Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luksusowa Vodka Seminar & Tasting: Can You Taste the Difference?

"Vodka is colorless, odorless, tasteless." I pretty much believed that too, so when an invitation to a vodka seminar and tasting set up by Luksusowa vodka came along, I was intrigued. Will I really be able to taste the difference between different vodkas? I wanted to see.

The vodka seminar is appropriately held at at Nic's Martini Lounge, a shrine to vodka in Beverly Hills and the home of the "vodbox" where you can enjoy their extensive vodka collection in a private chilled room while wearing their stash of fur coats.

Luksusowa Vodka. Photo courtesy of Shelley Buck

The seminar portion started with the history of vodka. Believed to originate from Poland (the first written evidence is a 1405 Polish manuscript), potato vodka became more popular in the 18th century because it is believed to be superior although the filtration method is more difficult. Charcoal filtration was started in Russia and is now believed to be the best method. (Luksusowa is supposed to be the highest rated potato vodka in the world, with a score of 94 from the Beverage Tasting Inst.).

The World War II destroyed the economy in Poland and Russia and many distilleries came to be sold to independent owners.

Vodka originally wasn't very popular in the US and they had to market it as the "white whiskey". It was apparently all thanks to Smirnoff that really popularized "vodka" and made it what it is here today. In 1975 Smirnoff outsold American whiskey.

Leading the tasting was the owner of Nic's himself, Larry Nicola a.k.a. "The Vodkateur."

On each table were a variety of items/nibbles meant to represent the more common flavor profiles of vodka (I was hungry and thought they were apps so I'd been eating them. Oops!).
Anyway, there were rye bread, potato chips, sour cream (acidity), pop corn (representing butteriness of some vodka), dark and white chocolate chunks (bitterness), and "licorice."
The British bartender Charles Vexenat who was making our cocktails was talking about these flavors, and he was looking for the licorice - which here came in the form of Red Vines. "That's licorice? Why is it red???". Beats me, Charles ...

We sniffed and sipped six different vodkas at room temperature (since chilling it often masks the underlying nose and flavor - this way you can more easily tell the differences).
Some of the vodkas we tasted you are probably already very familiar with:
  1. Smirnoff (beet root, Russia). Nose: licorice. Pretty harsh going down, and tasted like licorice too. Maybe it's trauma but I still don't like it ...
  2. Svedka (wheat, Sweden). This smells more subtle and also tasted creamier, smoother.
  3. SKYY (wheat, USA). Odorless, tasted clean. Pretty much tasteless but went down pretty smoothly.
  4. Sobieski (rye, Poland). Smells slightly sweet. Had a nice flavor profile but harsh.
  5. Finlandia (barley, Finland - obviously). I was surprised that it does actually taste like barley. This had a full bodied flavor.
  6. Luksusowa (potato, Poland). Smells ... like water, really. Clean, without a harsh finish. Definitely the best of the bunch, and I'm not saying that because they're sponsoring this event.

Charles Vexenat, author of Mixellany's Annotated Bariana: A Practical Compendium of All American and British Drinks and a London-based bartender, was behind the bar making cocktails for us.
The first cocktail I tried (left) was made with vodka, OJ, fig jam and lime juice. A sweet cocktail, but not cloyingly so. It's actually pretty good and balanced. The other drink was made with strawberry and basil. Less sweet with more depth.

After we finished the tasting, Nic's provided some appetizers, all of which were supposed to complement vodka. You'd notice ingredients like rye and potato over and over again and if you're lucky, caviar.
A nicely crispy roasted potato with sauerkraut and kielbasa sausage, "vodka salmon" on rye bread, potato latke topped with apple compote and caviar - and can't remember exactly what the last one was.

Vodka definitely gets a bad rap among my cocktailian/bar-regulars friends, but this ended up being a pretty cool seminar and taught me that I knew so little about vodka and I can't just dismiss it without learning more. I learnt a lot of about the history of vodka and I was surprised at how distinct the different vodkas tasted. Among the six, Luksusowa was definitely the crowd favorite and I was pleasantly surprised at the prices I found online, but I really need to have Larry guide me through more different vodkas in the vodbox.


Exile Kiss

Hi burumun,

Nice! :) Thanks for the insight; and I agree about the Vodka trauma comment. (^_~) (~_~)


good times filled with amazing tastes hope to have you back again!

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