Is a Vodka Renaissance underway?
Learn about how to taste the new wave of premium vodkas on the market today.
What Makes Premium Vodkas Different from standard vodka?Vodka has really increased in popularity over the last year with more and more people searching for premium vodka brands. According to this year's Mintel report, ‘vodka remains the biggest contributor…adding £400 million to the market in 2021’, it was also noted that gin volume sales are beginning to falter, giving weight to the idea that a new vodka revolution is just around the corner.
In today’s spirits industry, it can be difficult to know what makes a premium vodka different from a standard vodka. What is clear to us is that the marketing of a product can skew a vodka drinker's opinion, before even tasting the product itself! In this blog, we take you through the best way to sample a vodka, the things to look out for and what makes a premium vodka different from other brands.
How to taste vodka?Many of you might have been on a whisky tour or a wine tour, sampling many difficult kinds of products. However, when it comes to tasting a clean white spirit like vodka - there are a couple things that you need to look out for.
Use a glass that is deep and bowl shaped in order for the aromas to be released and collected in the bowl. Very slowly swirl the spirit in the glass, and about a centimetre away from the top of the glass take a small inhalation through your nose. With vodka, it is important that the lingering aromas of the white spirit are very subtle and nuanced. Clean aromas signify that the distillation process has been done very precisely, collecting only the best alcohols known as the ‘hearts’ of the distillation run. If there are any smells that are extremely pungent or not particularly pleasant it would indicate that a process of ‘smearing’ has occurred during distillation. This means that some unwanted alcohols have been collected during the run, reducing the quality of the product.
When tasting the product, swirl it in your mouth for a little bit. Many customers fear they will not like that initial taste of the vodka due to preconceived ideas. However, if you drink your vodka very quickly, it does not give your tongue enough time to feel the texture or to release the flavours of the spirit.
Most white spirits are around 40% abv. Therefore be careful of spirits that are higher in spirit content, these will have a distinctive heat to them when you taste, and may alter your perception when you taste them. A 43% abv product will be noticeably hotter.
So what do we mean by texture? The marks of a quality vodka are; smooth, a long finish and creamy. That is how we define a quality vodka. However, this can drastically change depending on what the vodka is made from. Grain-based vodkas tend to fit into this category well, whereas potato-based vodkas can be a little thicker and oily, while rye-based vodkas might have a little heat to them.
This is probably one of the most debated topics within the spirits industry. EU Regulations do not specify whether vodka should be flavourless, however many believe that it should be. Flavour can be impacted by a number of different factors, and the smell of the product will give you a good indication of the flavour.
We firmly believe that vodka has its own unique taste and character depending on how it is distilled, the source of base material, type of grain and also how it is finished. At Tayport we finish off by charcoal filtering and this adds a further step in refining the spirit. Charcoal is porous and as the vodka passes through it is possible for ‘esters’ of the white spirit that are not wanted to become trapped. Some producers claim to use diamonds but if we think about that, it is one of the hardest known to man so hard to see how it works other than being a good marketing tool to claim premium.
Similar to the texture of the product, different sources for the vodka will give different flavours. For example, grain-based vodkas are more likely to produce baked and sweeter notes than a potato based one. We would encourage you to sample different types of vodka made from different sources, and see for yourself how they taste.*
Traditionally, vodka is crystal clear with no colouring or tints. Some distillers like to add sugar to their vodka, you can tell if a vodka has added sugar when you swirl it in the glass the ‘legs’ (the liquid that falls on the side of the glass) slowly fall back into the bowl and are thicker, and there are more of them. If you would like more detail on ‘legs’ in wine or high alcohol spirits, Wine Folly have a fantastic article.
Temperature is an interesting topic in regards to spirits. Many people are already familiar that red wine should be kept out of the fridge and slightly warm vs white wine being kept cool. But does it really make a difference when tasting spirits?
Some tasting judges believe that, yes it does make a considerable difference and some also believe that vodkas are sometimes chilled to mute the ‘off’ aromas of a vodka that has been produced poorly. As we have already mentioned, vodkas that have quite a distinctive smell indicate that smearing of cuts has happened, producing quite distinctive smells and flavours. These smells and flavours can be particularly off-putting when creating a spirit like vodka which is considered to be clean and flavourless.
At Tayport Distillery, we have grown to believe that to determine a quality vodka from a poorly produced one, you need to consider everything in this article to make an informed opinion.
Try our Malt Barley Vodka!
Tayport Distillery do not add sugar to their vodka, as this is usually done to help with the taste. The reason we do not add sugar to our spirit is because we really like the flavour we have extracted from our malt barley base. It already has a subtle sweetness and to add a faked sweetness would defeat the purpose of tasting the nuanced malt barley.
(*Please drink responsibly, anyone drinking or purchasing alcohol should be over 18 and should not consume more than 14 units in a week.)