As a fan of the potent potables, I’ve written on Lingwë about beer, tequila, and more exotic spirits from time to time. I intended to write up reports of some other tastings too (notably, wine and rum), but I never got around to those. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a local vodka festival featuring 59 different vodkas from all over the world, and I thought I’d share the results. Now, before I begin, let me say that I’m really no expert on vodka. I love a good gimlet or caucasian, with the occasional dirty martini thrown in just to stir things up, but I don’t know nearly as much about vodka as I do about, say, tequila. Still (no pun intended), I don’t like to pass up the opportunity to try new and interesting things, and so, here’s a report on some (not all) of the vodkas I had the chance to try:
Absolut Boston, Limited Edition (Sweden)
This is the third in Absolut’s limited edition of vodkas meant to capture the spirit of a city (following New Orleans and Los Angeles; next year will bring the fourth, Absolut Brooklyn). This vodka is infused with black tea and elderflower, and if that sounds strange, it is; but let me tell you, it was really good. Right up my street. It would be fantastic in a Long Island Iced Tea.
Belvedere IX (Poland)
Belvedere IX is so named because of the nine ingredients macerated with the vodka: cinnamon leaf, sweet almond, eucalyptus, açai juice, black cherry, jasmine, ginseng, ginger and guarana. It was every bit as warm and exotic as that sounds. I’d highly recommend it. I also tried a basil martini made with the regular Belvedere — that was delicious — and the Belvedere Pink Grapefruit — disappointing.
I didn’t have this one straight, but rather in what they called the “original” martini: with maraschino cherry liqueur from Padua, vermouth, and a dash of bitters. Quite lovely. The only reason I sidled up to their table, I have to admit, was because the vodka was Irish, but I’m glad I did. Getting to try a genuine cherry liqueur was a bonus.
Crystal Head (Canada)
This vodka (pictured above) is 90% marketing. It is to vodka what Cabo Wabo is to tequila (with Dan Ayckroyd and Sammy Hagar completing the analogy; that’s Mr. Ayckroyd’s autograph on the bottle above). This vodka, its pushy and scantily-clad barker tried to convince me, is the smoothest in the world because it’s filtered through diamonds. She was not kidding about the diamonds (and frankly, that’s ridiculous), but it wasn’t particularly smooth; in fact, I found it had a pretty harsh bite. Not worth the price, unless you really like that bottle.
Grey Goose La Poire (France)
They were offering this in a martini with Amaretto and lemon juice, which sounded great, but I tried it neat. The pear flavor was really nice, not too sweet, not too strong. Something about the pear really married well with the warmth of the vodka.
Hangar One Buddha’s Hand Citron (California, USA)
Buddha’s hand is an exotic (and freakish-looking) citrus fruit from Asia, which I’ve seen for sale but have never tried. Naturally, then, I had to give this a go. It was very nice, quite dry, with a pleasant citrus note. Not sweet like the innumerable orange vodkas (or Three Olives’s Rangtang, which is orange/tangerine), but much more like a kefir lime. The Danish Frïs makes a lime vodka, but I haven’t tried it, and so can’t compare it to this one.
Prairie (Minnesota, USA)
Notable mainly because it’s organic, kosher, and gluten-free (made entirely from Midwest corn). It was a smooth vodka, quite nice. A much better use of corn than for making high fructose corn syrup or a tithe of your car’s gasoline.
Titos Handmade Vodka (Texas, USA)
A very good corn vodka grown and made in small batches in Austin, Texas, not too far from where I live. I tried it because it’s local, and I like to support local business — especially when they’re sustainable and responsibly managed. It’s not head and shoulders above other vodkas, but it feels good to put your money into a local business, rather than into the coffers of a gigantic international mega-brand.
Russian Standard Platinum (Russia)
One of the biggest vodkas in the world, exported to over 70 countries. Along with Stoli, it’s the very stereotype of Russian vodka. The Platinum variety is filtered first through charcoal, then silver (a gimmick one-upped by Crystal Head; see above). Why don’t they just call it Silver? Or why don’t they spend the money to filter it through platinum? In fact, you can’t filter it through either; they admitted it’s just poured over the metal. Yawn. The vodka was perfectly adequate, but nothing brilliant. It needed a little help to attract the crowds some of the other vodkas were drawing, which explains the ridiculously busty barmaid hawking it. I could post a picture (I took snaps all the whole event), but I think it would exceed the limits of decorum.
Stolichnaya Elit (Russia)
Stoli (and/or Absolut) is what’s normally in my own freezer at home*, but I’d never had the chance to try the Elit before. It was the most expensive vodka of the night ($63.99), but worth it. Incredibly smooth because it’s filtered eleven times. Is that excessive? For fruity mixed drinks, sure, but for a simple martini, I imagine it’s in a glass by itself. (Okay, I promise, that was the last pun. ;)
Along with Stoli Elit, one of my favorites of the night. It’s made from wheat, rye, and — the staple of real vodka — potatoes. Very smooth, and less expensive than you’d expect. Another great martini vodka.
Three Olives Bubble (USA/England)
By far the most unusual vodka I tried. It smells exactly like bubble gum, and in my experience, things that smell exactly like some-thing usually disappoint when you get around to tasting them. Not so this time. It tasted exactly like bubble gum, and no one was more surprised than me that I loved it. I can’t imagine there’s anything in the world you could mix a bubble gum vodka with, but you don’t need to. It was crazy good all by itself. Weird, but great. The ideal vodka for body shots in Cancún — not that I’ve ever done anything so wild myself (so far as you know ;).
* For the record, my freezer currently has the last dregs of a fifth of Absolut Citron, and small bottles of Absolut Ruby Red and Absolut Mandarin. There was a liter bottle of Stoli, but we finished it off with White Russians a month or two ago and haven’t stocked back up yet. :)