Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vintage Vodka

"Vintage Vodka" is one of those word combinations you can't help but laugh at the moment you hear it. An oxymoron, no? What spirit is further from expressive whims of the seasons than the hyper-processed vodka? 

Karlsson's, the very serious Swedish vodka producer, however, is not laughing. They consider their experiment in vintage vodkas to be a worthy one. I will admit that there are differences between the 2008 and the 2009, the two vintages that have been released. But you have to pay close attention to notice them, and paying close attention to what they're quaffing is not a quality associated with vodka drinkers. Furthermore, if you chill your vodka, as most do, the differences diminish. And if you mix, as many more do, they are hardly discernible. But, what the hell? Vintage vodka. Why not, if the people want it? (And they seem to. The first vintage is all but sold out.) Particularly if the vodka is of as high a quality at Karlsson's. 

Vintage flavored vodkas, however, is where I am going to draw the line!

Here's my article: 

Vodka That’s No Small Potatoes
Vintages and vodka would seem to be mutually exclusive drinking concepts. Vintages belong to the world of wine, where weather and growing conditions can alter what ends up in the bottle from year to year. Vodka, meanwhile, can be distilled from any number of source materials, anywhere at anytime, and sold almost immediately. Nature’s many variables are not a big factor.
Karlsson’s, a boutique vodka company in Sweden, intends to give these preconceptions a good shake. The company has already earned a reputation for putting out an unusually distinctive vodka, one that tastes markedly of the potatoes from which it’s distilled. Now it has begun releasing “vintage” vodkas, each one distilled from a single potato variety, grown on a particular farm during a single season. No one, to the company’s knowledge, has done this before.
“The idea behind the company from the very beginning was to see if we can say something about what’s inside the bottle rather than what’s outside the bottle,” said Peter Ekelund, who founded Karlsson’s in 2007. “Will a vodka taste different if you pick different types of potatoes in different places?”
The company has built up a “library” of distillates, Mr. Ekelund said, each derived from different potatoes reaped from individual harvests. “We started with 30 different potatoes,” he said. “We found 15 were useless for making vodka.” The others were tested, experimented upon and cataloged. Just as with grapes, the company found that hot or wet weather can create distinct taste characteristics in potatoes.
The 2008 vintage, which sold briskly when it was released this year, used a hearty russet-skinned tuber known as Old Swedish Red, which, Mr. Ekelund said, was popular in Sweden a century ago. The 2009 vintage, to be released in November, was made with the Solist potato, a small, round, yellow specimen. (Both types are used in the seven-potato blend that constitutes the company’s standard vodka, Karlsson’s Gold.)
Jim Meehan, the cocktail authority who owns the East Village bar PDT, had a chance to taste the entire range of Karlsson’s vintage vodkas. “They’ve captured the nuances of each vodka’s terroir and typicity like a great winemaker does,” he said.
Though the variations in taste between the two vintages would probably vanish if either were mixed with tonic or soda, sipped neat they are apparent. The 2008 is earthy and robust, while the 2009 has a softer, more mellow flavor. (The company is rolling out the 2009 only now for reasons unrelated to aging, which has no effect on vodka unless it is barreled.)
Because of limited quantities — the 2009 will be released in an edition of about 1,980 bottles — the vodka does not come cheaply. The 2009 is priced at $80, which is $45 more than Karlsson’s Gold.
Mr. Ekelund hopes the vintage products will convince his countrymen to think more favorably of the lowly spud. “In my country, we have kind of looked down on potatoes as a source of food,” he said. “But it’s in the eye of the beholder.”

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