Discovering vodka. Part I

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This article is mostly about Russian vodka so I think it will be not too interesting for foreigners who usually deal with vodkas of European or American brands.

Also I see some misunderstanding and underestimating from people across Europe concerning vodka. That’s not a problem because Russian vodka is a local spirit which should be consumed in proper conditions and accordingly to national traditions.

Traditionally, Russian hand-crafted vodkas were based on distilled rye spirit. Now wheat is cheaper as well as a rectification process substituted for distillation so the base for modern vodkas is rectified wheat spirit. Rye, potato, barley, grape are all an exception to the rule.

All vodkas have been tasted neat in room temperature and in my version of Vodka Martini cocktail.

Vodka Martini (dry version)

  • 70 ml vodka,
  • 8 ml dry vermouth (usually Noilly Prat Original Dry).

Stir with ice and serve in ice cold cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive.

Sometimes I added dash of Pernod or Angostura orange bitters to the cocktail. Occasionally lemon twists, marinated onions (looks like Vodka Gibson) and big capers were used as garnishes.

Russian Standard Original Vodka

40% ABV, 1L bottle.
Ingredients: water, grain alcohol, sugar, wheat bread infusion, sodium bicarbonate (E500), succinic acid (E363).

This vodka is the most affordable in the line of products presented by Russian Standard brand.

Russian Standard Original Vodka

Neat

Nose: typical alcoholic smell without any extraneous flavours.

Taste: soft and a quite acid. Slight burning on the palate, weak body and synthetic aftertaste.

In the cocktail

Smooth start with light burning. Vermouth works well at the front but it doesn’t get enough support from strong spirit. Strange acid flavour also comes in the aftertaste.

Opinion

Russian Standard Original definitely targets traditional Russian excessive drinking. It has no strong character and can be used in the cocktails which don’t call for vodka flavour (it’s true for most of vodka cocktails as far as I know).

Czarskaya Original Vodka (Czar’s Original Vodka)

40% ABV, 0.5L bottle.
Ingredients: water, grain alcohol, white honey, lime tree blossoms infusion.

St. Petersburgh based «Ladoga» company produces two vodka under the «Czarskaya» brand (Czarskaya Gold is the second one). Both vodkas are positioned as high quality products.

Czarskaya Original Vodka (Czar’s Original Vodka)

Neat

Nose: light, spirituous.

Taste: smooth, weak, with light burning on the tongue. Nice mouthfeel, no synthetic flavours except ethanol. Light acid aftertaste is present though.

In the cocktail

Strong vodka taste is at the start and on the swallow. Vermouth has moved to the background and appears only in acid aftertaste. A dash of pastis can mask acidity but ruins vermouth notes at the same time.

Opinion

Czarskaya Original is good for drinking cold as aperitif before heavy meal. I would not recommend it as cocktail component.

Absolut Vodka

40% ABV, 0.75L bottle.
Ingredients: water, grain alcohol.

This Swedish vodka is well-known in Russia. It’s successfully competing with a great number of Russian vodkas.

Absolut Vodka

Neat

Nose: clear ethanol smell.

Taste: full-bodied, a bit hard at the start, with strong burning. Very pure on the palate, no any extraneous flavours. Nice short aftertaste of neutral alcohol and no acidity at all. Amazing energy and purity.

In the cocktail

Weak vermouth nose before smooth spicy start with great vodka body. Vermouth is also on the swallow and in the aftertaste. After strong start, Absolut vodka comes to background and makes good background for the vermouth flavour. Lemon twist adds more freshness and some tart notes to the cocktail.

Opinion

Absolut Vodka was near perfect in the cocktail making its flavour extremely deep and rich. Also it was very nice neat bringing strong character of old-style distilled spirits.

Belaya Beryozka Vodka (White Birch Vodka)

40% ABV, 0.75L bottle.
Ingredients: water, grain alcohol, sugar, birch sap, birch leaves infusion.

«Belaya Beryozka» vodka is produced by «Regata» company based on the south of Russia. The brand also includes cranberry-flavoured vodka beside the unflavoured one.

Belaya Beryozka Vodka (White Birch Vodka)

Neat

Nose: strong spirituous smell.

Taste: full of energy and burning in the start and clear, comfortable on the palate. Something sweet was spotted in the sip behind alcohol flavour. Aftertaste isn’t neutral but pleasant: light and sweet in the beginning and dry in the finish.

In the cocktail

Dry vodka start comes after medium alcohol nose. Vermouth brings itself on the front on the palate but its flavour appears more bitter than with other vodkas. Rich aftertaste comes with herbs from vermouth, vodka dryness and pleasant light orange zest hint when I added a dash of orange bitters.

Opinion

Good inexpensive vodka with strong taste. Sweet hint it the taste looks like less disadvantage than acid synthetic aftertaste in some vodkas I wrote about above.

Vodka Martini with Belaya Beryozka was average because it lacks body and depth.

Kauffman Selected Special Vodka

40% ABV, 0.75L bottle.
Ingredients: water, grain alcohol, sugar, magnolia vine infusion, honey.

«Whitehall» company presented vodka brand «Kauffman» in 2002. «Kauffman Selected» includes three unflavoured and two flavoured vodkas positioned as premium quality limited edition products. «Kauffman Selected Special» vodka is one of them.

Kauffman Selected Special Vodka

Neat

Nose: strong, typical ethanol smell with hints of anise and rye bread.

Taste: powerful alcohol flavour and light burning. Soft mouthfeel. Light and clear on the palate but acid note is present. Though, it appears like fruit acidity not synthetic.

In the cocktail

Kauffman Selected Special vodka works extremely well in Vodka Martini. It helps vermouth to flourish and gives him power background and dry hint in the end. Also on the palate vodka comes to the front for a while giving special warm kick.

Opinion

If it were not for the acid aftertaste Kauffman Selected Special vodka would be perfect choice for drinking neat. Anyway, it remains nice cocktail component if you feel comfortable with its price.

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