Herkimer diamonds equal great-tasting vodka. What? Yes. Herkimer diamonds used as a filter are one of the secrets to Crystal Head vodka’s taste and unique entry into the market.
A skull is a common motif for the Latin phrase, “Remember you will die” and the ancient practice of reflecting on one’s mortality, going back to the time of Socrates, who is said to have believed the only proper practice of philosophy was “about nothing else but dying and being dead.”
Well, that’s no fun. Even at Halloween. Thank goodness for Canadian actor, comedian, filmmaker, musician and producer, Dan Aykroyd, and world-renowned American portrait and landscape artist, John Alexander. They mastered mixing good taste, good spirits and Herkimer diamonds into a trio of ultra-premium vodkas, in bottles sure to encourage philosophical musings, called Crystal Head.
“The bottle was designed by creative people with the creative spirit in mind, “ says Dana Miller of the New York City-based KLG Public Relations representing Crystal Head Vodka. “Dan and John designed the skull-shaped bottle as a symbol of life, reflecting power and enlightenment. Creativity is at the heart of Crystal Head, with a desire to inspire those who think differently and encourage their creative pursuits.”
Each bottle is the result of using the highest quality ingredients and water from Canada’s eastern province of Newfoundland to produce three additive-free vodka expressions: Original (locally sourced Canadian corn), Aurora (English wheat) and Onyx (Blue Weber Agave sourced from a single farm in Mexico). The origin story starts around 2007 when Aykroyd was bedeviled by an inability to find additive-free vodka spirits to enjoy. So the three-time Ghostbuster decided to make his own.
Filtering the Vodka
After the vodka is distilled four times into a neutral grain spirit and blended with pristine provincial water, the seven-time filtration process includes a final series of three filtrations through layers of the semi-precious crystals found almost exclusively in central New York State: Herkimer diamonds.
The result is a spirit as clear and colorless as the natural gems, with a silky smooth taste and a wraithlike wafting of neutral grain aromas with hints of citrus.
“Aykroyd’s process of distilling quadruple times, and filtering seven times, with the final three through Herkimer crystals, makes this vodka easy drinking. It’s slightly sweet and smooth, and offers a hint of vanilla,” reviewed Jill Weinlein in 2020 for JustLuxe.com.
Three final filtrations through Herks also craft Crystal Head’s Aurora, which uses a different grain to produce drier, bolder vodka with hints of anise and peppercorn, and the bottle’s iridescent metalized finish is described as a “tribute to this natural wonder of the world.”
This stark reminder of mortality has evolved into an artful tribute. Crystal Head Vodka celebrated its 10th anniversary with a John Alexander Artist Series Halloween Limited Edition bottle (since sold out at about $700 for a No.1 bottle).
Cheers to the Herks
While your high school chemistry professor would probably say pouring vodka over semiprecious crystals does nothing to materially enhance it, taste-testers who sample the vodka with and without the triple Herkimer diamond filtration resoundingly choose the quartz fluid. When asked why, comments range from “smoother” to “tasted best.”
Legends in the Making
Aykroyd’s collaboration with Alexander (whose works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran, and Smithsonian Museums) began with a shared interest in a Mesoamerican legend about 13 crystal skulls before filtering down to natural crystals almost as legendary in their own right.
What is true is that ancient solid crystal skulls exist. Yes, just like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Legend has it that 13 (or 52, as in four sets of 13) of these powerful transmitters of energy are destined to reunite in a circle — a dozen heads, plus one in the center – at a psychically profound cosmic juncture in the human experience.
How Many Skulls?
Surrounding that supernatural speculation, National Geographic science writers Richard A. Lovett and Scot Hoffman add, “There are perhaps a dozen of these rare crystal skulls in private and public collections. Some are crystal clear, others of smoky or rose-colored quartz. Some are actual human size and of very fine detail, while others are smaller and less refined.”
