The OLN Hot List: Vodka

17 January, 2014

Vodka’s inherent neutrality of flavour makes it a fiendishly difficult drinks category for brands to stand out in. Not too long ago the battle lines were drawn around numerical distinctions in distilling and filtering, but — perhaps realising the limitations of this strategy — producers are testing the boundaries of packaging, incorporating subtle shifts in ingredients, sharpening up back stories and highlighting meaningful aspects of provenance to inject the category with a new level of excitement.


We asked some of the leading opinion- formers from across the drinks world to tell us which vodkas are delivering the goods in a category that provides the spirits market with some of its more interesting niches, as well as its biggest volume.

1. Chase

Chase has become such a prominent force in the independent off-trade and the fashionable end of the on-trade that it’s easy to forget the Herefordshire distiller has only been around for six years. The brand was created when William Chase sold his Tyrrells crisps business and sought a more interesting outlet for the potatoes he’d been farming for 20 years. Quality and provenance provide Chase with its major selling points and its marmalade vodka has become a cult objectof desire among spirits aficionados.

DISTRIBUTOR

Cellar Trends

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£30-£35

ONE VOTER SAYS

It is new and fresh. It is an innovative company, constantly developing its products and marketing.

John Earle, Christopher Piper Wines Ottery St Mary, Devon

2. Grey Goose

Named after the birds that inhabit the Cognac region where it is made, Grey Goose has now been under the ownership of the mighty Bacardi for longer than it spent under the stewardship of Sidney Frank, the US drinks importer which founded it in 1996. Being part of a bigger flock hasn’t prevented the brand from soaring to new heights, with cellar master François Thibault continuing to supervise production of the recipe he created for the launch in 1997.

DISTRIBUTOR

Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£33-£38

ONE VOTER SAYS

Well marketed and a brand people want to be seen drinking.

Andy Walton, Good Wine Shop Chiswick, west London

3. Vestal

This Polish brand rejects the notion that multiple distillations and fancy packaging are the key to making a great vodka, instead seeking quality by capturing the flavour of early-picked potatoes with a single run through the still in small batches. Putting the vintage on the label emphasises Vestal’s changing character from year to year. Its production arguably has more in common with fine wine than its mass- produced white spirit competitors and gives short shrift to the idea that all vodka tastes the same.

DISTRIBUTOR

Vestal Vodka

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£22-£28

ONE VOTER SAYS

It embraces the concept of ‘potato terroir’. Vintage releases prove vodka can have wonderful complexity.

Ivan Dixon, Harvey Nichols

4. Konik’s Tail

The “konik” of the name is a wild horse that hails from the forests of Poland, the sighting of which is said to give the promise of a good grain harvest for the making of great vodka. Founder Pleurat Shabani and cellarmaster Bernadeta Ejsmont prefer to rely on their own skill in combining golden rye, ancient spelt and early winter wheat to create a characterful and complex blend. The koniks on the label represent the three types of grain that go into the mix.

DISTRIBUTOR

Konik’s Tail

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£30-£40

ONE VOTER SAYS

A great-tasting vodka with a seductive, smooth texture. Pleurat Shabani’s story is one of dedication and single-mindedness.

Dawn Davies, Selfridges

5. Black Cow

Dorset dairy farmer Jason Barber has won many admirers in under two years on the market with what he claims to be the world’s first vodka made from the milk of grass-grazed cows. Barber was inspired by a nomadic Siberian tribe which distils vodka from fermented mares’ milk. He came up with a process to do the same in rural England with the whey from the milk produced by his dairy herd. The result is a vodka with a genuine USP that’s becoming famed for its milky smoothness.

DISTRIBUTOR

Black Cow

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£25-£30

ONE VOTER SAYS

Gives us the point of difference from major stores and supports local business at a difficult time.

Adam Vincent, Dike & Son Stalbridge, Dorset

6. Beluga

The top-ranking Russian vodka in our list is made from spring water in the heart of Siberia — but the secret of its point of difference is in a maturation process which adds flavour and smoothness. The main super-premium Noble rests for a mere 30 days but the maturation is extended to 90 days for the top-of-the-range, £100-plus Gold Line, bottles of which come with a hammer and brush to smash off its wax-sealed cork and sweep away any debris.

