The selection of artisanal vodkas grows
annually. At the Tales of the Cocktail
conference in New Orleans, July 20-24,
new brands and styles of mixers for vodka
emerged. Vodka offers a wide flavor
palette for spicing up the beverage list.
A SIMPLE SPIRIT
Given that vodka comprises 60% water and
40% distillate of grain or produce, producers
differentiate themselves by both components.
Vodka Sobieski from Poland touts its
water as “crystalline from Oligocene
springs,” referring to the era 30 million
years ago, a difficult fact to verify. Actor
Bruce Willis, Sobieski brand ambassador/
investor, highlights its unblemished
provenance. “Unlike gin, vodka is so
straightforward—just pure water and
Dankowski rye. No sugar, nothing else.
Sobieski is clean and simple.”
marble, silver, gold and then platinum,
which rounds out the flavors.
Other brands, such as Purity, eschew
filtration. After distilling a fermented mash
of wheat and barley 34 times at the distillery
in Sweden, only 10% of the initial distillate
volume remains. Thomas Kuuttanen, Purity’s
master blender, notes that the end product
has more depth and complexity than most
vodka, and is not filtered.
Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, Kathy Casey
of Liquid Kitchen and Kuuttanen hosted
the H2O seminar at Tales of the Cocktail.
The session started with a tasting of vodka
made from potato, grapes and wheat. The
potato vodka had a creamier mouthfeel,
the grape, a more citrus note, and Purity,
from grains, more complexity.
Square One Basil vodka, left, uses organic
American rye as its grain. Akvinta vodka is
made from organic Italian wheat.
Many large-scale vodka producers use
additives to modify the mouthfeel and
finish. The Soviets centralized vodka
production and employed additives such
as sugar and glycerin, but today, Zyr
represents a new style of Russian vodka
made from wheat and the nontraditional
addition of rye—and no additives.
Employing high-tech equipment, Zyr
undergoes five distillations, nine filtrations
and three tastings for a smooth finish.
Abou-Ganim then walked participants
through pairing the vodkas with flavored
waters. Water is infused with produce,
herbs and spices by either steeping
overnight or pressurizing with an iSi
N2O canister, which yields instant flavor
infusion. The H2O cocktails, made with
the rule-of-thumb ratio of one part vodka
to three parts infused water, retain pure
flavors with markedly less sugar than
liqueurs, juices and soft drinks.
Wheat vodkas are produced around the
world. Recently available in the U.S.,
Exclusiv vodka is made from winter wheat
from Moldova in Eastern Europe.
Akvinta, a recent import from Croatia,
is made from organic Italian wheat
and Dalmatian spring water from an
ecologically unspoiled region near the
Mediterranean. After a triple distillation,
the spirit is filtered with birch charcoal,
The distillate base influenced the pairing
with the infused waters. Purity paired
well with the berry or celery water. Cîroc,
the grape-based vodka, paired well with
pineapple/cilantro water, and potato-
based Karlsson’s Gold matched with the
Potato vodka, such as Blue Ice from Idaho
spuds, is gaining popularity. Ross Hallett,
general manager at Spoonbar at h2hotel,
Healdsburg, Calif., stocks Blue Ice for the
growing number of customers who have
celiac disease or wheat allergies. “Just as
we have vegetarian options on the main
menu, we want to honor dietary needs at
the bar,” says Hallett.
American-made vodka sales will increase,
says Lu Brow, bar manager at Café