Two New Vodkas Embrace Terroir, Vintage Variation and Flavor


Vodka’s been unfairly maligned. For seven centuries, it’s served as the perfect vehicle for transmitting alcohol into the system. Well-loved for its neutrality, for its ability to blend in (it is, in fact, officially defined as a “neutral spirit without distinctive character, aroma or taste”), vodka became popular in the US because it was exactly the opposite of whiskey – Smirnoff first promised “no taste, no smell” in the 1930s and thanks to the Bloody Mary, the Moscow Mule and the Cosmopolitan, vodka became a bar staple.

It is just that lack of personality that has caused it to fall out of favor in recent years thanks to the pre-Prohibition era cocktail craze. In fact, you won’t even find it on the list at many snazzy new cocktail joints. But a couple of new products set to hit the shelves of SF this spring are changing the conversation by introducing, you got it, flavor to the equation. And we don’t mean sugary citron or marshmallow syrup. Far from it.

Instead, these producers are staying true to the raw ingredients from which they are distilling. Karlsson’s new Batch 2008, a single-potato-varietal, vintage-dated vodka was described quite literally as “the vodka for whiskey lovers.” It wasn’t that long ago that every gin, tequila and even whiskey was being marketed “for vodka lovers.”

Distilled from the 2008 harvest of the Gammel Svensk Röd ("Old Swedish Red") potato variety, Batch 2008 tastes, well, a lot like potatoes. And we recommend treating it as such. Served up or on the rocks with a sprinkle of freshly cracked pepper or garnished with a garlic-stuffed olive is one preferred method. If you do choose to mix it, proceed with caution. (We tasted it in a sweet, fruity libation and it was not happy at all — you wouldn’t put strawberries on a baked potato, would you?)

Quite the opposite is true for Re:find, a vodka being distilled in Paso Robles from the saignée or runoff during red winemaking. Husband and wife team Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery had been throwing away nearly 1,000 gallons of excess juice (many wineries will make a rosé, but in warm Paso, sugar and PH levels tend to soar past what is acceptable for a fresh, lively rosé), before they decided to get into the distilling game. They received their bond for a 13x13-foot distilling space within the winery in 2010 and Re:find vodka will be available in SF sometime later this month (they also make a gin).

Re:find vodka is sweet, fruity, grapey: Go ahead and get out the muddler, because you can’t go wrong with any kind of  fruit, fizz, crushed ice combination.

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