Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On vodka

I now know of three people who are involved in the ever-expanding luxury vodka industry. One works at Diageo, an empire of alcohol whose vodka products include Smirnoff and Ciroc. His house is never dry, though it comes close when I am there. Another is an old friend from New Jersey who invested in a fledgling company a few years back and from what he tells me, the numbers already look good. The brand is called Americana Vodka and if you consider yourself a patriot, you'll buy it! Not that it is available everywhere. Yet. But up in the tri-state area it is certainly in stock. Just look for the handsome angular bottle with hues of red and blue. The cap is actually a cork. And the flavor... well, it is vodka after all so there really shouldn't be a taste or smell. But it is extremely smooth and does have a clean finish. Try making a vodka martini with it or mix in some club soda and a twist of lime. No, I do not get any kickbacks for supporting Americana Vodka. I'm just doing my job. As a patriot.

If you cannot get a handle of Americana, be on the look out for another fine brand known as Koval. The website has not yet gone live but the distillery site is here. At the moment, Koval is a husband and wife team. Robert Birnecker left his job at the Austrian embassy and his wife left her tenured teaching position to move back to Chicago and devote themselves fully to the operation. Ultimately they plan on distilling not only vodka but fruit brandies and other liqueurs. Since the age of 16, Robert has been interested in distilling, watching his grandfather at work back in Austria. That sort of professional craftsmanship he is now carrying over to Chicago. The potstills are imported from Germany.

You're probably thinking there couldn't be a more perilous time for such ventures. After all, isn't there already a glut in this market (think Grey Goose, Ketel, Belvedere, Chopin, Imperia, Stoli, Absolut, Smirnoff, Van Gogh, Level One, Hanger, Effen--yes, Effen Vodka--Skyy...)? Robert would argue that with a wealth of expertise and knowledge and just the right amount of careful marketing, there is still room for good vodka. (We both agreed that Svedka has got to be the worst.) He also pointed out a few misnomers. For instance, just because a vodka is super-filtered (Absolut is more filtered than Ketel) does not make it better or more enjoyable.

Robert had recently done extensive taste tests on vodkas (not actually ingesting) and considers--next to Koval--a Polish vodka to be superior. Unfortunately he forgets the name. He used to enjoy Absolut but not as much these days. He is not a fan in the least of Grey Goose. If Koval is not on the shelf, what would he prefer? Ketel One.

They are living the American(a) dream. And I wish them all well. No, I do not expect a case of vodka to come my way. Maybe a bottle? In any event, they at least are doing something they love. Or at least I hope. I asked Robert if his wife (and business partner) likes vodka. He said, "She does now."

9 comments:

Travis said...

You definitely have to try Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. It is made from tea leaves grown on the only tea plantation in the United States. The company is based out of Charleston, SC and in fact it outsold Absolut in South Carolina last month. Whenever it comes up your way give it a try. It's almost worth giving up bourbon.

J. said...

Hello? Vodka is supposed to be tasteless and odorless. It's all marketing. Indeed, in a blind taste test of 21 leading vodkas conducted by the New York Times several years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/dining/26wine.html), Smirnoff came out on top. So much for all those overhyped, expensive brands. Put another way, a vodka by any name would smell, well, the same.

Mark said...

J nailed this one. There is that famous story of an ad agency representative who sat down at a meeting with the executives of a vodka company, and placed two quarters on the conference table. He told them that he was going to explain why one quarter was better than the other quarter, and won the account.

J. said...

Great story, Mark. Have to remember that.

Jeff008 said...

Hey Matus,

Since I live in Chicago I thought it would be fun to stop by the Koval distillery, but the link you provide is not working!

- Jeff

Jacob said...

Great link, J (written by Isaac Asimov's nephew for extra geek cred).

Victorino Matus said...

Sorry about that broken link. The website for the distilling company is www.kothe-distilling.com.

They recently held a workshop on distilling, having placed an ad in a trade paper. Thirty people showed up from all over the country, all of them starting their own distilling operations. We may think there's a glut for something flavorless and odorless (at my wedding we did in fact serve Smirnoff and everyone was happy) but it hasn't scared off these people.

Boatswain said...

Try Tito's Vodka- made in Austin, TX- I think it is delicious

Anonymous said...

I tried Americana Vodka, hands down smoothest I've ever had, and MADE IN AMERICA!! This country better wake up and start buying American products!!! SS