I was fortunate to have been on the guestlist to judge the Best Vodka, a bi-annual event, in a blind tasting. For me, this was a new experience, as spirits are a new world compared to the numerous adventures we have all had in the Wine World.
Words to describe vodka are familiar to those of us who know the wine lingo, inside and out. Smooth, spicy, sweet, hints of vanilla, white peppercorn, etc., all prevail.
Did you know that there are over 300 'Premium Vodkas available in the U.S. marketplace?
According to William Rosenberg firstname.lastname@example.org , the new vodkas are " Sexy, Mysterious and Complex". (Sounds like my wife!!!!)
Did you know that three Billion liters of Vodka are sold worldwide?
Historians and rumor believe Vodka was invented in Poland in 1405. Vodka was transported to Russia and named by the Russians. Vodka, in Russian, means " Little Water". The original use of vodka was to combat the cold and help relieve life's hardships. I guess you could say that is also true today.
Prior to 1950, vodka was rarely consumed outside of Russia. Today, Vodka is now the dominant worldwide white spirits leader.
The tasting took place at Cipriani's, 55 Wall Street, in New York. 25 Vodkas were presented in this blind tasting. Each Vodka was 80 proof, all Imports and without flavoring. The judges consisted of bartenders, vodka afiicionados, bar owners and a few wine and spirits journalists.
Vodka was served at slightly above room temperature, in seperate flights. After nine flights, we were given light food and ample time to rest before consuming the next eight flights. Same story, a little food and rest and then the final eight flights. Within two hours, we had consumed 25 different vodkas.
The 25 Vodkas were judged on a 1 to 5 point scoring system. Five was the best. The totals were added up to determine a winner. Tasting notes were necessary to accurately describe each Vodka we tasted. To determine how to taste Vodka correctly, Rosenberg went over a few simple rules:
1) For tasting purposes, Vodka should be served at 'room temperature'.
2) Smell or nose the Vodka by swirling it in the glass.
3) Take a small sip and roll it around your tongue.
4) Draw a little air over the vodka to release it's flavors. Swallow and evaluate it's finish. 'Pure' Vodka should have no bite and feel smooth and pleasing on your palate without an aftertaste or burn.
What I learned from the tasting:
1) Premium vodkas have a personality, similar to wine without oak.
2) Vodka is complex.
3) Multiple distillation or circulation does not enhance the nuances of Vodka's flavors.
4) Vodka can be made from wheat, potaotos, corn, grapes or rye, just to name a few sources.
5) Aging Vodka does not improve flavor.
The TASTING RESULTS:
There was a Thee Way Tie for Number ONE:
ABSOLUTE (Sweden $22) Wheat based
FINLANDIA (Finland $22) Barley based with fresh spring water
RUS Bogorodskaya (Russia $22) Grain based, spring water
2) REYKA (Iceland $28) Wheat based, glacial water filtered through lava rocks
3) CIROC (France $32) Grape based, five times distilled
4) FRIS (Denmark $24) Wheat based, spring water, freeze-distilled six times
5) TWO-WAY TIE
BELVEDERE ( Poland $35) Gold rye based, artesian well water-four distillations
EFFEN (Holland $33) Grain based, filtered through peat, not charcoal
6) PEARL ( Canada $20) Winter wheat based, Canadian Rocky Mountain water
7) ULTIMAT ( Poland $45) Wheat, rye and potato based, artisan well water, six times distilled
8) AKVINTA ( Croatia $40) Wheat based, Quintuple distillation (Birch charcoal, marble, silver, platinum), mountain spring water
9) FOUR-WAY TIE
GREY GOOSE ( France $30) Winter wheat based, spring water purified through champagne limestone
ICEBERG (Canada $20) Sweet corn based
SOBIESKI (Poland $12) Rye based, spring water, 8 times distilled
10) THREE-WAY TIE
42 BELOW (New Zealand $22) Wheat based, spring water, four distillations
JEWEL OF RUSSIA one liter (Russia $38) Wheat and Rye based, Quadruple distilled, 5 dtep filtaration
WHAITE DIAMOND (Latvia $22) Ryae and Wheat based, 5 times distilled, 14 step mountain crystals filtration
11) THREE-WAY TIE
KETTLE ONE (Holland $26) Wheat based
ORZEL (Poland $46) Grain based, 6 times distilled, quartz filtered
U'LUVKA (Poland $57) Rye, barley and wheat based, 3 times distilled
12) TWO-WAY TIE
LUKSUSOWA (Poland $17) Potato based, artisan well water, distilled 3 times
STOLICHNAYA (Russia $24) Wheat and Rye based, glacial water, double distillation
13) VOX (Holland $28) Wheat based, 5 times distilled
14) CHOPIN (Poland $43) Potato based, distilled 4 times
Many of these results will AMAZE you. The household names, often pricey, were much lower on the list than expected.
When drinking Premium Vodka, "It's all ON the PALATE"!!
For complete analysis of each vodka in this blind tasting, go to:
PHILIP S. KAMPE