Four Vodkas that you MUST find

January 3, 2015

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a glass of vodka.  The whole idea of drinking something distilled so many times that all the flavor of the grain (or grape) is stripped dissuades me.  I drink for flavor, not for flash in the pan, trendy drinks.  Vodka is one of these.  I know, historically, vodka has transcended history because of its innocuous nature.  Mostly for me, vodka represents a cheap drunk, that buzzing in your body that says you've had too much, but don't really know why.  I'll tell you why, most vodka on the market sucks.  You might as well be drinking pure ethyl alcohol.  In some countries, distillation of grains can go horribly wrong.  The result is blindness or worse.  There is an extremely fine line here and one that can be harrowing in the wrong hands.

I don't write about the cheap stuff and you shouldn't drink it either.  And what they call flavored vodka?  Pure science lab stuff. 

You'll know if you've had too many if you cannot remember if it was cake or whipped cream vodka... It's poison! Don't do it!

In front of me are four luxury products which all say vodka.  If the genre needs to be covered, then I'll write about four vodkas that don't drink like your typical pour for concentrated grapefruit juice.  That's also a HUGE no/no... Fresh squeezed juices are the only thing I drink.  I'm no snob, but I do know the difference in taste.  And when the spirits cost as much as they do, why cover them up with concentrates and water?

Who knows? I might like vodka when it's done gently.  And thoughtfully.  Does this exist?  I think so. 

Napa Valley Distillery: Napa Vodka:  This bottling screams a brand new G5 luxury jet at the airport and a Maybach for the weekend kind of experience in each sip.  The shape of the elegant bottle is tall and narrow with a flared mid-section.  Each bottle is hand numbered.  Mine says Bottle No. 3480 out of 5000.  

This is not a mega-factory vodka, that is for certain.  The lettering on the crystal clear, perfume grade glass is deep burgundy and black.  I imagine with light from below and mystery begins.  This vodka is not made of grain, nor potatoes- it's derived from "100% Premium Sauvignon Blanc from a Single Vineyard" and that's supposed to impress someone I suppose.  The back of the bottle tells me that it has absolutely no additives, or flavors.  And it goes on to tell me that it's gluten free.  That's strange, because how could it have gluten?  It's made from grapes.  Is it grappa?  Perhaps- this is American Grappa or eau de vie?  Then cleverly repackaged as vodka?  Well... the mouth feel is anything but grappa. Each sip is the best of all possible worlds. This vodka is as luxurious and soft like cotton candy.  I couldn't see mixing this- you might as well be drinking speed rack stuff.  This is vodka to be savored along with a plate of smoked salmon and brook trout.  It's pure luxury and intellectual, like the Boston Athenaeum in each sip.

  If you must mix it may I suggest a splash of blood orange juice, or tangerine juice?  That should compliment the citrus qualities of this vodka. I'm just confused as to why it's called vodka.  No matter, you should try to find some as it's truly a luxury product.

Tasting Notes: deep cream, angel food cake, vanilla cream, toasted hazelnuts, chopped tobacco, butter popcorn 

Serving suggestions: On the rocks with a twist of lemon or a splash of fresh citrus juice.  That's all!  Oh, it does say 2010 Vintage.  Again, I'm not sure why.  Is the 2009 a better year?  Or perhaps it gets better with age in the bottle?  I know, it sounds pretentious, but the vodka really is very good.  I like it.

Bluewater Vodka: 100 Proof:  I love Bluewater gin, the brainchild of world sailor, John Lundin.  This brilliantly made vodka, rolling in at 100 Proof, sitting in front of me, un-opened until now- sorry John that it's taken me so long to review your passionate spirits... I've been a bit busy writing books!  Ha! 

Sporting the USDA Certified Organic tag right there on the front of the bottle tells me that it is made with the best ingredients that money can buy- AND that they are Certified Organic.  That is meaningful to me.  I like to know the provenance of what I eat AND drink.  I eat most of my food from organic or biodynamic sources, why are the liquors, beers and wines any less important?  This 100 Proof vodka is not your usual slurp.  It is carefully made in copper kettles with local Cascade water.  I'm stunned by the quality of this vodka and hope that you force yourself to find it, no matter the cost.  This is world class drink and you deserve to treat yourself nicely.  I'd do it by finding a bottle of Bluewater Vodka - 100 Proof, immediately. 

