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Premium & Superpremium Vodka: The Topic

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Having bartended at various points in my life, I've yet to meet anyone who can tell premium vodka from rail vodka in a bloody mary. Vodka tonic maybe. Martini - surely, surely.

In fact, if you order a bloody (or other vodka drink with heavily flavored mixers for that matter) and request premium stuff, don't be so sure you're getting it. It is a not uncommon practice to put rail liquor in such drinks even when premium is requested- sure helps on inventory day. :wink:

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Having bartended at various points in my life, I've yet to meet anyone who can tell premium vodka from rail vodka in a bloody mary.  Vodka tonic maybe.  Martini - surely, surely.

I'll go ya one better. Years ago, I used to work "behind the stick." I found all the talk, about the best brand of this and the best brand of that, quite amusing. When I had had enough from some pretentious, posturing patron, I would dare him to a simple taste-test. Tell me which is the shot of bourbon and which is the shot of blended whiskey. You would be surprised how many got it wrong.

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When I was waiting tables, someone ordered a Finlandia and Tonic. I told that I didn't think we had Finlandia. She said, get me either Finalandia or rail, and we'll see if I can taste the difference. She couldn't.

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What vodka you choose is based on what classification you want.

Mixed Grain: Grey Goose--viscous, full bodied, medium complexity

Hammer and Guts: Stolichnaya Gold--robust, full bodied, high complexity and flavor

All Rye: Belvedere--Robust, full flavored and spicy.

All Wheat: Vox--smooth, clean, soft palate

Single varietal potato: Chopin--100% strobrowa potatoes, viscous, starchy components, very tasty IMO

Generic Potato: Glacier or Luksusowa

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After reading all of the above posts (should have done that first LOL) I have to disagree with some of them.

Vodka quality is directly proportionate to its ingredient quality. There is a catch-22 in vodka distillation however--purity vs. flavor. Filtration and multiple distillation removes any cogeners (which most often refers to oak imparted flavor, but can also refer to unwanted flavor as a byproduct of distillation) So, the more it is filtered and distilled, the less flavor it will have. That being said, I will offer this, I have worked in the liquor business for several years and I have tasted many vodkas. I guarantee you I could tell the difference between Smirnoff and Chopin with one sniff, even in most mixed drinks. There is a putrid smell that goes along with cheap vodka that even the most untrained palate can't ignore. As far as in Bloody Marys, there is no way they could tell the difference with worschershire sauce in the mix.

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I'm a dedicated vodka martini drinker, and my personal preference is Sky vodka with Belvedere running a close secone. Grey Goose tastes musty to me. I also don't mind Smirnoff Blue. Of course in a Bloody Ceasar (or Bloody Mary for the Americans) any vodka will do, because you can't tell!

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Hamptons Vodka is very very good and is the coolest bottle you can find, period. Its about $30 for 750ml but its worth it for the high quality smoothness and awesome bottle

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I have a bottle in the freezer right now. I have enjoyed it so far! It has a very nice mouthfeel.

My only complaint is that the paint/coating on the bottle is flaking off and it gets all over my hand.

Ben

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GET SOME!! (the charbay, not the hangar one) www.charbay.com

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo...eadlines%2Dfood

For Vodka, an Absolution

Two California distillers have a revolutionary idea: use pure fruit, not artificial flavorings

Vodka is the ultimate flavor delivery vehicle. It is officially defined as an odorless, colorless, flavorless spirit, but any connoisseur will assure you that the crystalline weight and purity of a fine vodka offer a sensation that is, if not exactly a flavor, an unmistakable impression.

It's a kind of expectant void in which the senses are poised to receive taste itself, a Zen-like stillness awaiting only the specific nuances that will make the mind say, "Ah, lemon. Ah, lime. Ah, Buddha's Hand citron ..."

So why have flavored vodkas been almost uniformly disappointing? Why do they almost always taste like Kool-Aid? It could be because most are made in much the same way, pumped full of artificial flavorings.

