Home Australia The Tasting Panel: Vodka

The Tasting Panel: Vodka

(From left to right) Steve Ryder - vodka buyer, founder MyBottleShop.com.au; Gee David - national training manager, Southtrade International; Ben Davidson - drinks curator, HIP Media; Krystal Hart - Reserve brand ambassador, Diageo; Garth Foster - vodka connoisseur, Moët Hennessy

In light of our focus on vodka last week, we assembled a small group of industry expert vodka palates at the HIP Media Office in Sydney to discuss the flavour profiles and character of some of the leading vodkas of the world. We brought together ten vodkas from diverse locations and base materials. We wanted to focus on the raw materials and the methods of distillation of these vodkas, to discover to what extent the underlying subtle flavours and aromas are determined by the fermentable sugars and the type of still used.

We kicked off the tasting with a bracket of five wheat based vodkas to see if there was a similarity in aroma and flavour profile. These were followed by a bracket of five other raw material based vodkas, including rye, barley, corn, potato and grapes.

Sweden – Single Estate Winter Wheat – Column Distilled

ABSOLUT ELYX is made in Southern Sweden from winter wheat grown on one farming estate using a single year’s harvest. This wheat comes exclusively from the Råbelöf Estate, which has one of the finest soils for growing wheat in Sweden. Manual distillation comes to the fore at the old distillery in Åhus. This is where the raw spirit is transformed into the fine spirit, in a traditional single column continuous distillation unit which stands in the heart of the distillery: Column 51. Made entirely of copper, this vintage still dates back to 1921 and the properties of the copper column still greatly contribute to the texture of ABSOLUT ELYX.

STEVE: Really aromatic on the nose with big fat viscous ‘legs’. Delicious creamy texture and would make a great martini. Love it, one of my faves.

BEN: Soft and inviting aromas of toasty sweet bread, classic creamy mouthfeel with balanced sweetness and spice. A superb example of a wheat vodka.

New Zealand – GMO-Free Wheat – Column Distilled

42 BELOW is made from non-genetically engineered wheat and column distilled three times. After that, natural spring water is used as a wash before a final distillation and a trip through 35 different filters. The result is a smooth vodka with subtle character.

STEVE: Picked up aromas of wet stone and river bed, a touch of clean ethanol, spicy on the tongue with a dryish finish. Good, clean, slightly warming vodka.

GEE: Aromas of mineral and gentle spice, leading to a soft palate and pepper spice and a subtle caramel end with a crisp, medium finish. Classic, clean wheat-style vodka.

Gee David – national training manager, Southtrade International

USA – Yellow Corn – Copper Pot Distilled Tito’s Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin,

Texas. It is made in batches, using old-fashioned copper pot stills. Made from 100% corn and gluten free, Tito’s has a sweet, rounded flavour compared to other vodkas. Produced in small batches, this six-time pot distilled craft vodka has a richness of character combined with remarkable smoothness.

GEE: Loads of soft creamy sweetness on the nose. Initially, the soft palate opens up to a sweet corn note with a medium body and lingering finish.

BEN: Light and sweet aromas of buttered sweet corn, translating to a palate of sweetness up front, followed by some savoury notes of salted popcorn, and grits. You can pick up hints of corn in the spirit.

Poland – Dankowskie Rye – Columns Distilled

Made with only rye and water, Belvedere Vodka uses premium Dankowskie Rye from the Mazovian plains of Poland and artesian water from its own wells. Belvedere Vodka is the product of 600 years of Polish vodka-making tradition. It is crafted in a distillery that was established in 1910 called Polmos Zyrardów, which is located in the heart of central Poland.

GARTH: Soft on the nose, vanilla, macadamia nut, flinty, wet stone aromas, tasting brazil nut, creaminess with good length and a viscous mouthfeel. It’s a bangin’ rye.

STEVE: A little spicy, with rounded and soft aromas, vanilla, nutty. On the palate, river bed stones, nuts and an oily texture. Balanced and smooth. A classy vodka with that signature rye grain spiciness.

Krystal Hart – Reserve brand ambassador, Diageo

The Netherlands – GMO-Free Winter Wheat – Column & Pot-Distilled

Ketel One Vodka starts with the finest quality, 100% GMO-Free winter wheat, grown in Europe. The fermented mash goes through a column distillation process to produce an ultra- wheat spirit. Part of this spirit is re-distilled in ten copper pot stills, including an original 19th- century coal-fired copper pot still. The hearts of the distillates obtained from the pot stills are blended together to create the Master Pot Still Batch. The distillers, carefully following the Nolet family recipe to blend portions of the Master Pot Still Batch, the ultra-wheat spirit, and water together to create Ketel One Vodka.