DISTRIBUTOR

Mangrove

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£35-£40

ONE VOTER SAYS

My choice of Beluga was made because it is a rare spirit and a vodka of high quality.

Jas Bains, Bains Wines, Dudley West Midlands

7. Belvedere

Made in Poland and now French owned, Belvedere made its first global mark in the US market. It was launched there in 1996 and is widely regarded as the first vodka to carve out a niche that has since grown into a canyon filled with super-premium brands. Flavours, spin-offs and limited editions have followed. Among the most recent in the UK is Belvedere Unfiltered, a luxury mark positioned as a vodka for whisky drinkers, which has won widespread acclaim from enthusiasts of both spirits.

DISTRIBUTOR

Moët Hennessy UK

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£25-£35

ONE VOTER SAYS

Along with a creamy, vanilla character, there is a faint white pepper and nuttiness on the palate.

Dominic Lockyer, Fareham Wine Cellars Fareham, Hampshire

8. Babicka

This Czech vodka has a lot in common with absinthe through the combination of thujone — extracted from wormwood — and Moravian corn in the six-step distillation to produce a smooth spirit with a subtle aniseed flavour. Like most good vodkas it comes with a compelling legend and Babicka takes its name from the 16th-century Czech witches who used wormwood to pep up their potions. Many modern-day cocktail fans are turning to Babicka to create magical concoctions of their own.

DISTRIBUTOR

Spirit Cartel

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£26-£32

ONE VOTER SAYS

The richness of flavour and smoothness of texture makes it an ideal sipping vodka with a taste that develops and changes.

Will Baber, Tasting Room, Bath

9. Mamont

Water drawn through volcanic rock, top-grade wheat and filtration through birch charcoal combine to produce this pure and smooth Russian vodka. But what really stands out about Mamont is its curved bottle – and, like most design quirks in the vodka world, there’s a good reason for it. The swish look represents the tusks of the mammoths which used to roam the Siberian landscape where Mamont is produced, grazing on the cedar nuts that today give the vodka its ingredient USP.

DISTRIBUTOR

Eaux de Vie

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£28-£33

ONE VOTER SAYS

Mamont epitomises what is great about Siberian vodka. Its smooth texture supports its delicate flavours.

Theo Sloot, The Oxford Wine Company

10. Crystal Head

This Canadian vodka has a one-of-a-kind pack design by artist John Alexander, based on 13 mysterious crystal heads discovered by archaeologists in locations from the US to Tibet, which date back 5,000 to 35,000 years. The heads are thought to have spiritual power, as are the 500-million-year- old diamonds through which the vodka is filtered. These selling points are reinforced by a dash of Hollywood: the vodka was founded by actor Dan Aykroyd and was the official vodka of the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary.

DISTRIBUTOR

Bibendum Wine

TYPICAL PRICE RANGE

£40-£50

ONE VOTER SAYS

One of the purest vodkas. With Dan Aykroyd heading the company, what’s not to like?

James Baker, Nickolls & Perks Stourbridge

WHAT WE DID

We polled some 120 buyers, independents, writers and bloggers to find their favourite vodkas based on quality and image. They were asked for a top three with a points value given for each place, then we added up the points. Votes were received for 30 vodkas in all. In addition to the top 10 there were (listed alphabetically): 42 Below, Broken Shed, Cape North, Cîroc, Cold River, Chopin, Dębowa, Five, Grasovka, Hangar One, Kauffman, Ketel One, Legend of Kremlin, Luksusowa, Russian Standard, Sacred, Snow Leopard, Snow Queen, Stolichnaya, Żubrówka.




Bookmark this


Site Search

COMMENT

Donald Trump: the US has much to learn from history

The reasons Donald Trump should not be left in charge of a shopping trolley, let alone the keys to the White House, are plentiful and well-documented – from his use of the word “bigly” and lamentable business legacy to his dubious post-modern feminist principles, quite astonishing lack of political acumen and, most worrying of all, his bewildering hair. 

Click for more »
Upcoming events

Polls

Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know

Facebook

Twitter