Now, two of the finest artisan distillers in California are trying to break out of that trap, making spectacular flavored vodka by infusing the neutral spirit with crushed pure fruit. Not quite convinced by the generic citrus-like tang of Absolut Citron and its ilk? Try Domaine Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit or Hangar One Mandarin Blossom.

The difference between these flavored vodkas and the run-of-the-mill high-production commercial varieties is like that between watching a video and seeing a fresh print of the film on a wide screen with THX sound.

This combination of perfect flavor delivery vehicle and high craftsmanship was probably bound to happen eventually. Vodka is the most popular spirit on the American market, and has been since shortly after its introduction by Smirnoff, in 1939. Last year about 40 million cases of vodka were sold in the U.S. (up 4% from 2000), and industry analysts say 25% of all cocktails consumed are now made with vodka.

Flavored vodkas first became popular in this country in the 1990s, when they were embraced by young, hip, cash-rich drinkers during the decade's dot-com-driven hedonism. Every major vodka brand offers at least one flavor. But for the most part, these are fit only to be mixed into cocktails.

That is not to say that the marriage came easily. In fact, distilling vodka is a completely different process from most small-volume artisan distillation. Producing vodka requires extremely efficient distillation that was virtually impossible (or highly impractical) before the invention of the column still in 1830. Vodkas are usually made by the millions of gallons.

The pot or alambic still, which is used for distilling most brandies, whiskeys and eaux de vies, does only one small batch at a time, and is not nearly as efficient in refinement and fortification as a column still.

That's good for most spirits, where some residual aroma and flavor are desired. But it makes it tough to produce something as refined as vodka. That's why both Hangar One and Charbay begin with base vodka bought from specialty distillers in the Midwest. This is infused with flavor and then a portion of it is re-distilled.

Charbay's flavored vodka had its birth in 1995 when Marko Karakasevic, the son of Napa Valley master distiller Miles Karakasevic, was having a drink at Tra Vigne restaurant.

"I'd been watching all the premium vodkas explode onto the market," he recalls. "I didn't think we could compete in that market, but then I noticed that the only flavored vodka on the back bar was Absolut Citron. That tasted like a melted Popsicle to me. I knew we could do better. And I realized that was the way to get in [to the vodka market]."

A Family Project

The Karakasevic family began distilling 13 generations ago in Eastern Europe. Since 1983 they have operated a still in the woods high above Napa Valley on Spring Mountain, and more recently installed another in a more accessible location in Ukiah. Miles has become famous for his brandies, ports and eaux de vies, but the flavored vodka project is almost entirely Marko's baby.

At first he had to sell the idea to his father. "We're not in the vodka business," said Miles. "We're all about fragrance. I think of us as a house of perfume."

What eventually sold him on the project was the idea that Charbay flavored vodkas would be varietally specific infusions of fresh, whole fruit.

Hangar One is a joint project between two of the best-known figures in California distilling, Ansley Coale of Germain-Robin and Jorg Rupf of St. George Spirits. It was the possibility of doing something better than what was commonly available that also convinced Rupf when Coale approached him last year.

"I'd never thought about doing vodka before," Rupf says. "Our distillation processes are geared to extract maximum flavor. That's what a good eau de vie is. Vodka is the opposite. It's counter to what we do. But there has been a progression in the manufacture and perception of vodka. Now the high-end imports have some distinctive characteristics, and that's what opened my eyes to being able to get involved."

Domaine Charbay now has four flavored vodkas, with two more in development. I especially like the clear, high-toned orange note in the Meyer Lemon. The Key Lime is almost too intense alone, but a little soda makes every sip a sojourn on some tropical beach.

Blood Orange, which takes color as well as flavor from the fresh fruit, leaves Absolut Mandrin in the dust. And why bother mixing a Greyhound with canned grapefruit juice when you can sip Charbay's Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka on ice? Coming soon: raspberry and ginger.

Crystalline Flavor

Hangar One has three flavors. Unlike the Charbay vodkas, these are almost clear, with just the slightest hint of color. But the aromas and flavors are no less intense.

