Every spirit is singular in its own way, none more so than vodka — for while we like our drinks to have tastes and smells, basic vodka has neither. In fact, U.S. federal regulations define vodka as a spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” Or, as defined by one Russian vodka enthusiast: “Vodka is not tasteless; it merely lacks flavor.”
But wait. Aside from vodkas whose labels tell us they are flavored with cherry, vanilla, raspberry, citrus or other additions, there are the subtle, elusive natural flavors found in pure super-premium vodka.
Vodka is distilled once from grains or potatoes in large continuous stills, run through charcoal to purify it and blended with water to cut the alcohol. Super-premium vodka, on the other hand, is made of higher quality grains, distilled in small copper stills several times, filtered through finer charcoal and reduced with special waters.
While Poland and Russia have been making vodka for a millennium, the rest of the world discovered it about 60 years ago. With its rakish charm, aura of elegance and ability to mix with anything, it quickly became the basis of the Moscow mule, bloody mary, screwdriver, salty dog and dozens of other drinks. Next, it took over where gin and whiskey once reigned, becoming the vodka martini, vodka Gibson, vodka Collins and vodka sour. It was all vodka all the way.
And then super-premium vodka hit the market. With its added refinements, it is smoother and silkier, with the subtlest hint of scent, flavor and individual character.
Among the highlights of the super-premium vodkas are Poland’s Belvedere, with its puff of vanilla, and the same distiller’s velvety Chopin. Russia sends us Stolichnaya Cristall, hinting of delicate floral aromas. Italy’s Mezzaluna is silken purity with a brush stroke of orange blossoms. Holland’s Ketel One is satiny and lightly floral. Add to them Canada’s Iceberg, California’s Charbay, Sweden’s Absolut, Holland’s Vox, Norway’s Christiania, Idaho’s Teton Glacier, Ireland’s Boru and France’s gossamer Grey Goose.
No surprise that price rises with quality. Regular vodka averages about $12 to $15. Super-premium costs $20 to $45. One taste will tell you why.
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