flavors come through,” he explains.
“We’re not masking that beautiful original corn. We don’t need limonene to make it viscous, because corn is sweet and viscous. These are beautiful fluids from beautiful mashes I don’t know why we’d want to put the masking oils in there.”
Flavor in vodka is actually quite important. It’s what buoys or bombs the savory quality of olives in your martini. It’s what brings out sweetness or acidity in the orange juice you’re using for your screwdriver. It’s the difference between depth or boredom in vodka gimlets and quickly-made bloodys.
Onyx is important, though, because in addition to being another flavorful vodka, it’s also creating a new tool for bartenders by bridging the two categories. Existing in that in-between space means that there are more cocktail riffs and modifications in play. And it creates more options for people who, for whatever reasons, think vodka sucks, or can no longer drink tequila.
Where Onyx shines will be a question for the bartending community to answer as they experiment with it in the coming months, but for now simplicity is where this one shines. It’s delicious in a simple highball with soda and lime, and plays well with whatever citrus you have on hand.
For $55, it’s one of the most interesting things you’ll put on your bar all year, and while the tequila dilettantes and purists might balk at the existence of such a spirit as some abomination, it’s just so much fun to drink that you’ll be comforted knowing they’re missing out.
Clay Whittaker is a Contributing Editor at Maxim.com. His work has appeared in Cigar Aficionado, Playboy, Esquire, Forbes, Town and Country, and elsewhere. He is Editor at Large for The Bourbon Review. You can subscribe to his whiskey newsletter here, and follow him on Instagram here.