Kaffir Lime has a blade-fine aroma and glycerin smoothness that give an impression of skating on thin green ice.

Buddha's Hand Citron is ravishing, inexplicable, enticing--and then you taste it. The Mandarin Blossom is like a vivid, fleeting dream of paradise.

These remarkable flavored vodkas pretty much peg the pleasure meter. However, they still come up short in one vital category.

Because the commercial pepper vodkas are all dismal, those of us who love the sensation of fiery ice have been left to our own crude decoctions of, say, Ketl One and habaneros. We'd love to see what Charbay and Hangar One could do with that.

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Gotta disagree, I think the Hangar one is far superiour to the Charbay--without a doubt, go for the Hangar One.

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Gotta disagree, I think the Hangar one is far superiour to the Charbay--without a doubt, go for the Hangar One.

to each their own i guess...

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I recently have acquired some really great vodka from a small producer in california called hangar one.  They make a straight vodka and four flavored ones that are made from real fruit and not artificial flavorings.  It really shows too.  I purchased a bottle of the straight and a bottle of the kaffir lime.  Both are really great and opened my eyes to the actual "taste" of vodka.  I would highly reccomend them to anyone.

Another interesting vodka that I have only heard about is Ultimat vodka, they claim to be the best vodka in the world (like many others).  I would be interested in trying them out for kicks though.  Has anybody else tried this vodka?

Here are some links to info on them:

Ultimat Vodka

Hangar One Vodka

Enjoy!

Ben Schielke

I recently got the chance to try Ultimat vodka; it is quite expensive for vodka, but is really worth a try.

The only way I could describe the flavor is "clear", it had a medium body without the viscousness of potato vodkas.

All in all, it made a hell of a vodka martini. And it comes in a neat bottle to boot!

Ben

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A few of my faves:

Bogatyrskaya Vodka--for when you just want to relax

Chinggis Khan Vodka--forwhen you want to kick ass

Kvint de Lux Vodka--for whenyou want to impress the gurls

Kvint Osobaya Vodka--for when you want to knock the gurls out

Moskovskaya Vodka (Moldova)--for when it's just you and that special someone

Pokrovskaya Vodka--for when it's just you and that special threesom

Russkaya Vodka (Moldova)--for when it's just you

Slavyanskaya Vodka--goes good with scrambled eggs

Zadorinka Vodka--for when it's just you and Pia

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Thanks again to John Whiting. It strikes me that the more often we consult and quote the blessed Liebling, the less wrong we shall go on any subject here.

Intriguing - I have never tried a blind tasting of vodka, but I share the suspicion that the differences would be almost indetectable. Especially if taste - as makes sense to me - ice cold.

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I disagree completely with many of the posts on this thread. Vodka does, can and should have taste and smell. To say something is "without smell or taste" is ridiculous. Very few things are truly "tasteless and odorless". If you wanted to drink pure distillate, then just drink everclear cut with water. That is what many of you have insinuated, that vodka is--pure distillate with no flavors other than distilled grain, potato or whatnot. It simply is not true.

Vodka's mashbill is carefully blended to yeild specific tastes, just as any other quality spirit is. Quality of ingredients plays a big part in the taste of vodka. Additionally, the number of times distilled is important. If a vodka is distilled twice, there will be higher presence of congeners, which will have impact on the taste (some like it, some don't). For those who don't want to taste anything in their vodka other than some very simple grainy flavors. . .go with those distilled up to five times. But Vodka definitely has taste and odor and each vodka is clearly discernable from another. I have done many vertical tastings with vodka and each is unique.

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I disagree completely with many of the posts on this thread. Vodka does, can and should have taste and smell.

I've seen this argument go back and forth many times. All the books and web sites I've read (here's one) say "by United States law, vodka must be colorless, odorless, and tasteless". filtering through activated charcoal ensures this to be true. Yet there are discernable difference in vodkas. For me they seem more a matter of texture and smoothness rather than actual "taste". I also wonder about detecting a vodka flavor when they are served ice-cold out of the freezer (does anyone drink vodka at room temp?), and I really doubt anyone could tell the difference when they are used as a mixer in a cocktail.

