Gregory Alonzo: Luxury Vodkas from Russia

The Metropol is easily Moscow’s most exclusive Pre-Revolution hotel. Exuding all the luxury and opulence one would expect from such a glorious Art Nouveau palace, the Metropol, is undoubtedly the city’s most elegant and historic. To add to the Metropol’s allure,  it is opposite of the Bolshoi Theater, and only a few minutes walk to the Kremlin and Red Square. This historical landmark was erected in 1903 and after the Bolshevik’s took power in 1917, the Metropol served as the home for senior Party officials.

Boasting superb original Art Nouveau interior’s, the hotel’s cozy Shalyapin Bar is a favorite with Moscow’s celebrities. Today I am joined by fellow sommelier, and long-time friend, Nadia Gromova.

“Nadia,” I gently patted her hand. “I must admit that I am very excited with today’s tasting.”

Nadia’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “Grisha, I especially enjoy drinking luxury vodkas with you. Before we begin, I think you should explain to our readers how we Russians drink vodka.”

Traditionally, Russians always drink their vodka straight, well chilled, and never with ice. Another absolute must, vodka must be downed in one gulp … no sipping allowed. Russians always chase their vodka with something to eat. Preferably pickles, a clove of garlic, marinated herring, or even a slice of lard. Connoisseurs believe it is best to neutralize vodka’s power by sniffing a slice of the rich brown bread, ubiquitous at Russian meals. Today, it is quite popular to enjoy caviar with vodka. When it comes to etiquette, never drink until someone proposes a toast. If you are in a hurry, propose the toast yourself. Anything is apropos. Keep in mind that the art of drinking vodka in this fashion comes with pacing. Myself, I prefer to drink vodka at room temperature. If you must have it cold, chill the glass. Putting vodka in the freezer is primarily done to mask inferior brands. Most people consider vodka to be a neutral spirit. On the contrary, superior and luxury vodkas are distilled with flavor and uniqueness in mind. There is nothing neutral in the taste of a quality vodka.

“Maladiets, well done,” Nadia nodded in approval. “I have also ordered one of your favorite caviars, from the northern Caspian Sea.”

I flashed Nadia a wide beaming smile. “You know your Grisha only too well.

Our first section was from one of the more popular distillers in Russia. Beluga Gold stands out from the competition beginning with its unique ingredients.

Hyaline artesian water from the springs in Siberia, malt extract, rice extract, and rhodiola rosea extract. and you thought vodka was only made from potatoes.

“Oh stop it,” Nadia playfully teased. “This is serious.”

“Indeed it is,” I quickly refilled our glasses. “Budem zdorovy, Let’s stay healthy.”

No one in Russia says “Na zdorovje” as a drinking cheer. This is incredibly a widespread myth. It does mean “To your health,” but this is only used as a response to “Spasiba, thank you.” Furthermore, there is no universal drinking cheer in the Russian language, however paradoxical that may seem.

“Grisha, you truly have a Russian soul,” Nadia gave me a more than amused grin.

“I think it is more of a penchant for vodka,” I chuckled softly.

”Touche,” Nadia paused to collect her thoughts.

“I find most interesting in the Beluga Gold is the rest period.”

“Rest period?” I queried.

“Few vodkas, “ Nadia began. “Enjoy any sort of rest period. This distiller insists on a 90-day rest period so the spirit can meld together.”

“I must admit, the result is worth the wait and the price, $150 per bottle.

Our Beluga Gold has a warming, almost caressing to the nose feel,” Nadia clearly displayed her pleasure.

“I also like that it is smooth, full-bodied, clean and crisp,” I paused on the moment. “ I also enjoy its flavors as they continue to evolve on the palate.”

Our next vodka was equally as interesting, Kauffman Luxury Vintage. Mark Kauffman produces his vodka exclusively from the finest wheat of a single harvest. He believes there is enough of a variation in each year’s crop to justify producing vodka in superior years. Arguably, this distiller produces the world’s only vintage vodka. It is distilled fourteen times in an attempt to produce the absolute smoothest vodka. In his continuing efforts to produce perfection without compromise, Mr. Kauffman also filters his vodka through birch wood, coal, and quartz sand creating a most uniquely flavorful vodka.

“I definitely like the texture of Kauffman’s,” Nadia paused to enjoy her vodka. “And the flavor is unmistakable.”

“I concur,” I paused to collect my thoughts.” And at $225 per bottle, I won’t forget Kauffman’s Luxury Vintage.

“Knowing our next selection is your favorite of our Russian vodkas, I saved for last,” Nadia’s tone was filled with anticipation.

“Rodnik!” I beamed excitedly.

“Yes,” Nadia smiled softly. “I managed to get us a bottle of the Aristocrat.”

Rodnik is one of the oldest surviving Russian distilleries. Located Samara, it has been in production since 1895. Long hailed as Russia’s premier distillery, Rodnik has excelled in its production of quality vodkas and liqueurs. Our Rodnik Aristocrat is the company’s flagship vodka. The Aristocrat has a most unique quality of both strength and softness. This in part is due to using only the finest ingredients, the purest artesian waters of Samara, and only the most exceptional wheat. Rodnik also prides itself on utilizing progressive ways to distill vodka and liqueurs. A malt alcohol is also added. The compound consists of an alcohol tincture of wheat bread loaves. This gives our vodka a pronounced “bread taste.” A complex food additive is also included. The complex contains natural carbohydrates and vitamins which adds to the softness of taste and decreases the toxic impact of alcohol on the human body. The result is one of the finest vodkas produced in Russia. A vodka of unsurpassed quality and flavor.
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“I must admit, Rodnik is a most distinctive vodka,” Nadia paused lightly. The pronounced  wheat flavor on the palate makes a lovely pairing with the Beluga Caviar.”

“This is one that I wish we could share with my friend, Eve,” I chuckled under my breath.

“Why is that?” Nadia was more than amused. “Because it is $300 per bottle?”

“No,” I chuckled under my breath. “Eve would appreciate that Rodnik decreases the toxic impact of alcohol on the body.”

We erupted euphorically.

“Nadia,” I called for her attention. “Are you ready for a banya? a traditional Russian sauna bath.”

“Davai, let’s go.”

“But that my friends is another story …”