Around the World with Vodka Shots
As an avid beer-sloshing, wine drinking, brown liquor imbibing mid-twentysomething, I've for the most part given up on vodka as of late. Sure, I've found one or two brands that are crisp improvements over those Mickeys that I used to grab in university, but unless there's clear reason to pick up some of the clear liquor, I’ve stayed away.
That is, until I took a jaunt with a friend over to Pravda Vodka Bar on Wellington Street to re-introduce the oft harsh booze into my drinking diet. After six vodkas from as many countries, and a crash course in nuanced tasting from our bartender Odelia, I may be about ready to start ordering vodkas neat...but only maybe.
There were a host of vodkas we tested. Tito's from Texas, a small batch corn vodka that is six times distilled in copper pots. “It's rumoured to be aged in oak barrels, which gives it extra depth...I can't confirm that though,” Odelia points out. Next was Vikingfjord from Norway, a potato vodka that's smooth with no burn. Effen (which means purity) from the Netherlands has a distinctly “Western European” flavour, in that there's a cleanness not found in most from Eastern Europe.
From here we moved on to AkVinta, a Croatian entry made from Italian wheat that's filtered through five natural elements. It has a stone/mineral taste that's prominent in vodkas from this region. Zubrowka from Poland was the one infused vodka we tried, and unlike flavoured vodkas, the taste is much more natural, the sweetgrass added as an ingredient giving the spirit licorice and vanilla notes. (Side note from Odelia: “There's a buffalo on the label because legend has it sweetgrass was an aphrodisiac for the animal.”)
Of course, no tasting would be complete without Russian Standard, whose recipe was founded by chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, the same fellow behind the Periodic Table of the Elements. Aside from being a staple in its own right, Russian Standard is also apparently the only vodka in the world whose label doesn't differ from country to country. As is common with Russian vodkas, there's a definite burn on the throat making for a heartier liquor. (Another side note: “Many vodkas that used to be produced in Russia have had to move production, many now being produced in Latvia – like Stolichnaya – or the States – like Smirnoff.”)
In the Western world, we like our vodkas to be pure, to have little to no flavour or burn. Polish and Russian vodkas are much more warming, their tastes being attracted to a more heavy spirit. The progression from Western to Eastern produced vodkas showcase an interesting array of palatable differences. From pure and mild tasting to peppery and harsh, each region has a preference and range that is often overlooked.
The only way to really experience the nuances of this spirit is with a guided tasting, because side-by-side, all the unique qualities really stand out. So, it is with a heavy heart that I suggest a difficult task: Head to a vodka bar, or grab a selection of bottles from your local liquor store, and taste your way around the world. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it...
Pravda Vodka Bar , 44 Wellington Street East