Gregory Alonzo: Is Corn Vodka Unaged Whiskey?
Due to all the interest from our readers, we decided to conduct a tasting with corn based vodkas. Who would have thought that finding this style of spirit in Europe would be such a difficult task.
My living room table had been set and everything was ready to go, with the exception of a most important addition. If you guessed my long time friend and fellow sommelier, Elena Boiko, you are absolutely correct.
Not to worry, Elena is always fashionably late. Just then my doorbell rang. Right on time. Exactly ten minutes passed the hour.
“Zahodte, come in,” I greeted her with a kiss on each cheek.
“Grisha,” Elena’s eyes sparkled softly. “What is it that amuses you?”
“I was just commenting on how you are always exactly ten minutes late.”
“My dear Grisha,” she flashed me a quick wink. “Anything under ten minutes would be unseemly and not all fashionable. Over ten minutes would just be rude.”
“Touche,” I took her coat and motioned her to the living room.
“Wherever did you find so many different types of corn vodka?” As she surveyed the setting, the look on Elena’s face was one of great surprise. “The other day when we went shopping we found only one brand.”
“I called a couple of friends at the US and Canadian embassies,” I paused lightly. “I had to trade some of my Polish vodka.
“On a completely different note,” she paused on the moment. “We should inform our readers that corn vodka is not unaged whiskey.”
“Precisely. Different stills are often used in the making of each spirit, and with a completely different objective in mind, “ I paused to collect my thoughts. “There are also much different standards when it comes to distilling whiskey. If anything, corn vodka is a type of moonshine.”
“Dobrey, let’s drink,” Elena said in anticipation.
Our first selection hails from Newfoundland, Canada. Iceberg proudly boasts that they have come up with the wold’s purest vodka. The distillers have come up with a truly unique vodka by actually using the water from icebergs. Each spring the company harvests tons of ice from the region’s famous “Iceberg Alley.” Iceberg has literally put a new twist on claiming the purity of the waters used in their spirits. To add to the vodka’s allure, only the best Ontario sweet corn is used in the triple distilling of Iceberg. The alcohol content is 40% with a price of $25.
“I found Iceberg to be a bit harsh and without definite character,” Elena nodded in finality.
“Definitely not distinctive and lacking in flavor,” I paused for effect. “There is also more burn on the finish than I find acceptable.”
“Perhaps if they had tried something like at Reyka,” Elena paused to collect her thoughts. “A final filtration over lava rock.”
“Lava rock?” I flashed Elena a broad smile. “Our next vodka did just that.”
Nude Vodka is quite vogue in the States these days. It is out of Bend, Oregon. Nude Spirits uses only the finest Oregon corn, spring water from the Cascade Mountains, and has been distilled five times. A key difference with Nude, is an attempt to create a vodka with its own distinctive flavor. This is done with a final filtration through volcanic rock. The result is a smooth tasting and elegant vodka for even the most discerning of palates. It is 40% alcohol with a price tag of $30.
“I agree,” Elena was pleasantly surprised. “It definitely has its own character and much more flavorful than I would have thought. I especially like the mineral quality.”
“Yes, I like the mouth feel to this well-rounded vodka.” I gave Elena a nod of approval. “I think it is the filtration through the crushed volcanic rock that makes the difference. Definitely a vodka worth sipping.”
“I also like the finish,” Elena moistened her lips. “Quite smooth with almost no burn. I think that Nude would also make an excellent martini.”
Our next selection was another fashionable vodka from the States. Prairie Organic is handcrafted from certified organic yellow corn grown from a co-op of 900 Minnesota farmers. The distillers pride themselves on a spirit that is smooth, practically flavorless with a finish to match. It is 40% alcohol with a price tag of $25.
“I think you are a bit too generous,” I shook my head in disagreement. “I found the aroma lightly medicinal, just enough to agitate me. On the palate, I found it to be somewhat bland though I do agree that the finish was smooth and with no aftertaste. Overall, I think this vodka is just too clean.”
“Perhaps a dirty martini would liven things up,” Elena chuckled under her breath.
Our last selection was another premium vodka from Canada. Pur Ultra Premium Vodka is made entirely in Quebec. It is distilled from the finest sweet corn from the province, glacier water, and the traditional charcoal filtration to achieve maximum purity. The result is a clean, polished spirit. The alcohol content is 40% and the price tag is $40.
“I picked up faint aromas of spicy custard pastry and honey,” Elena’s eyes crinkled softly. “However, there was a hint of juniper that was enough to distract me.”
“Grisha, I think distillers who have a preference for corn vodka are pursuing a different end than what we purists prefer,” she said flatly.”
“I agree whole-heartedly. Their objective seems to be a spirit that is clean, smooth, almost tasteless, and with almost no burn,” I shrugged shoulders. “I would guess the emphasis is on creating the ultimate spirit for cocktails.”
“Most Ukrainians are traditionalist,” Elena smiled with amusement. “If there is no burn, it is not vodka.”
“What do you say to cleansing our palates with a big bowl of borsch?”
“’Panas Restaurant!” Elena was quick to share her excitement. “You know I love this Restaurant. What ever made you think of Panas?”
“Well, it is only across the street,” I muttered to myself. But Borsch at Panas, that my friends is a different story …”