By Franz Scheurer
Russia and Poland both claim to be the birthplace of Vodka (derived from Russian ‘voda’ meaning water), currently the world’s most popular spirit. Although Vodka began as a rye-based spirit, its popularity among the common man shifted its production to the more easily obtainable, and cheaper, potato, only to return to grain when large-scale production took over from the family distilleries. After the Russian Revolution, all private distilleries were confiscated and a number of Russian vodka makers emigrated, taking their skills and recipes with them. One such exile, Pyotr Smirnov, started Smirnoff in 1934 and, helped by the affluent youth of the ‘Swinging Sixties’, launched Vodka onto the world stage.
For a spirit that is considered neutral, without distinct character, taste or colour, Vodka has certainly captured the imagination and palates of the world’s spirit drinkers. Caviar’s perfect partner, it accentuates flavours in food.
Here are three of the best:
Wyborowa Single Estate
Finally there’s a Vodka taking terroir seriously. It is small-batch distilled by one Master Distiller and his team, at a single distillery in Turew, Poland, using a specific variety of local rye, Dankowskie Zlote, ensuring consistently top quality. The stunning bottle, designed by Frank Gehry (designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) does justice to the refined, silken smooth, naturally sweet and floral Vodka, which finishes on notes of toasted nuts with a hint of sesame. This is one fabulous Vodka! Drink it straight and savour the superb flavours.
One of the few remaining Vodkas from mother Russia, it is distilled from grain and birch-charcoal and quartz-sand filtered. A clean, mouth-filling drink with hints of juniper and ripe red berries at the end of the palate. Although one of the less expensive Vodkas, it is a superb product, ideally suited for mixed drinks where the Vodka is the hero.
The distillery’s latitude (42 degrees south) gives its name to this excellent Vodka from the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. Considerably sweeter than the above two, it is deceptively smooth and ‘mild’. An initial mouth-filling taste of palm sugar turns into a dry, floral finish with hints of tobacco leaf. Drink it on the rocks while watching the sunset.
Red Square Cocktail
2 nips of your favourite Vodka
1 nip of Dubonnet
Shake over lots of ice, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.