Every now and again something comes along that completely defies expectations. Maybe not in a way that's embraced by the market—maybe not even a good way—but god bless 'em for trying.
At this point in your tenure as a reader of this site, you probably already know that the difference between clear spirits and brown spirits is oak aging. Typically, vodkas and gins come right off of the still and they're good to go. Whiskies, cognacs, and a hell of a lot of tequilas and rums are thrown into an oak barrel and left to sit for X number of years as they interact with the wood. As the years wear on, the browner that spirit tends to get.
Immediately, one might ask a fair question: "Who in the hell is this stuff for?" And indeed, aficionados of aged spirits are probably already in team scotch or sipping on añejo tequila. An aged vodka seems like a solution in search of a problem, and it seems like the market has responded in as lukewarm of a manner as you'd expect.
For example, I had a friend of mine pick up a bottle of this from a liquor store near to him where the clerks tend to be pretty knowledgeable (For a while, I couldn't find it anywhere near me). My friend tells me that when he brought it to the counter, the clerk said, "Wow, you're brave!" Apparently they didn't have too many takers, even when they put it on sale.
So why did I get it? If I'm being entirely honest, I picked up this bottle purely to prove that a few loudmouths were full of shit. In specific, people on the internet who loudly exclaimed that grain whisky shouldn't be considered scotch at all, and that it was actually closer to barrel-aged vodka. So naturally, when a barrel-aged vodka came onto the market inexplicably, I was probably one of maybe five people who responded with genuine enthusiasm.
I fully expected the Absolut Oak to be 100% terrible and to not taste anything like any variety of scotch. While I was right on the second count, thankfully, I was wrong on the first. This stuff isn't bad. It's unusual, it begs for a better reason to exist, and it's not worth going out of your way for, but for a shits-and-giggles purchase I'll admit that I have been drinking this stuff.
The good, first: the Absolut Oak is a huge vanilla bomb. It doesn't have nearly any of the major-league throat burn I'd associate with rack-grade Absolut or the litany of (awful) flavored versions. It's pleasantly spiced. Apparently American, French, and Swedish oak are all used in the production process. Overall, they aren't super wide of the mark when it comes to creating a lighter spirit.
That said, there's a strange artificiality about the whole experience. The Absolut Oak has the puzzling aroma of a rubber glove, and the vanilla is more along the line of what you'd get if you dumped a few teaspoons of vanilla extract into a glass of decent vodka. As for the oak itself, apparently Absolut throws literal wood chips into the spirit for flavoring. As a result, there's a bitter, tannic quality that clashes with the lightness and sweetness.
I suppose Absolut Oak is a Frankenstein's Monster. When I think of Frankenstein, I think of two moments. The first is Frankenstein moaning pitifully when beset by the angry mob; it doesn't know what's going on. It just wants to pick flowers. The second is Frankenstein when it drowns that kid. Thankfully, Absolut Oak has more in common with the gentle, misunderstood Frankenstein—a thing-that-should-not-be that is shunned and misunderstood. I expected it to be aggressive, and it thankfully was not.
So at the end of the day, Absolut Oak is not terrible, and it convinced me that people on the internet (as is par for the course) are mostly full of shit. But unless you're absolutely consumed with the idea of what a crossover spirit like this tastes like, I'd say it's safe to skip.