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Spirits: Vodka: Don’t Let The Transparency Fool You

June 8, 2010 By: Robert Plotkin Night Club and Bar Magazine


Vodkas comprise nearly 30 percent of all distilled spirits sold in the United States. To say that we’ve developed a taste for vodka would be an obvious understatement, yet it underscores an important point about the spirit. Most of the bestselling vodkas do indeed have easily perceptible flavors and aromas. The top-shelf brands are lushly textured and eminently drinkable, far from being without character and personality.

However, as is true with most high-ticket items, premium and super-premium spirits don’t sell themselves. Vodkas included. Without a marketing strategy in place, you risk realizing a low return on investment on what should be a vibrant and dynamic aspect of your business.

To help avoid that, here are a few vodka tidbits to pass on to your staff.

VARIETAL STATUS — Like other noble spirits, premium vodkas are products of their homelands and environments and need to be marketed as such. High-end vodkas are now being made in nearly every country, quite possibly within easy driving distance of your establishment. Stressing the concept of terrior will greatly enhance the distinction between each particular brand.

WATER OF LIFE — The character of the water used in a vodka’s production — such as spring water, artesian water, peat-filtered water or water sourced from glacial lakes — is a significant point of differentiation between brands. An 80-proof spirit contains 60 percent water. All things being equal, the better the water, the better the resulting spirit. It, too, is something that needs be mentioned when recommending a vodka.

VODKA PROFILING — Equally important is what the vodka is distilled from, e.g. corn, potato, rye or winter wheat. Each will produce a distinctively different spirit. Most neutral vodkas are distilled from corn, which yields the most alcohol per bushel. The most expensive and technically challenging starch to distill into vodka are potatoes. But when done well it’s a treat for the senses, with characteristically oily textured bodies and vegetal bouquets. Rye vodkas are prized for their spicy, tangy flavors, and those distilled from wheat typically have delectably sweet notes on the finish.

TECHNIQUE MATTERS — The staff should also stress how a vodka is distilled. Most are made in continuous stills, but a growing number of brands are crafted in small batch alembic stills. For instance, American micro-distilled vodkas — such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Cold River, Square One, Blue Ice and Vermont Gold — constitute some of the fastest-growing brands in the industry largely because of their unparalleled quality and craftsmanship.

SERVICE TIP — Serving vodka straight from the freezer is often portrayed as the method preferred by enthusiasts and aficionados. Well perhaps, but the colder a spirit is, the less there is to appreciate about its character. Even mediocre vodkas make passable tipples when served icy cold. Instead, store premium vodkas in the cooler and serve them in chilled glassware. It’s the best of both worlds.


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