Here’s four experts on the ins and outs of great vodka

ask-the-experts-vodka

The base material with which vodka is made is arguably more important than it is with other spirit categories; vodka’s light and often subtle characteristics mean there’s no influence from wood, no botanicals to add to the distillate — nowhere for poor spirit to hide.

In our July issue we asked four experts from around the world just what it was that the base ingredients of their vodkas brought to the final product. Read on…

Brent-Lamberti-elit-by-Stolichnaya-brand-ambassador
Expert’s name: Brent Lamberti
Distillery: Stolichnaya
Expert’s role: Global Brand Ambassador, elit by Stolichnaya

Could you briefly describe how your vodka is made?
elit utilises a very unique production process. All of the wheat and rye we use to make elit comes from one single farm in Tambov, Russia. We at Stoli have complete control over the entire production process from grain to glass. Imagine a single vineyard wine, it’s the same concept. After we harvest and ferment the grain, we distill the liquid only three times to retain as much flavour as possible. We also discard a much larger portion of the heads and tails during distillation than other vodkas do. What’s left is the Alpha Spirit. From there we filter the liquid through Quartz sand, Russian Birch Charcoal, Quartz sand again and cloth. The finial distillation process is what sets elit apart from other vodkas. Borrowing from a centuries old technique, we chill the vodka to -18 degrees Celsius. At this temperature the liquid is more dense, we run it through one more activated carbon filter to remove the last impurities.

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What are the qualities of the base ingredient of your vodka that come through in the final product?
elit is roughly 97 percent wheat and 3 percent Rye. It’s what’s called a mixed grain vodka. What’s great about that is we have the best of both worlds; the crisp freshness from the wheat and bit of spice from the rye.

When it comes to mixing drinks, what ingredients play well with your vodka and why?
I usually enjoy elit in a dry Martini with a twist or on the rocks, no fruit. If you’re compelled to make cocktails with it, I suggest variations on the classic martini recipe. Vodka is a spirit with subtle nuances. I suggest not overpowering it, but instead allowing it to shine while amplifying its flavour profile with a variety of fortified wines.

What’s your favourite classic cocktail you like to use your vodka in?
To reiterate that point my favorite classic to make with elit is the Flame of Love:

Flame of Love
3 parts elit
¼ part Fino Sherry
3 orange peels
Rinse a chilled martini glass with the sherry and then discard the excess. Using a match, express and ignite the oils from two orange peels so the burned oil coats the inside of the sherry-coated glass. Stir elit with ice until very cold and fine strain into the coated glass. Finish with one more flamed orange peel.

Dean-Lucas-666-bar3
Expert’s name: Dean Lucas
Distillery: Hellyers Road
Expert’s role: Founder / CEO 666 Pure Vodka

Could you briefly describe how your vodka is made?
We start in the “Wash Still” where the Tasmanian barley is brewed with water & yeast. The Wash Still has a 60,000 litre capacity but during distilling we only utilize 40,000 litre.

The new make spirit “beer” is contained in a 20,000 litre Low Wines receiver from where it is pumped into our 20,000 litre copper pot spirit still.

The copper pot spirit still operates very slowly with the triple times distilled spirit ultimately flowing at 100 litre per hour into a 3,000 litre receiver.

From the receiver the spirit makes it way to the charcoal filtering tank. This final filtration is done very slowly, using the highest grade activated charcoal, ensuring that we remove all the impurities, but retain the character and flavour of our delicious vodka.

Finally the spirit is mixed with the purest rainwater in the world from Cape Grim, then bottled.

What are the qualities of the base ingredient of your vodka that come through in the final product?
Being a solely pot distilled barley based vodka there are a number of characteristics which shine through in our final product.

Nose: Dark chocolate and rich rye bread. Cracked pepper and lemon with almond after notes. Finally a hint of vanilla, hazelnut, and soft cigar box. A final tiny accent of river stone and flint.

