Flavorful Vodkas

The spirit used to be tasteless, but not anymore – and here’s why
n the not-so-distant past, vodka’s allure rested in its unabashed lack of character. Today, as people demand ever more distinctive experiences, vodka makers seek to satisfy these curious palates. By using soil, water source, and climate to influence their liquid, distillers transform a supposedly grain-neutral spirit into the exact opposite. Like fine wine expressing its terroir, modern vodkas evoke their own sense of place.

“Vodka with terroir is exciting because it embraces the one thing vodka has never been about — flavor,” says Micah Melton, beverage director of the Alinea Group, which operates restaurants such as the triple Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago. These three terroir-driven vodkas transport you to their places of origin with their distinctive flavor profiles.

Belvedere Single Estate Rye 

The Belvedere Single Estate Rye series, launched last June in the U.S. after a U.K. debut at 2017’s London Cocktail Week, introduces two distinct bottlings — one from Lake Bartężek, the other from Smogóry Forest. The Lake Bartężek style produces notes of black pepper, toasted nuts, and cream, resulting from the rye crop being buried under heavy snow for almost three months. The Smogóry Forest rye reflects the temperate climate and clean air, creating a bolder spirit with notes of salted caramel and white pepper. To appreciate the spirits’ complexities, drink them neat or on the rocks.

Details: Lake Bartężek Vodka, 40 percent ABV, $60/1 L; Smogóry Forest Vodka, 40 percent ABV, $45/1 L

More info: belvederevodka.com


Black Cow Vodka

Black Cow co-founder Paul Archard spotlights whey from grass-fed cows to produce the first pure milk vodka. Though launched in the U.K. in 2012, followed by California in 2017, the spirit is just now embarking on distribution across the U.S. Fresh, clean ocean air blows across the West Dorset pasturelands where the cows graze freely in the fields. “Terroir is an interesting concept to apply to Black Cow vodka,” says Archard, “because it relates the sensory attributes of the vodka to the environmental conditions in which the cows are kept and the conditions of the grass they graze.” Black Cow’s whey base contributes a slightly sweet flavor and silky mouthfeel.

Details: 40 percent ABV, $30/750 mL

More info: blackcow.co.uk

Vestal Vodka Pomorze 2015

In 2009, Vestal founder William Borrell presented himself as one of the first to champion terroir. “We see what a winemaker would call a vertical tasting [comparing various years of the same spirit],” he says, “and a complete difference year on year by using different potato varieties grown in different soils.” Unlike many commercial vodkas that distill multiple times, Borrell does so only once so the innate character of the liquid shines through. As such, each bottling displays the year’s vintage, and each vintage varies based on potato variety and where the potatoes are planted. In April, Borrell will release the 2015 vintage, which has been resting in stainless steel since 2016, “giving the liquid a much softer, mercurial, viscous, and all-around sexier feel,” he says.

Details: 40 percent ABV, $40/50 cL. Available online at thedrinkshop.com.

More info: vestalvodka.com


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