KRYSTAL: Notes of pink peppercorns and citrus subtleties. Characterful palate revealing, subtle anise, citrus and peppery complexity. Nice full- bodied mouthfeel and good viscosity. One of the great wheat vodkas; clean, complex, spicy and smooth.

GEE: Intense aromas of peppery spice. Full- bodied with great viscosity and a lengthy finish. The pot-still vodka adds to the complexity and richness.

France – Grapes – Column & Pot Distilled

CÎROC is made in France from ‘snap frost’ Cognac grapes, column distilled in stainless steel columns and finished in a copper column still in the Cognac region. CÎROC Vodka is gluten-free and distilled from fine French grapes; a process inspired by over a century of wine-making expertise and craftsmanship. Fine French grapes are specially selected for harvest and made into a wine. The wine is distilled four times in column stills. The fifth distillation occurs in a traditional, tailor-made copper pot still at the historic Distillerie de Chevanceaux in the South of France.

KRYSTAL: Fresh aromas of citrus, apple and grapes leads to a soft and fruity vodka on the palate. The grapes give rise to a clean and crisp mouthfeel which is well balanced and smooth.

STEVE: Beautiful nose, citrusy and zesty, carries through to the palate with a burst of lemon and fresh grape acidity. A fun style of mixing vodka.

Russia – Wheat Germ – Column Distilled Produced at the Mariinsky Distillery in Siberia.

Beluga Noble Vodka is built on a foundation of a naturally fermented wheat germ ‘malt spirit’, column distilled and diluted with Siberian artesian well water. It undergoes the processes of quartz filtration before enduring a three month maturation period.

GARTH: I’m getting a nice clean aroma of white pepper and anise, followed by initially sweet, subtle vanilla with a medium- bodied finish. Reminds me of good classic Russian vodka.

KRYSTAL: Soft and sweet grainy aromas revealing a sweet entry with a spicy dry finish and good length of flavour. Classic wheat vodka characters.

Garth Foster – vodka connoisseur, Moët Hennessy

Australia – Malted Barley – Triple Pot Distilled

666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka starts life as Tasmanian barley. It’s harvested, mashed and fermented in Tasmania. As with every element of their production, they handle the fermented barley gently, moving from fermentation to slow, single batch distillation using pot stills. After pot- distillation, the spirit is mellowed with charcoal. The final stage of production is blending the pure vodka with Cape Grim water, the world’s purest rainwater.

BEN: Big spirity aromas of sweet grain and cacao-like oiliness. On the palate, full-bodied, viscous, with raw flavours of barley grain sweetness and subtle vanilla. A unique and full flavoured style of vodka in the crafted style.

GEE: Malty aromas that reminded me of White Dog. Surprising sweetness and texture deliver big grainy flavours to the tongue. This is one ballsy vodka!

France – Winter Wheat – Column Distilled

Each batch of Grey Goose Vodka begins with soft winter wheat grown on farms in and around the fertile Picardy region of Northern France. After the wheat grain is fermented and distilled into a high-proof spirit, it travels south to Gensac-la-Pallue, in the Cognac region, France, where it is blended with the pristine spring water found there.

BEN: Clean and smooth aromas of wheat grain, tinged with subtle pepper and toasted grain. Balanced flavours on the palate with a smooth, medium finish. An excellent example of wheat- based vodka.

STEVE: Malty, wheat and baked bread notes on the nose, multigrain flavours and a subtle creamy texture. Very tasty, clean finishing vodka.

Sweden – Virgin New Potatoes – Single Column Distilled

Karlsson’s Gold Vodka is made from Virgin New potatoes grown in the Cape Bjäre region of Southern Sweden. Distilled once and unfiltered to preserve the rich taste of the delicate, young potatoes, the vodka’s unique character is the result of the quality and quantity of the ingredients from which it is made. Approximately 17 pounds of Virgin New potatoes are needed to make just one bottle of Karlsson’s Vodka.

STEVE: Distinctive nose of savoury, farmyard saltiness. The palate gives the signature potato creaminess.

GARTH: Earthiness and some rustic funk aromas of boiled potatoes. Very unusual nose. Some creaminess developing on the palate with an oily finish. The potato adds to the mouthfeel and viscosity.