Best Premium Imported Vodka - 2010
Due mostly to the explosion of cocktail mixology, the popularity of vodka is stronger than ever. Since our last tasting, even more brands were introduced in the US, where almost 300 vodka brands are available to consumers. The "new" vodkas are complex, mysterious and sexy.
To keep up with the new contenders, TheFiftyBest.com held a private tasting at Cipriani Wall Street in NYC. Thirty-two people tasted 23 premium vodkas, all imports, all 80 proof, and all without flavors. The tasters included wine and spirits journalists, bar owners and bartenders, mingled among a number of vodka aficionados. Several had also participated in our previous vodka tasting.
Method: The products were served "blindly" to the tasters, completely unaware of the brand being tasted. The order of service was randomly selected through a lottery system. Each of the vodkas were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served slightly above room temperature, one brand at a time. Tasters wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. Everyone was given the opportunity and option of a retest, if needed. Ice water on the side and unflavored breadsticks were provided to cleanse the palate. There were resting periods between the first two flights of 9 vodkas each, with light food served during the breaks. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. The totals were added up, with the winners determined from 1 to 25, based on the scores received. The tasting notes that follow the rankings are a summary of the results, and all replicate commentary has been eliminated while contrasting opinions have been summarized. Ties are listed in alphabetical order. Prices quoted are for 750ml sizes. Prices will vary by state. Country of origin is given, with a few tidbits added for each brand.
History: The word, vodka, is a derivation of the Russian word for "little water." Vodka came to be a huge part of the Russian culture, as it was being distilled even before the word vodka came into general use. Polish historians claim that vodka was first produced in 1405, and history coupled with rumor state that it reached Russia from Poland. Back then it was consumed and produced primarily by Eastern European peasants as a way to combat the cold and to help relieve life's hardships. Prior to the 1950’s, vodka was rarely consumed outside of the USSR. Vodka is now the dominant white spirits category, accounting for a quarter of worldwide spirits sales. Three billion liters are sold each year.
Today: Serious vodka drinkers are now interested not only in the product’s legacy (origin, history, distillery), but also its pedigree (water source and ingredients). A common property of vodkas produced in the USA and Europe is the extensive use of filtration prior to any additional processing, such as the addition of flavorings. Filtering is sometimes done in the still during distillation, as well as afterwards, when the distilled vodka is filtered through charcoal and other media. The U.S. government officially describes vodka as "a neutral spirit, so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal and other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka producing nations; so many distillers from these countries prefer to use very accurate distillation but minimal filtering thus preserving the unique flavors and characteristics of their products. The governmental definition was correct on one point however – unflavored vodka does not have any color. This tasting proved vodka’s range of aroma, texture and flavor.
The Art of Tasting Vodka: While many prefer to drink their vodka ice cold, it is best, for tasting purposes, to consume it at room temperature. Cold tends to dampen the aroma and deaden the taste buds. Look at the liquid; it should be clear and bright, absent any cloudiness. Second - smell or "nose" the vodka by swirling it in the glass. Watch out for sharp, pungent odors or a perfumed smell. Third - take a small sip and roll it around your tongue. Look for a pleasant flavor and, yes, it varies from person to person. Fourth - draw a little air over the vodka to release its flavors, then swallow it and evaluate the finish. Fifth - pure vodka should feel smooth on the tongue...with no "bite," and be pleasant but not overpowering, nor have an off-aroma or flavor and little aftertaste. You're ready!!!
THE TASTING Anyone who still believes that vodka is an odorless, tasteless clear spirit, isn’t into ultra-premium vodkas. Vodka lovers can distinguish the complexity and subtlety of a good vodka. Once again, this tasting dispelled some popular myths about vodka. We discovered that although the source of the vodka (potato, wheat, rye, corn, grapes) does affect the final product somewhat, the notion of multiple distillation or multiple filtration is mostly hype. The process of distillation is a continuous one, recirculating the solution until all the alcohol is vaporized out. Vodka is the easiest and cheapest spirit to produce (with high profit potential). There are no oak barrels or long aging process. Aging vodka doesn’t improve the flavor, and distillation is limited to only a day or so.
These are all great vodkas, indicative of the close scoring overall.
Here are the final results:
1. Two-Way Tie-
|| Absolut - (Sweden)- $22 - Wheat based-
Smooth, assertive, light, floral, caramel, vanilla, cream, white peppercorn, honey, butter.
| Finlandia - (Finland)- $22– Six-row barley based- glacier spring water. Smooth, lightly floral, spicy, sweet, medium-body, approachable, complex, nutty, nice, clean finish.
2. Reyka - (Iceland)- $28- Wheat based- glacial water filtered through lava rocks. Smooth, clean, assertive, anise, nutty, spicy, peppers, potato skin, rich, silky, dry, medium body, strong taste, nice, long finish.
3. Ciroc - (France)- $32- Grapes based- 5 times distilled. Nice nose, lemon, lime, citrus, almond, fruity, nutty, pepper, lemon lollipop, crisp, intense, light, pleasant, spicy, long finish.
