It’s no surprise to anyone who’s walked into a liquor store recently that the collectible whiskey and super-premium tequila categories are congested. Worthy options are positioned on platforms of heritage, innovation and sometimes both. Vodka, however, continues to be dominated by the same five or six brands. Amidst those fixtures, every so often, certain craft vodkas can stand out for flavor, design or storytelling. Harridan Vodka, distilled in the Finger Lakes from organic corn grown in New York State, succeeds with all three. The independent liquor brand’s 88-proof core expression launched in 2020 and has developed a cult following since. Their new limited edition Midsummer Reserve liquid and its esoteric ritual box of crystals, candles and an instructional zine—developed in collaboration with the internet’s favorite modern mystic, The Hoodwitch—further reinforces a mission to exceed the expectations of vodka today.
To understand Harridan’s vodkas requires delving into the archaic term that comprises its name first. “I knew I wanted to create a feminist brand and I wanted it to defy what female-focused or women-centric brands were supposed to be,” founder Bridgette Taylor tells COOL HUNTING. “It’s not unknown that the alcohol industry is dominated by men. When reflecting on what a guy would think an alcohol brand for women would look like—pink, flowery, low ABV—I knew I wanted to do the opposite. I googled synonyms for ‘hag,’ because I wanted my brand to be like an angry old lady. I wanted her to be the mascot. When I saw the word harridan—which means a bossy, belligerent older woman—I knew it was perfect.”
After reclaiming the word, Taylor and her team spun out macabre design elements to further the vision. “I wanted the entire Harridan aesthetic to be the upside-down world of the pink, flowery feminine identity. It’s dark and witchy and alluring,” she says. For the label, Taylor turned to her college major, medieval history (which she followed up with a degree from Harvard Business School). “I had to study a lot of medieval texts,” she says. “The borders of the pages tend to be intricate designs. That was a direct inspiration for the Harridan label, which has all of these fun Easter eggs. There are daggers and ravens, there’s a snake and phases of the moon.” To round out the vision, Taylor partnered with one of Patron’s original glass manufacturers for a recycled bubble-glass bottle, which nods to the vessels used by the tequila disruptor, as well as High West Whiskey (another pioneer).
In contrast to other vodkas, Harridan embraces the potential for palate eccentricity. “To me, there are three levers to adjust when developing your flavor profile: the base ingredients, the proof and the distillation and filtration methods. For the base, I tried so many options—from sugar and rice to milk and more. I happened to love corn-based vodka. It adds a beautiful sweetness and really subtle floral notes.”
“Conventional wisdom in vodka is that you want to distill many times and filter many times to strip out all the flavor possible,” she continues. “That’s a respected practice that creates super-smooth vodka. When designing Harridan, we didn’t want to follow that playbook because it’s already been done really well. We decided to distill fewer times and not filter at all and try to keep as much of the flavor of the corn distillate in there. We distill twice and we don’t filter through charcoal. That gives us a distinct aroma.”
A New Yorker for the last eight years, Taylor knew she wanted Harridan to be from a New York distillery with New York State ingredients. “I contacted almost every distillery in the state with my vision: to make a corn-based vodka that tastes very different. It was important to me that it was a recipe partnership, rather than me putting a Harridan label on a distillery’s pre-existing product,” she says. Taylor, with her friends and family, then participated in blind taste tests with vodkas from numerous distilleries. One New York State distillery stood out.
“I got back to the distillery and told them that I could not wait to partner and they said, ‘We accidentally made the liquid you tried 90 proof, we’re so sorry, we will make sure it’s 80 proof for the final run.’ It was a snap decision but I told them, ‘No, let’s keep it over-proof.’ It’s another differentiating factor.” Further, because the distillery uses all organic ingredients to produce the vodka, Harridan was able to apply for an organic status and they were approved.
The delectable Midsummer Reserve, available online now, honors the summer solstice. In addition to its unique label and the hand-dipped white wax that seals it, the liquid was rested under a full moon during May’s lunar eclipse. Spirits aficionados may be unfamiliar with such a practice, because it pertains to witchcraft. “My chief brand officer and I are fascinated with witchcraft,” Taylor explains. “Historical witchcraft, which is what I’m more drawn to as the former medieval history major, is all rooted in this idea that independent women were persecuted by the patriarchy for being different. Meanwhile, my chief brand officer is very interested in contemporary witchcraft, which is really about embracing the power you already have.” For them, midsummer felt like an ideal time to honor today’s practicing witches and a partnership with The Hoodwitch came together quite organically.
“The idea of purifying, cleansing and charging crystals was the inspiration for resting the bottles under the full moon,” she says. “Some people who are not necessarily crystal people might roll their eyes but full moons are known for being powerful times to manifest and reflect on what you want in the world. If you believe that crystals have certain powers and energy, it’s a common practice to cleanse your crystals from negative energy and recharge them in the full moon. To us, it was important to cleanse our bottles of unwanted energy and, theoretically, have them be charged with the power of the full moon.” It’s a charming idea that underscores their brand identity.
Each Midsummer Reserve bottle arrives in an engraved, wooden Ritual Box with several mystical accoutrements that support a prosperity spell. “We included three crystals: aventurine, pyrite and tiger’s eye. Then we added three candles that further support the spell we recommend: a green candle for financial abundance, a pink candle for love abundance and a yellow candle for luck. We also included a rosemary smudge stick and a dropper for any oils or incense you may make. The piece that brings the whole box together is a zine that has thorough instructions on how to use all these tools.”
This isn’t Harridan’s first arcane limited edition. Last year, they released Paranormal Reserve, which featured bottles that had been rested in known haunted houses. Limited editions, quite frequent in the tequila and whiskey categories, can be scarce in the vodka world. A tequila and whiskey lover herself, Taylor hopes to bring some of that excitement and experimentation to vodka. She even calls Harridan a vodka for non-vodka people.
“There’s been so much innovation and those categories are doing so well. I did not think I could offer newness to those spaces,” she says. “Vodka, in a way, felt like a more complacent category. There are the huge brands that have done so well. But it felt like there was a lot of room to tell a new story and introduce a new flavor profile.” Harridan does both enchantingly well.
Images courtesy of Harridan Vodka