Pear Noses Out Pomegranate

By Jason Wilson
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flavor trends seem to work somewhat like high school. One day, the cool kids -- usually people with suspicious job titles like "cool hunter" or "flavorist" or "cocktail columnist" -- wake up and decide that, say, pomegranates will be the next big thing. There's usually talk of antioxidants or benefits to the urinary tract, but everyone knows the popularity is really all about the crimson-purple color. Suddenly, everywhere you turn, they're putting pomegranates into everything. How did we ever live without the sweet-and-sour nectar of the pomegranate?

Well, allow me to be the first to tell you: Pomegranates are so, like, 2006. Pears are the new pomegranates. Haven't you heard?

Yeah, me neither. Until I received this recent e-mail from the Pear Bureau Northwest: "Pears Make a Splash as Fresh Drink Trend for 2007." Which makes total sense if you ignore the fact that pears have been cultivated and enjoyed by humans since about 5000 B.C.

In this breathless news release, a spokesperson for Absolut vodka declares pears to be "the next big flavor." Says he, "We constantly have flavorists on the hunt for all the new scents, flavors and tastes, and pear was 'ripe' for us." Not surprisingly, Absolut was at the same time launching a new flavor-infused vodka, Absolut Pears. Within weeks, Grey Goose unveiled its own pear vodka, La Poire.

Anyone who understands lifestyle journalism knows that three of anything is a certifiable trend, and so we are getting dangerously close to the tipping point on pear vodka.

"They're running out of flavors, so I wouldn't be surprised if another company comes out with one soon," says Jack Robertiello, an editor at Adams Beverage Group, which monitors the spirits industry.

A few words about the explosion of flavored vodkas. Well, maybe just one word: ridiculous. Perhaps this is too ungenerous. I mean, I can understand the basic impulse behind citrus vodka, and perhaps even vanilla. But blueberry vodka? Espresso vodka? Black cherry vodka? Kaffir lime vodka? "Mojito Mint" vodka?

When I tasted the two new pear vodkas, what struck me immediately was how differently each company has interpreted pear flavor. Absolut Pears has a strong candy scent and an assertive fruity taste that no pear in nature could possibly convey. Grey Goose, on the other hand, has a delicate, natural pear bouquet. But the mild flavor is so subtle as to be nearly lost.

So what does one do with pear vodka? That is a very good question, one that bartenders are asking. Here's a recent post on Webtender: "I work at a rather nice upscale restaurant in Manhattan and our bartender recently ordered Absolute [sic] Pear. After we all tasted it in several drinks we decided to make a few drinks based around it for our signature drink list. We aren't having much luck." After experimenting with both pear vodkas for over a month, I can empathize. But I've found a few good options.

Jim Hewes, head bartender at the Willard Room at Washington's Willard InterContinental Hotel, created a great cocktail with Absolut Pears that he calls Martha Washington's Pirouette, a sort of pear Cosmopolitan. He mixes three parts pear vodka with one part each Cointreau and white cranberry juice, and a splash of lime juice.

I also suggest an adaptation of a Pear Sazerac created by Nick Mautone, author of "Raising the Bar," for Grey Goose La Poire. The traditional Sazerac, made with rye whiskey, is a famed New Orleans drink, the one many claim was the first one actually referred to as a "cocktail" in the early 19th century. In this version, the rye whiskey is replaced with pear vodka. The anise flavor, such as in Pernod or absinthe, is a surprisingly natural coupling with pear.

Meanwhile, I am taking wagers on the next inevitable flavor trend -- the Hot Flavor of 2008. I'm placing my bet on elderflower. You heard it here first: Elderflower is the new pear.

Jason Wilson's Spirits column appears every other week. He can be reached atfood@washpost.com.


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