4. Fris - (Denmark)- $24– Wheat based, spring water- freeze distilled 6 times. Smooth, delicate, silky, light, subtle, rich, vanilla, almond, spicy, grain, cream, peppery, anise, tart, hot, approachable, balanced, medium-full bodied, cheers.
5. Two-Way Tie - Belvedere - (Poland)- $35– Gold rye based, artesian well water- 4 distillations. Smooth, clean, light, balanced, anise, pepper, white pepper, grain, intense, vanilla, full bodied, long, silky finish.
Effen - (The Netherlands)- $33- Grain based- filtered through peat, not charcoal. Spicy start, mossy, dry, mineral, sweet, complex, intense, very alcoholic, approachable, crisp, medium-full body, smooth finish.
6. Pearl - (Canada)- $20– Winter wheat based, Canadian Rocky Mountain water- 5 times distilled, filtered 6 times. Rich, smooth, lively, anise, buttery, citrus, white peppercorn, intense, earthy, harsh, mineral, oily, sweet, icy finish.
7. Ultimat - (Poland)- $45– Wheat, Rye and Potato based, artesian well water- 6 times distilled. Creamy, smooth, silky, rich, subtle, sweet, light, pastry dough, nutty, wet stone, anise, peppercorn, citrus, oily, viscous, pleasant, approachable, hot, long finish.
8. Akvinta - (Croatia/Mediterranean)- $40– Wheat based- Quintuple filtration (Birch charcoal, marble, silver, gold, platinum), mountain spring water. Lively, dry, smooth, balanced, sweet, citrus, peppery, assertive, dusty, wet stone, grassy, good for cocktails, long, oily finish.
9. Four-Way Tie - Grey Goose - (France)- $30- French winter wheat based, spring water purified through champagne limestone - Balanced, smooth, delicate, vibrant, assertive, earthy, cream, minty, floral, harsh, mineral, mossy, oily, medium bodied.
Iceberg - (Canada)- $20– Sweet corn based. Vibrant, light, smooth, floral, rose, sugary, pepper, mineral, wet stone, sweet, citrus, grapey, acidic, oily, great.
Sobieski - (Poland)- $12- Rye based, spring water- 8 times distilled. Subtle, smooth, clean, delicate, almond oil, vanilla, peppery, sweet, anise, mineral, metallic, medium bodied, hot, spicy finish.
Svedka - (Sweden)- $16– Winter wheat based, spring water- 5 distillations. Light, clean, soft, very fine, perky, smooth, crisp, feminine, grain, vanilla, spicy, dusty, peppery, sweet, berries, nutty, peppers, medium bodied, hot finish.
10. Three-Way Tie- 42 Below - (New Zealand)- $22– Wheat based, spring water - 4 distillations. Only Southern hemisphere vodka tasted. Rich, fruity, grain, smooth, clean, lively, serious heat, floral, mint leaf, oily, nice finish.
Jewel of Russia - (Russia)- 1L $38- Wheat & rye based- Quadruple distilled, 5 step filtration- Vibrant, clean, crisp, intense, mineral, bread, almond, grain, light heat, bitter finish.
White Diamond - (Latvia)- $13– Rye and wheat based, artesian well water- 5 times distilled, 14-step “mountain crystals” filtration. Smooth, approachable, mellow, pleasantly spicy, floral, grassy, oily, mossy, fruity finish, good for mixing.
11. Three-Way Tie- Ketel One - (The Netherlands)- $26– Wheat based. Assertive, silky, rich, smooth, sweet, creamy start, spicy, vanilla, minty, harsh, mineral, flat, short hot finish.
Orzel - (Poland)- $46– Grain based- 6 times distilled, quartz filtered. Sharp, mineral, sweet, subtle, smooth, mossy, grassy, peppery, hot spice, powdered sugar, lively.
U’Luvka - (Poland)- $57– Rye, barley and wheat based- 3 times distilled. Creamy, approachable, smooth, grassy, potato skin, earthy, fruit, dusty, sour, spicy, mossy, unique taste, off-dry, nice pleasant finish.
12. Two-Way Tie - Luksusowa - (Poland)- $17– Potato based, artesian well water - distilled 3 times. Light, peppery, dry, chili, anise, vanilla, smooth, clean, crisp, some sweetness, mineral, charcoal, seamless, sharp, very spicy, currants.
Stolichnaya - (Russia)- $24– Wheat & Rye based, glacial water- double distillation. Mineral-like, smooth, complex, pleasant, spicy, citrus, intense, clean, metallic, slightly bitter, lemon lollipop, iodine, pungent, oily, harsh medium-long finish.
13. Vox - (The Netherlands)- $28- Wheat based- 5 times distilled. Grain, clean, powdered sugar, cream, silky, mossy, spicy, harsh, oily, dry, balanced.
14. Chopin - (Poland)- $32- Potato based- distilled 4 times. Oily, anise, very sweet, mineral, peppery, grain, chocolate, harsh, spicy, rough, full-bodied, hot finish.
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