You know, honestly, the story of Vodka should be straightforward and simple, but that is just not turning out to be the case. After all, it is by definition an odorless, colorless liquid with no taste. How complicated can that be? Hell, you can make it out of any old grain: potatoes, fruit, bread, or anything else with a bit of sugar in it and then just distill it down and voila – vodka. What else can there be to say about this liquid? Plenty, it turns out.
As uncomplicated as this product is you would think a handful of distillers would whip up astronomical amounts of this elixir and supply the world and that would be that, but NO! There are at least 7,000 brands of vodka on the planet and they all vary anywhere from slightly to overwhelmingly from the base description of vodka. Having personally test driven at least 100 of those thousands of brands, I can tell you from experience that they are all over the place in taste and price. They vary from horrible, gut wrenching, inferno igniting cheap garbage, to over-priced elixir of the Gods and everything in between. The bottom of the heap can cost just a buck or two while the over the top Russian Russo-Baltique Vodka costs $1.3 million dollars. And, yes, that’s per bottle.
Vodka isn’t aged, so that facet of it does not affect price at all. The value of Vodka comes from the starting grain or vegetable, the fermentation process, the distillation process and any filtration that follows period. The rest of the cost comes from marketing and other gimmicks like expensive bottles and gem stones. In the case of that Russian Vodka, there’s a lot of gold and a free SUV involved among other things.
Now this is where I have to admit that I learned about a new category of Vodka. Well, it may not be new, as in being recent, but it is new to me as in knowledge. I always thought there were 4 categories of Vodka: firewater, premium, super premium and affordable super premium. It turns out there’s an affordable premium category as well. I told you this wouldn’t be simple or straightforward! The super premiums start at $30.00 per 750 ML bottle and go up – way up, although price is not necessarily an indication of quality. The affordable super premiums hover around $20.00 and are every bit as good as the super premiums. The premiums come in around $15.00 and the affordable premiums are about $10.00. The cheap stuff will hurt you and is essentially geared toward that very particular demographic of folks who enjoy living outdoors, wearing the same clothes daily, bathing sporadically, speaking erratically and drinking from a bottle in a bag while sitting curbside.
So the other day, this big blue plastic bottle of Vodka comes into my possession. As I do with every bottle of hooch that comes to me, I immediately hunt down their Internet site and see what they’re about. Well lo and behold they’re about $10.00 per 750 ML bottle. The price sure is nice, can’t wait to see if the Vodka is nice as well. This Vodka is made in Kentucky in the heart of bourbon country at the Buffalo Trace Distillery from American corn rather than grain and derives its name from the fact that it is distilled seven times – four times in column stills and three times in pot stills. And as I’m sure you know the more times you distill it the purer and cleaner it becomes.
It is clean and transparent in the glass as it looks to be a pale blue in the blue bottle, DUH. The nose has a bit of ethanol and a touch of corn in the base note but is otherwise devoid of any odors or aromas. Straight up, it is light bodied, not oily, spicy in the mouth at first but quickly dissipating to light pepper then leaving a transitory trivial tingle that feels as amusing as it is to say. It’s got a bit of very fine sandpaper in the finish rather than any kind of harshness and that quickly and painlessly disappears leaving just warmth. If you’re going to drink this Vodka neat, then make sure it is ice cold as that makes it just that much more docile. I enjoy my martinis without much ado and no Vermouth and this actually makes a decent martini, but I prefer a bit more mouth feel in the vodka I use for martinis. At its price point and taste profile, this is the perfect Vodka for mixed drinks of any kind. It actually puts up a pretty good stand against super premiums costing three times as much. You’d have to be crazy to use more expensive Vodka in mixed drinks and you wouldn’t dare use less expensive Vodka in mixed drinks.
I can see why this Vodka has won 2 Gold Medals at the San Francisco World Spirits competition. By the way, if you ever get a chance you really must attend this event in my former home town. It is by far one of the best, most all inclusive competitions in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
By George Brozowski
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