Episode 028 - The Vodka Episode

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Usually, here on the Modern Bar Cart Podcast, we interview a cocktail or home bartending expert, or we examine certain bartending topics and figure out what tips and tricks we can take from the pros to help you become a more effective home bartender.

But this time, we’ve got a bit more of a journey on our hands—one fraught with controversy, flavor, and more than a little bit of vodka.

Our key questions this episode are:

  • Why does vodka get such a bad rap in the cocktail community?
  • Does vodka have flavor?
  • And what separates a good bottle of vodka from the rest of the herd?

To help answer these questions, I invited a few friends to help guide us on our journey through the allegedly flavorless landscape of this controversial clear spirit.

Our Vodka Investigation Squad

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RB Wolfensberger

RB is the head distiller at Gray Wolf Craft Distilling in St. Michaels, Maryland (part of the Lyon Distilling Company). He's been deeply immersed in making craft single malt vodka for the past few years, and his insights on the distilling process and our cultural expectations about vodka were crucial for this episode.

His Lone Single Malt Vodka is turning heads and converting people into vodka drinkers all over the U.S. You can find a bottle in select liquor stores in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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Jordan Wicker and Alex Luboff

These gents are the hosts of the Speaking Easy Podcast, a cocktail and home bartending audio resource that provides excellent advice and inspiration for budding mixologists.

Alex and Jordan are self-professed vodka skeptics, but they agreed to lend us their palates and give vodka a fair shake by taste testing three different vodkas with Eric and recording their impressions for this episode. By the end, we may not have turned them into vodka drinkers, but I think we learned some interesting things about craft vodka.

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Alla Polyakova

Alla is a former citizen of the Soviet Union. Growing up in Russia in the 1980s before emigrating to the United States, she is our cultural guru, who's here to make sure we don't overlook the social aspects of vodka drinking.

Alla sheds light on the fascinating history of vodka, as well as a host of rituals and traditions that accompany this beloved Russian libation.


The Vodka Tasting

In this episode, Jordan, Alex, and Eric taste through three craft vodkas made with different base grains. Here's what we found:

Reyka Vodka

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Reyka is an Icelandic vodka made with wheat and barley, as well as (allegedly) glacier water. Regardless of how this may impact the polar ice cap, it does give a certail allure to the vodka, which we discuss when we note that the bottle is a slightly bluish hue--like the color of a glacier.

Tasting Notes: Minimally sweet (sucrose), slight alcohol burn, clean finish. Would be imperceptible if chilled.

Hanson of Sonoma

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Hanson of Sonoma produces an organic vodka distilled from grapes, which makes sense, considering that Sonoma is one of the largest grape producing regions in the United States. This bottle was probably the favored sipping vodka of the three that we tasted.

Tasting Notes: Noticeably sweet (fructose), slight plummy flavor on the palate, with a lot of body and almost no alcohol burn on the finish.

VDKA 6100

Hailing from New Zealand, VDKA 6100 is a whey-based vodka. That's right...milk protein. This vodka, although clean and generally agreeable, exhibited more of the traditional alcohol burn and numbing that many people expect from vodka.

Tasting Notes: Abundant alcohol on the nose and palate, clean flavor, some numbing. Of the three we tasted, it has the thinnest body and the harshest finish. On their website, they claim that the flavor "hints at citrus and white pepper," but we admittedly didn't come to the same conclusion.

Creative Commons Attributions

Clips from the following artists were used in this episode, with great gratitude. All music is licensed for commercial use under Creative Commons 4.0.