Vodka is the No. 1 selling spirit in the nation, and there are plenty of ways to sell it: tell the story of great tradition, highlight its ingredients, talk up the distillation process, sell it as cheap as possible, or just make good, smooth, mixable vodka.
Vodka at its base is a distilled spirit, charcoal-filtered, and meant to be as indiscriminate as possible. In the old days we were always told that vodka is a colorless, flavorless spirit that is used only to mix with fruit juices or in a bloody Mary.
Now, however, we have been re-educated in the mystery of how to make good vodka. There is a huge difference between bad vodkas and good ones — a good one provides a unique experience and can make even the most mundane vodka and orange juice spectacular.
The key to good vodka is the grain used in the beginning mash. Basic distilled grains will come out of the distillation process pretty nasty tasting. During the distillation process you get the ‘heads,” “tails,” and “heart” in the distillate. No one wants the heads or tails — we all want the heart! This is where the real flavors and nuances come into play.
The heart is the purest part of the distilled product. It has all the flavors, the aromas, and all the pleasant flavors that come from distilling. Good liquors come from the heart. True master distillers know when to pull the good parts out and save them for us commoners.
The birthplace of vodka is Poland (the word Vodka comes from voda, “little water” in Polish) and uses potatoes in a big way. Potato vodka is still my favorite. Great potato vodka, like Luksowawa and Chopin, are 100 percent gluten free, distilled to a crystal clear look, and have the creamy mouth feel that I enjoy. Chopin vodka, in a martini glass, with a whiff of dry vermouth and three olives as the garnish, is the perfect cocktail.
As an aside, on Nov. 13, I will be the guest chef at Johnny Mango’s monthly charity cooking show. (Details at ChefMango.com.) Proceeds from the event will go to Syrian refugee relief in the Mediterranean and Europe. Chef Johnny will be teaching us how to make great Polish delicacies, while I will assist in some way. I can’t boil water, but I know how to make a great martini. We will both learn something!
Marketing of vodka is a huge part of the sales process. It is amazing to see new vodkas come on the market. Flavors are a huge part of the market. Brands like Smirnoff, Absolut, and UV have dozens of flavors, and new ones coming all the time. Marshmallow, caramel, salty watermelon, and others are only a sliver of the choices available. Other vodkas strive to create only the best vodka and don’t mess with flavors.
Two newer, true pure vodkas on the market thriving now are Tito’s and Aviv. These two vodkas have taken two different methods to market. TIto’s was started in Austin, Texas, by former oilman and geologist Tito Beveridge — yes that is his actual name. He experimented with his buddies and did hundreds of blind taste tests until he came up the perfect distillation techniques. Small batches in copper tanks give Tito’s a smooth mixable finish that is still very affordable. The packaging is as plain and no-nonsense as the process taken in finding the great flavor.
A small company in Minneapolis, Tzfat Spirits of Israel, brings us Aviv. They have created a unique style of vodka using figs, pomegranates, olives, wheat, barley, grapes and dates. The vodka is good and totally unique — but the marketing and packaging are taking the world by storm. Aviv comes in a unique triangle bottle that has hundareds of secret messages strewn through it. The entire project uses ancient and modern symbolism to create a unique experience and to remind us that we are all interconnected in some way.
At the base, the bottle begins as an irregular triangle and tapers to an equilateral triangle at the top, representing the journey to one’s perfect character. One side of the bottle is slightly curved, which represents the challenges we encounter throughout our lifetime. This is only a small part of the symbolism present throughout the bottle — try it and discover your own journey!
Vodka at its heart is a simple product — but no other product has such a wide variety of uses, tastes and history. It is a true treasure that is deservedly the No. 1 seller. Enjoy in moderation, and cheers!