Review – Vestal Vodka
With the use of barrel-ageing, addition of botanicals and other methods to alter the flavour of the spirit produced by distillation, it is all too easy to forget the impact that the raw ingredient from which it is produced can have. Nowhere is a study of the effect of the raw ingredients more achievable than with vodka, and yet so many producers opt for a product that removes as much of this character as possible. Fortunately, this is not always the case.
Named after Vesta, the Greek goddess of health and purity, the vodka’s from Vestal aims to redress the balance of the mass-produced and largely tasteless vodka’s. Producing a rye vodka designed for mixing, they also specialise in regional potato-based vodka’s that highlight the individuality of the climate, soil, weather, variety and so on that come together to produce the final vodka. Such is their dedication to showcasing the individuality, the potato vodkas are also released as vintages, highlighting the fact that no two years will be the same. Unusually, the potato vodka’s are also single-distilled, and the rye only double distilled to retain as much character as possible.
Vestal Rye Vodka
Neat: Much creamier than the nose leads you two expect, and the earthy notes are bold upfront before mellowing to allow the delightful rye spice to come forward on the palate. An excellent mouthfeel and just the rich balance of smoothness and character.
Mixing: This vodka achieves a wonderful balance between the clean flavour profile many vodka recipes call for and which makes it very versatile, with the delivery of enough character to stand out as an ingredient and please enthusiasts. The earthy and spicy notes make it an excellent choice in drinks such as the Milano where the herbal notes of the vermouth really complement the vodka. There are few vodka cocktails however where this would not be a solid choice.
Signature Cocktail – Polish Affair
50ml Vestal Rye, 20ml Frais de Bois, 50ml pineapple juice, 50ml pink grapefruit juice, 10ml passion fruit sugar syrup, dash Peychaud bitters
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Kaszebe Potato Vodka
(2011 Vintage) Someone has turned the volume down! Similar aromas of creamed potato, elderflower and pear drops are present, but in a softer and more restrained way. The faintest whiff of smoke is detectable in the background together with some earthier and altogether more vegetal aromas than the intensely floral 2010 vintage.
Neat: (2010 Vintage) A more delicate palate than the nose suggests but still with plenty of enchanting flavour. Creamy potato upfront, followed by tropical fruits, apple and more of the pear drops from the nose before moving into a pleasantly contrasting peppery finish that dries to leave a lingering earthy finish.
(2011 Vintage) The softer profile evident on the nose continues on the palate which is significantly less intense on the floral notes. These high notes are replaced with a more savoury and peppery element which is almost biscuity in character. Overall the feeling is of a vodka that is more restrained than its older sibling but perhaps better for it.
Mixing: There is plenty going on with this vodka to make it an interesting choice for mixing. This is certainly no ‘neutral’ tasting vodka and, whilst the palate remains nicely clean and fresh, it likes to assert itself in most situations. Whilst remaining versatile, it is particularly successful partnered with floral ingredients such as in the Twinkle in which it adds a delightful nutty note that complements the other ingredients rather than dominates. Fruity concoctions such as the classic Cosmopolitan are less successful and result in a bit of a jarring of flavours, but then that will teach you for drinking Cosmo’s! The signature Kaszebe cocktail (recipe below) highlights the ability of this vodka to be partnered with some bold ingredients and yet achieve perfect harmony. All in all this is an excellent vodka that offers an abundance of character too rarely seen in this spirit category.
Signature Cocktail – The Kaszebe Cocktail
50ml Vestal Kaszebe, 15ml Calvados, 10ml lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup, 2.5ml Creme de Violette, 3ml grenadine, half an egg white
Shake ingredients first without ice, then with and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Vestal Podlasie Vodka
Nose: (2010 Vintage)An extraordinary nose of ripe pear, papaya, banana and guava is amongst the most characterful of any vodka I have tried.
(2011 Vintage) Although there remain just enough tropical fruit aromas to keep a link with the 2010 vintage, there are nonetheless some significant differences with this vintage. In particular it is a whole lot nuttier, and much like was seen with the 2011 Kaszebe, distinctly savoury. Pleasingly, the aromatic qualities that are Vestal’s house style remain present.
Neat: (2010 Vintage) A slowly building palate of sweet tropical fruit offers one of the most flavourful profiles of any vodka. Black pepper joins in at the mid palate along with the crispness of baked potato skins to balance and contrast with the smooth, creamy fore notes. The finish is a combination of all and lasts seemingly forever. An exceptional vodka of the highest calibre.
(2011 Vintage) This vintage continues the pattern already seen by moving further into a more earthy, creamy and altogether softer character. The mouthfeel is touch more oily and again there is a hint of spice that reminds you of its rye-based sister spirit. Some might conclude this is a less excitingly-flavoured vodka but it is most definitely more approachable and the differences between vintages offer a fascinating opportunity to explore a rarely exploited feature of vodka production.
Mixing: The flavours are somehow both more prominent and better integrated with each other in the Podlasie compared with the Kaszebe, and the result is that it performs even better in the cocktail department. Again, going long and fruity is not playing to this vodka’s strengths which are in its bold flavour profile. This is not to say it is not versatile, but that its partner ingredients must either be minimal in volume, or bold enough to stand side by side with this bold spirit. The signature ‘Nuts About Vestal’ recipe below) shows that this can be a fun ingredient however, although for me the ultimate serve is in a Bloody Mary. I rarely advocate the drinking of a Kangaroo but this is one vodka that makes for a worthy alternative to gin. Other traditionally gin-based cocktails such as the Last Word or Martinez are also worth exploring for some fascinating twists on classic cocktails that would usually never work with vodka. This exceptional vodka won’t appeal to the vodka drinker who lies their spirit to pass down the gullet unnoticed, but it will most certainly please anyone who likes a bit of flavour to their drink!
Signature Cocktail – Nuts About Vestal
40ml Vestal Podlasie, 10ml Frangelico, 20ml apple juice, 10ml lemon juice, 12.5ml orgeat
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
The range of vodka’s from Vestal are amongst the most flavourful and exciting available. They showcase the true art of distillation and will challenge the preconception that vodka is a neutral-adting spirit. Every spirit enthusiast will want to own these.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.