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Certainly when adulterated, it is difficult to discern differences--though experienced palates can usually detect differences in potato and grain vodkas through light mixers (juices, etc).

Certainly, texture and body play a part in the taste, but a clear majority of taste is aroma and vodka definitely has aroma. Anyone who says otherwise has never smelled vodka. Working in the liquor business, I constantly hear erroneous statements regarding spirits--like bourbon has to be made in Kentucky by law or only the best bourbons are "bottled in bond" or "sour mash"--all three of which are incorrect. To my knowledge, there is no legal restriction of the taste or filtration purity of any vodka.

When I taste vodka, I taste it warm and at -1 degree Celsius (the appropriate serving temp). Tasting only cold gives false impressions of viscosity as the temperature causes all the vodkas to "thicken" in some respects. It also causes the nose to take on more ethanol and lowers pleasant aromas.

Bottom line: Vodka is not odorless, therefore, by definition of taste (being composed 70/30 of aroma vs chemoreceptors on the tongue), it must also have taste.

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Just picked it up for my bar..Mandarin Bloosom Vodka..smooth absolutely no burn whatsoever and smells liks orange bloooms, we serve it chilled straight up in a martini glass with an edible orchid..also bringing in thier Kaffir Lime leaf am thinking of mixing withg thai basil infused simple syrup...calling it an Emmanuelle

anyone have any other suggestions? or have you tried ?

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I have a bottle of the straight vodka and the kaffir lime in my freezer. I love the taste of the straight and you might want to look into it. The lime is a very intense lime flavor that should be paired with something. I have been meaning to make a cosmo with this.

Enjoy!

Ben

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Where did you find it, Ben? I've been looking, but haven't seen it in any of the Seattle liquor stores.

Kathy

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Kathy, I have seen it at the liquor store down in Kirkland that serves Hunts Point. I posted about it in the Best Seattle Liquor Store thread a while back. You might want to call them to make sure they have it.

I ordered mine online about 6 months ago from a distributor who works closely with the distiller down in California. Clicka Clicka

Ben

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I have been having this ongoing discussion for years with fellow vodka buffs. The legal requirement to be called vodka is "neutral spirits". No smell, no taste. no color. My chemist friend says the only difference in vodkas is the bottles. Grey Goose certainly has a beautiful bottle, and you pay for it.

A few years ago we blind tested a friend and he got it wrong. He actually liked the $6 vodka the best!! I know about the words "smooth", "silky", but these are quite subjective. I'm sure the premium companies would object, but I lean toward thinking that there really is no difference in these "neutral spirits"!!

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The difference between a good vodka and another good vodka will be subtle to the casual vodka drinker. But the difference between a good vodka and a bad vodka is profound and sometimes astounding. The biggest determining factor is the raw ingredient from which a vodka is distilled. Some cheap vodkas are made from potatos. High quality Russian vodka is made from wheat. One time I had some cheap American vodka -- called Popov, I believe -- that, I swear, tasted of peanuts.

But good vodka is not necessarily expensive. My favorite is Moskovskaya, which was unavailable in the US two decades ago. My source of Moskovskaya in those days was the duty-free stores at Charles de Galle airport. In today's world, Moskovskaya is sold at Trader Joe's for less than ten dollars per .750 ml bottle.

Mmmmmm......

Moskovskaya.jpg

The people who put this graphic together believe that Moskovskaya is the same vodka as Stolichnaya:

moskovskaya.gif

I disagree. To my taste, Moskovskaya is smoother, sweeter, and, when chilled, more viscous, a quality I like.

Here, for kicks, is a Stoly label the way it looked back in the good ol' days:

Smqwchovsa.jpg

Finally, if you want a completely different vodka, try some "starka". The word translates to something like "oldy". Starka is aged vodka. It is brown, like brandy, because it is aged in barrels, and also because of added herbs. Polish Starka is made from rye vodka.

Starka.jpg

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