Tasting Notes: Sweet cream and butterscotch give way to deeper notes of lemon curd and bruleed nuts.  There is fire in there, no mistaking it.  This vodka could do serious damage to your body because it's so darned drinkable.  But please remember, it is 100 Proof.  Not 80, so it behaves in a cocktail much differently.  I'd treat it to some Lapsang Souchong Tea, just a splash or two, to offer a smoky element to each sip, perhaps a bit of mint simple syrup to round out the flavors, that's up to you.  This would make a masterful drink with crushed cucumber and smoked thyme.  Just would blow my idea of flavored vodka out of the water.  And speaking of water, I have some yellow beet water right here, add a portion of that to the vodka and toast the earth.  Which, by the way, on the bottle 1% of the sales go to save the planet.  That's my kind of endeavor!

Serving Suggestions: With Lapsang Souchong tea and mint syrup.. Or that crushed cucumber water and smoked thyme...  yeah.  It's made of wheat so it's softer than most whiskies, yet it will keep up with the best of them!


Purity Vodka: The bottle, reminiscent of a cut diamond is unique.  From the weighted cap to the nose of sweet grains and buttered toast- Purity Vodka speaks clearly to the drinker who demands the very best.  I'm continuously fooled by Purity Vodka.  It's so beguiling.  During this tasting it revealed to me flavors that I'd never tasted prior.  Perhaps it's because I ate with this tasting.  A nice salami sandwich on english muffin.. with a smear of Dijon mustard.  Not very authentic, but delicious.  And I find if I don't eat when I drink, I will fall down.  That is not good.  Purity Vodka needs food to reveal its quality.  Sure you can drink it without food, but listen to me, a platter of smoked meats or cured salami would be marvelous with a snifter full of Purity Vodka. There is magic in each sip.  On the label it reads Distilled 34 Times.  Hmmm, doesn't that strip out all the flavor?  Not with Purity, quite to the opposite, it is packed full of flavor and elegance... I love to mix a bit of Lillet with Purity Vodka.  I also like to drink Purity Vodka with a couple drops of lemon bitters and a splash of seltzer water.  That's particularly delicious.  Purity is just so good that I've probably overly intellectualized the entire process of tasting.  1.  Taste with an open mouth.  2.  Do not spill glass of vodka on chin, neck, chest.  3. Repeat. 

Tasting Notes: Lemon slicked sea stones, smoked sablefish and horseradish cream, fleur de sel dipped, bitter chocolate- orange peel finish. 

Serving Suggestions: Squeeze of lemon zest.  Splash of seltzer with lemon bitters.  Splash of grilled tangerine juice with seltzer and Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters.


Barr Hill/Caledonia Spirits Vodka:  Unlike the other vodka in this tasting, Barr Hill is distilled from Raw Honey.  What is raw honey?  Quite simply, it is honey that is packed full of good things.  It's never been boiled or manipulated, it is meant to give pleasure and each sip is a revelation.  Rolling in at 80 proof, Barr Hill Vodka is the kind of vodka that you see on board a classic Alden Yacht or in the picnic basket for your classic lake home deep in the Adirondacks.  Who drinks Barr Hill?  Someone who is in touch with the earth, someone who get it, they just know.  A person who would do very little to mask the honesty of each considerate sip.  Like the founder himself, Barr Hill Vodka reveals itself in each carefully thought out footsteps. There is cause and pleasure in drinking Barr Hill without much embellishment.  There is a quiet sophistication, like sitting in the middle of a field, surrounded by wildflowers- in the heat of the summer, soft breezes washing over your skin. Bees buzzing just out of earshot in each sip.  Barr Hill is made of passion and love, you can taste smiles of the distiller in each and every sip.  No, Barr Hill is not vodka flavored with raw honey, it is raw honey.  That is a very important distinction to the other 'honey' vodka on the market.  Vermont is the provenance and it is an honest place filled with caring people.  Each sip speaks of this passion to unlock mystery and tap into dreams. 

Tasting Notes:  Sweet, freshly churned butter gives way to toasted cornbread slathered with raw honey.  Toasted Anson Mills Grits drizzled in brown butter and honey.   Wet stones and citrus blossom, the terroir of the honey shines through in each sip.

Serving Suggestions:  Squeeze some grilled grapefruit juice over the top, not too much!  Also brilliant with grilled pineapple juice and lime juice- finished with a splash of coconut water. 


My Second Book, Whiskey Cocktails is out now!