02 November 2011

Wódka & More

The story of Wódka is a curious one. It's the Polish word for vodka, but this particular brand was part of the Soviet-era liquor industry. Most of those products are justifiably forgotten to history (and countries like Hungary and Bulgaria are finally able to make decent wine again). It just so happened that the old factory made some pretty solid vodka, and so recently production was restarted and the bottles entered the American market in 2010 as part of a trend in "cheap premium" vodka to counteract the ultra premiums like Grey Goose.

The website uses taglines like "Movie Star Quality, Reality Star Pricing", which is a clever little slogan. But then the next ad is "Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing", and there's a photo of a sheep wearing a sombrero. I'm not offended, but I can't say that would have been my first pitch at the marketing meeting. But I love the simple, original label with distressed type. And though most will be purchasing a standard bottle, this little 200mL number was great for sampling purposes.

Przedsiębiorstwo Polmos Białystok
Distilled from rye
$10/750mL bottle, 40% abv.
There's only so much you can say about a vodka, but I very much enjoyed this spirit. It is really surprisingly smooth for a vodka at this price point. There's no discernable aroma or flavor, just a mild alcohol note. No sweetness or rough edges, just a clear and round neutral spirit.

I had a simple vodka martini that was enjoyable (though I always miss real gin), but where I would use this is as a standard cooking vodka to keep in the pantry. It's for those times when you want to make fruit infusions like limoncello, or need a splash of vodka in the tomato sauce, or to use it as the secret ingredient in pie dough. And no reason not to enjoy a cold shot or a crisp clean cocktail while you're at it.

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A few mini-reviews of other new spirits I've tried recently:

Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey
Bardstown, Kentucky
$40/750mL, 45% abv.
This is the first wheat whiskey on the market since Prohibition. Bourbon has to contain at least 51% corn and the remaining grains can be made up of rye or wheat. A wheat whiskey must contain at least 51% wheat, in this case soft winter wheat. It's smooth and earthy with aromas of baked bread. Smooth and delicious but not sweet like Bourbon. Definitely an interesting change of pace.

Brandon's Gin
Little Rock, Arkansas
$30/750mL, 40% abv.
Rock Town is the first legal distillery in Arkansas since Prohibition. This year they've just released their first whiskey, but since you have to wait a few years for barrel aging to happen, new distilleries often sell vodka and other clear spirits for a few years to keep the operation going. They also offer an "unaged whiskey" called Arkansas Lightning that is a wink and a nod to the legal moonshine trend. The gin is good but not terribly complex. Light botanicals and maybe disappointing if you prefer more heavily seasoned gins, but on the other hand, a good introductory gin for those just making the move from vodka.

Whitley Neill London Dry Gin
Birmingham, England
$30/750mL, 42% abv.
"Inspired by Africa, Made in England". This gin contains two curious components sourced from Africa: the citrus-like fruit of the baobab tree and Cape gooseberries. 5% of the proceeds go to Tree Aid, a charity that supports reforestation projects in some of the poorest regions in Africa. Other botanicals include juniper berries, coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark, and orris root powder. While the baobab and gooseberries provide a firm citrus foundation, the dominant aroma is juniper. It's been a while since I've had a juniper-heavy gin, and it was great to try again. I prefer this one neat as opposed to in a cocktail, just like with Hendrick's or some of the other more interesting gins out there.

Note: These spirits were received as a sample.

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