Vodka is one of the most versatile spirits in the world. Often used as an alcoholic source in a range of mixers, and the base for cocktails, the range of high-end products means that there is a growing trend to drink Vodka neat or with ice.
James Bond really bought it to the fore with his own mix of vodka Martini - three measures of gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, thin slice of lemon peel – making it a lot less ‘comrade-y’ than it had been for decades before. Vodka, it seems was stymied by its own lack of a distinctive taste, but that is actually its ultimate strength, and for the first time, it is likely to overtake whisky as Britain’s favourite spirit.
How did this come about? The main reason is that, unlike many other spirits, vodka can be distilled to an ultimate smoothness and then have subtle flavours added. It can also be made with alcohol derived from many different sources, each of which can impart their own imprint on the final product. It’s the spirit drinker friend and fast becoming the cosmopolitan choice of tipple in decent company. And vodka producers are upping their game too. High-end distilleries are now more likely to use the terms vintage and ‘terroir’ to describe a crop, and pitch their products to affluent millennials, and that has led to an eruption in the field of high-end vodkas. Here, we look at some of the best on the market.
Black Cow Vodka. (£20 - £30 for 70cl)
Vodka is fundamentally ethyl alcohol in water and derived from fermented cereal grains or potatoes. Then, along comes the Black Cow distillery from Dorset and upsets the whole game by making it from spare milk farmed from their herd of Frisian cattle. Yup, that’s right – milk! Famed for its hints of vanilla and a spiciness to finish, Black Cow is both smooth and rounded in the mouth, and leaves a slight, but pleasant, hint of coconut. While it started as a highly specialised distillery, the Black Cow vodka is now available through several high-end outlets, including Fortnum & Mason and Morrisons.
FAIR Quinoa Vodka. (£30 - £45 per 70cl)
The mark of a good vodka is its taste, and while the Fair Quinoa Vodka promotes its organic and gluten-free elements, the fact is that it tastes great! Produced from Quinoa, a type of grain grown by the Incas from about the 13th century, it has a cavalcade of tastes ranging from grains and nutty to oily and butter flavour notes. Sipping this vodka reveals its smoothie-silkiness, and it has an incredible mouth-feel, with no harshness about it, and then a gently warming feeling on the back of the throat. FAIR Quinoa vodka is one of those spirits that is so good it’s dangerous!
Arbikie Potato Vodka. (£35 - £45 per 70cl)
Scottish vodka anyone? The rise of vodka has become so huge that even the folk of the Highlands are getting in on it too. Distilled in traditional copper stills and water filtered through the Angus hills, the basis of this luxury vodka is Maris Piper, King Edward and Cultra varieties of potato, grown exclusively on the farm. This is an ultra-smooth and velvety vodka, that has a fresh, sweetness to its initial taste, which is then supported by quite a fruity grape-like kick. If you like a clean yet smooth vodka, Arbikie is one for you.
Beluga Noble. (£30 - £40 per 70cl)
It would be criminal to consider high end vodka’s without including something Russian, and that is where the Beluga brand comes in. While the origin of vodka is claimed by both Russia and Poland, this is a superb example of the formers distilling ability, and makes you kinda think that they are the masters of the brew. This prime example is made with water drawn from the Siberian bedrock, and triple filtered and then allowed to rest for 30 days before being used to create this extraordinary spirit, which is keynoted by subtle flavours of spice and honey.
Kauffman Soft Private Collection Vintage Vodka. (£60 - £75 per 70cl)
Apart from being a magnificent vodka, a special nod has to go to this premium Russian vodka for a memorable bottle, an odd name, and an eye-wincing price. However, this is a vodka that is created in only certain ‘vintage’ years, where the grains that it is distilled from are certified as being the best they can be. To date there have been just four vintages, being 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007. This means that the Kaufmann is pretty exclusive, but is it any good? You bet! It's distilled 14 times before being filtered twice, once through coal and then again through quartz particles to give a fantastically mellow flavour.
Whether you sip your vodka neat or like to add a little flavour to it, there are a growing number of great brands out there, and it is becoming more than the drink to drink – it’s the drink to be seen with too, so, in the spirit of Bond, get stirred by some decent spirits!