Recently, I was a judge at host William Rosenberg’s ‘Fifty Best’ domestic vodka tasting.
Much like craft brewers and vintners, the highly entrepreneurial master distillers use local grains (or potatoes, corn, grapes, honey or apples) and water to produce their small batch craft vodkas. These ‘homegrown’ ingredients impart distinctive character and flavors to the finished products.
The dedication and expertise is inspiring. The local craft approach has proven successful, even though most of the craft vodka brands are available only within their home states and often sell out. If we are fortunate, national distribution will introduce these vodkas to the enjoyment of aficionados everywhere.
After we were seated at tables, William Rosenberg, of the ‘Fifty Best’ set-up the rules for the tasting. Basically, the 18 pre-qualified judges are going to sample 20 small batch, handcrafted vodkas in a ‘blind’ tasting. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of the vodkas to sample was established by lottery. Each of the vodkas were pored into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. Only ice water and neutral unflavored crackers, unsalted nuts and bar snacks were available to cleanse the palate. The judges tasted through two flights of seven vodkas and one flight of six.
The 18 judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a five point system with five being the best score and one as the worst. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals were awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges.
DOUBLE GOLD Medal Winners included: PEACE (New York) vodka that uses locally grown wheat and Catskill mountain water; DOWNSLOPE CANE (Colorado) vodka uses the juice of Maui sugar cane and is gluten free; KRA-ZE (New York) vodka is an American take on Polish vodka; LIV (New York) is a potato based vodka that is gluten free; COLD RIVER (Maine) uses 100% Maine potatoes and uses water sourced from the Cold River Aquifer.