“Thirteen of these polished skulls have been found on our planet,” Aykroyd said in a 2011 interview. “Eight are in the possession of individuals and institutions. Five are missing. Of the eight, each one is unique. Some are green, orange, cloudy and crystal clear.
They are believed to be thousands of years old and appear to have been carved over several hundred years but don’t bear any tool marks. Their very construction defies common logic.”
Attracting Positive Energy
What is clear is that a belief in such crystal figurines to attract positive energy and enlightenment inspired both actor and artist to create Crystal Head as the ultimate vessel for an additive-free, “pure spirit” vodka.
Bruni Glass of Milan, Italy, manufacturers of the bottle, seem to agree. Meanwhile, 300 million years earlier, crystals destined to become ‘spirit stones’ for early North American nations were busy forming.
About Herkimer Diamonds
One of seven rare gems and minerals found in New York State, Herkimer County diamonds, or simply, Herks, belong to the same geologic region of the Mohawk Valley made famous in The Last of the Mohicans. Here ancient dolostone and limestone rock, porous enough to allow mineral – and silicon-bearing fluids to flow through, seeped into a massive network of tectonic fissures and fault lines.
Unlike most quartz found in igneous rock, nascent Herks exhibit an antipathy to attachment, thriving instead in free-floating pockets of liquid inside fault line cavities, or vugs. The results of such disconnection to a host rock are doubly terminated hexagonal quartz crystals, including barbells and scepters.
Prized for their innate beauty, Herks range from water-clear to smoky black and are purported to have abilities, as holistic tools, to receive and transmit energy. Many people head to this region today to hunt for Herkimer diamonds.
Early Mohawk peoples referred to themselves as Kanyenkehaka, or ‘People of the Crystals,’ says Larry Michon, president of Northern Berkshire Mineral Club (NBMC), and the valley where they lived was called Kayenkehaka or ‘The Place of Crystals.’
The “diamonds” (a 7 on the Mohs scale) were so prevalent that early settlers found them in stream sediments and plowed fields and, according to Schiffer Publishing’s Collectors’ Guide to Herkimer Diamonds (2014), “immediately held them in high esteem.”
Until the 1600s, when European-crafted glass beads usurped the sparkling crystals in New World popularity, they were traded among neighboring villages, used to make tools, and crafted into amulets. Now, Herkimer diamonds can add ‘vodka filtration’ to their resumé.
1 ½ oz. Crystal Head Vodka
1 oz. Dark Rum
4 oz. Apple Cider
1 Cinnamon Stick
Add Crystal Head Vodka, dark rum and apple cider in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with cinnamon stick, finely grated cinnamon and thinly sliced apple.
Through the Glass, Darkly
An appreciation for the power of gemstones to potentially imbue metaphysical properties led Crystal Head Vodka to work with a second stone: onyx.
According to the International Gem Society (IGS), this variety of chalcedony has a mystical association with capturing and containing demons or imps.4Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic also refers to onyx as useful for temporarily containing energy of any kind and the blackness of the stone allows easier access to the subconscious mind.
Sounds like a perfect container for a spooky season’s spirits. Crystal Head describes Onyx, one of the first commercially available agave-based vodkas, and its luxurious glossy black bottle with matching crest debossed cap as, “a celebration of the powerful, warrior crystal.”
“The story behind Crystal Head is one of positive spiritual energy,” Aykroyd has said and, thanks now to Herkimer diamonds, skulls are more than memento mori. They carry good gemstone energy and, like the ancient crystal legend, become “symbols of enlightenment and hope for a better future.” We’ll drink to that.
Who started Memento Mori? Dailystoic.com
No.1 Limited Edition Halloween John Alexander Artist Series, CaskCartel.comnationalgeographic.com
Crystal Skulls, Supernatural Speculation, nationalgeographic.com
Onyx Symbolism, by Fara Braid, gemsociety.org
This story about Herkimer diamonds and Crystal Head vodka appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story by L.A. Sokolowski.