Monday, August 13, 2012

TheWineBlog: The "BEST DOMESTIC VODKA" Results by Philip S. Kampe



As a wine and spirits judge, I have often found many positive benefits associated with those who choose to take part in all facets of the beverage industry. Writing about wine and spirits after sampling the goods is a sure vehicle to success, granted that your palate and journalistic skills are focused and well developed.
Recently, I was a judge at host William Rosenberg’s ‘Fifty Best’ domestic vodka tasting.
William sponsors events that focus on up to fifty varieties of the same category of spirits and has a panel of judges, including myself, who rate the products.
America has been distilling spirits for centuries. Lately, there has been a resurgence with an influx of hand-crafted, artisanal vodka. Practically every state now hosts micro-distillers that produce vodka. There are no less than eight states boosting five or more craft vodka distilleries including California, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Their numbers continue to grow.
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.
The results of the judges opinions of the top winners is below:
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.
GOLD Medal Winners included: HIGH WEST (Utah) is an oat-based, snowmelt water that is naturally filtered in deep rock aquifers; MOST WANTED (Kansas) vodka is grain-based with slow filtration; REVOLUTION (Colorado) is a grain based vodka that uses Rocky Mountain water; PLANTATION (Georgia) is a blend of southern grain and corn which uses aquifer water naturally filtered through limestone; MAKO (Florida) vodka uses had selected distillers grains of corn and barley and natural iron-free limestone spring water that is five times distilled.
Other GOLD Medal Winners included:  VALENTINE (Michigan); ZODIAC (Texas);
1876 (Texas); GOAT (Colorado); CLEAR 10 (Washington); COLD STEEL (Oregon); MASTERMIND (Illinois) and BLUE FAME (Washington).

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