Palate: Sweet dark chocolate, and rich rye bread crusts. Black pepper heat, softening to cooked sweet chilli. Hints of coffee, vanilla, cashew nuts, all rolled in dark rye bread. Long, long, long finish, more dark chocolate and pepper. Sweet nuts, hints of gunpowder and spicy heat.

A final note of river stone, and sweet black chocolate.

When it comes to mixing drinks, what ingredients play well with your vodka and why?
Traditionally vodka is not the number one choice spirit for bartenders to mix with. However, we are finding that bartenders love to use our vodka because some of our characteristics shine through in their mixed drinks and cocktails. Mixes well with coffee flavours, vanilla flavours and fruits like grapefruit, passionfruit and pineapple, also works well with ginger beer.

What’s your favourite classic cocktail you like to use your vodka in?
We can never go past a Classic Martini – after diluting and chilling 666 down it really opens up and highlights some of the flavours and characters of our vodka.

ali-dedianko
Expert’s name: Ali Dedianko
Distillery: Belvedere Vodka
Expert’s role: Global Brand Ambassador

Could you briefly describe how your vodka is made?
Belvedere Vodka is made in Zyrardow, a small town about 45km southwest from the Polish capital of Warsaw. It is made from 100% Dankowskie Gold Rye and is distilled across four columns to perfectly balance purity with character. We use water from our own source, an artisanal well, located 1km from the distillery, and filter the vodka twice, once through cellulose and once through charcoal. Born from 600 years of Polish vodka making history and heritage, Belvedere Vodka can be described in three words: Rye, Water, Character.

What are the qualities of the base ingredient of your vodka that come through in the final product?
Belvedere is made from rye which results in a full-bodied, characterful vodka with notes of vanilla, cream, almond, and black pepper spice.

When it comes to mixing drinks, what ingredients play well with your vodka and why?
Belvedere is certainly not a neutral vodka and does well in most cocktails because of its balanced and rounded texture. Flavors that work particularly well are bright citrus fruits, like pink grapefruit and bergamot, and earthy herbs like thyme and rosemary.

What’s your favourite classic cocktail you like to use your vodka in?
For me, it’s all about the Martini! I like my Belvedere stirred, 6:1 with Lillet Blanc and garnished with a grapefruit zest.

Jacob Briars Headshot (1)
Expert’s name: Jacob Briars
Distillery: Reporoa — 42Below
Expert’s role: Emeritus Vodka Professor

Could you briefly describe how your vodka is made?
42 Below is a vodka made with a base of Australian wheat. It is distilled four times in a column still. After the second distillation, the spirit is cut with New Zealand spring water, and then redistilled to 96.2% abv. The high proof vodka is then filtered through charcoal, and cut with spring water to 40.2% ABV.

What are the qualities of the base ingredient of your vodka that come through in the final product?
The savoury, aniseed notes that you get from the wheat are the first point to notice. It seems to be a quality unique to this part of the world, where the Eastern European wheat vodkas are more peppery.

When it comes to mixing drinks, what ingredients play well with your vodka and why?
There is a peppery, aniseed quality to 42 Below, together with the vanilla notes that are the trademark of a wheat vodka. So those characteristics can be accentuated in drinks like the Bloody Mary, or contrasted with bright citrus in drinks like the Caipiroska. But the slightly higher proof of the vodka manages to ‘lift’ other spirits like Benedictine and Chartreuse, holding them up very well in drinks like the neo-classic ‘Harrington’.

What’s your favourite classic cocktail you like to use your vodka in?
Vodka is a spirit with little to hide, and its subtleties can best be enjoyed nearly on it’s own. One of the most enjoyable Vodka cocktails is a Martini riff called ‘Flame of Love’ with a sherry rinse, and a garnish of scorched orange peels.

But it’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of a 42 Below Caipiroska, the simple balance of sweet, sour and strong, and the way the aniseed notes of 42 Below and the sharp lime complement each other, it’s a glorious drink on a sunny day, when we
get one.

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