Vodka Tasting at The Whisky Exchange
I don’t like vodka, it’s dull. I do however like a challenge, and so when I received an invitation from the very lovely Mr Billy ‘Cowfish’ Abbott of Billy’s Booze Blog fame to attend a vodka tasting at The Whisky Exchange, I figured I would give the category one more shot at convincing me as to its worth. I should perhaps clarify that my ‘issue’ with vodka is a result of my love of flavour. Whilst I would not be so daft as to claim vodka is flavourless, it just doesn’t have the concentration of flavour that other spirit categories can deliver. With so many amazing spirits to choose from, I never quite see the point of opting for vodka. Except perhaps when one is indulging in a spot of caviar, but even then Champagne sits far more comfortably on my palate.
The evening was presented by Pleurat Shabani who has launched his own brand Konik’s Tail after working in the industry for over 15 years. His dedication to his product was clear as he explained how he had been turned down for a loan by over 250 banks, and spent several months living in a tent in fields in order to taste the grains at different times of the day. It is always good to come across someone who is not afraid to speak their mind, and Pleurat certainly fell into that category. His distaste for the big brands and their spurious marketing techniques was refreshing, albeit a little amnesic of the contribution to the spirits industry as a whole they have made. Multiple distillations, absurd filtration techniques and the dominance of the on-trade market all received negative press from Pleurat, but did at least highlight the importance of judging a spirit by its quality rather than its marketing and PR.
The spirit tasting itself consisted of six different vodka’s;
Sweet and creamy on the nose, but with a slightly ‘burny’ spice edge to it as well. The sweetness and creaminess continue on the palate to such an extent that one might question the level of added sugar. The spice also makes an appearance in the form of a touch of throat burn which does not fit at all well with the circa £70 price tag.
A very distinctive aroma reminiscent of farmyards with diesel, manure, apples and straw all popping in at one stage or another. The palate is softer than the aroma would have led you to expect, and altogether quite starchy as a result of the potato base. There are however some pleasing floral and buttery elements which prevent it from becoming too heavy. There is a touch of pepper on the finish but this only serves to add complexity to this delicious spirit. Perhaps not what one would expect from a vodka and it will not appeal to all, but I applaud its character and can certainly see it working well in cocktails.
On the nose you could be forgiven for thinking this was a blanco tequila such is the dominance of vegetal aromas spiked with a hint of petrol. One sip, and I have had to retract my assertion that vodka is dull. If ever there was a vodka to convince me of the categories worth, this is it. A huge character and depth of flavour that makes me check whether this is the oak-aged version. It is not. A whole lot of skill has gone into getting the very best out of the wheat, barley and oat base, resulting in a vodka that delivers on every level. The oats come through clearly and mix well with the hints of smoke and vanilla to create a long-lasting and silky smooth spirit.
A creamy but uninspiring nose leads to a smooth and clean-tasting palate with the merest hint of pepper that fades quickly. Considering the retail price, this is a good value vodka that is of decent quality. It does however only serve to reinforce my newly modified view that most vodkas are dull!
The rye base to this vodka is apparent immediately on the spicy nose which lacks the intense creamy aromas prominent in many of the others. Considering all the marketing blurb that accompanies, this is a little thin on the palate with a reasonably smooth, but narrow flavour profile that I find myself concluding tastes a little ‘unclean’. Certainly not one to change my mind on vodka.
A little watery on the nose with whiffs of citrus and chlorine. The palate is much more engaging and altogether more complex as a result of the spelt, rye and early winter wheat base. Some distinct savoury notes come from the spelt, and a touch of earthy butterscotch add some interest to allow it to claim third place behind Adnams and Chase in my ratings for the evening. Served in a Kangaroo (vodka Martini for those who don’t wish to use the correct name) it is totally dominated by the lemon twist and illustrates perfectly why I don’t drink vodka cocktails, most vodkas just don’t stand up to other strong flavours.
Although I can’t say the evening totally changed my mind on the vodka category, it is nice to see some brands developing spirits that challenge my prejudices. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that the Whisky Exchange are rather good at organising tastings. They regularly hold tastings of all manner of spirits, and I am told that spaces sell out fast. If you want to sign up to their newsletter to be notified of future tastings, you can do so here.