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- Burnett’s adds 20th vodka flavor March 11, 2010
- The whisk(e)y season is dear to Ireland, Scotland March 4, 2010
- Midwest craft brewer debuts rye-on-rye February 17, 2010
- Something to toast Benedictine’s 500th February 4, 2010
Rumors of vodka’s death are greatly exaggerated
Posted on April 21, 2009 by William M. Dowd
Too often access to a major pulpit gives people the opportunity to say really preposterous things that somehow become “conventional wisdom.”
A perfect example is drinks writer Eric Felten’s latest sweeping pronouncement in The Wall Street Journal. To wit:
“It’s now official (and not a moment too soon): Vodka is passé.”
Poppycock. Pish-tosh. And, patooie, say I.
I assumed when I saw his introductory sentence that Felten was going to go on with a bit of tongue-in-cheek commentary, or debunk someone else’s silly comment. That was not to be the case.
He cites as proof of his statement, and the “official”-ness of it, that “Cocktails ’09” — the new edition of Food & Wine magazine’s annual drinks book — shows far fewer cocktail recipes using vodka than in the four previous editions.
Hardly empirical evidence of the passing of so large a contender from the spirits field. Indeed, the overwhelming leader in sales worldwide among clear spirits remains strong.
Thus, I suspect Mr. Felten was merely being fanciful as a way to get into a book review. Unfortunately, because of the stature of his newspaper, his comment has created quite a stir of debate in the blogosphere. In reality, vodka remains the hottest of the haute among all libations, and for many reasons.
Vodka is one of the simplest spirits to make, usually as a neutral grain spirit although one can make it with potatoes, grapes, pineapple, grasses and all other manner of organic matter. By technical definition it should be odorless, colorless and tasteless. By experience, most of us know that is not true. The many permutations of vodka provide us with notes and hints and whispers of such things as pepper, florals, cream, soft fruits and the like without anything in particular being done to it. It’s just part of the chemistry — that of the vodka interacting with that of the imbiber.
As with any market niche, there are many facets that go into being a success. With vodka it was filtration — through charcoal, through linen, through bamboo thatches, through stainless steel mesh, through silk, through crystal and jewels — that took out the impurities and made it more and more palatable. And then it was packaging, with some gorgeously designed decanters created especially to attract the eye of both shopkeepers, who provided shelf space, and consumer, who provided money.
Vodka passé? No, Virginia, there is no decline.There is only innovation piled upon innovation.
Just a few months ago I was presenting a workshop for the staff at the sister restaurants Yono’s and DP: An American Brasserie in Albany, NY, a fairly sophisticated waitstaff that its employers feared was getting lost in the rampaging flood of new vodkas, ryes, tequilas, et al.
As part of my preparation for the workshop, I had gone back over my notes and drawn up a list of new vodkas on the market — just the ones I’d personally written about — in the preceding 12 months. It was startlingly long. Not just new flavors and infusions from popular brands, but such innovations as a UK “health drink” product that is an 8-proof (no typographical error — eight proof) line of vodka-based drinks also containing water, natural flavorings and 25% fruit juice.
Most people know all about Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Stolichnaya, etc., but not nearly as much as some names added to the list in recent periods. Names that are either new to the world or at least to the U.S. market — such as these:
* Silver Mustang
* Blue Ice
* Belvedere IX
* Patron (nothing to do with the Patron tequila line)
* Dragon Bleu
* Double Cross
* Czysta de Luxe
* Belvedere Intense
* Boyd & Blair
* Cold River
* Snow Queen
* Chinggis Khaan
* Sub Rosa
* Saaga 1763
* St. Julian
* Crystal Skull
* Blavod Black
* Diamond Standard
* Baojing 168
* Sonnema VodkaHerb
This list doesn’t even take into account literally hundreds of new flavors and other hundreds of artisinal vodkas distilled in boutique operations and extremely limited in both volume and distribution. They abound worldwide.
Vodka passé? Non. Vodka au courant!