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‘Vodka is not an anonymous ABV to stick in a cocktail’

“Vodka is not an anonymous ABV to stick in a cocktail,” stated Belvedere’s Claire Smith-Warner at a launch in London this week.

Belvedere’s new Single Estate Rye Series comprises two vodkas: Smogóry Forest, which comes from the lush, forested, far western part of Poland; and Lake Bartężek, which hails from northern Poland’s much colder Mazury lake district close to the Baltic

Smith-Warner, who is head of spirits education for Belvedere brand owner Moët Hennessy, made the comment at the global release on 4 September of two new Belvedere vodkas, which have been created to reflect the character of rye grown in different parts of Poland.

Called the Single Estate Rye Series, the vodkas celebrate vodka’s distinctiveness, as opposed to its anonymity, according to Smith-Warner.

While both spirits are made using Dankowskie Diamond Rye, one called Smogóry Forest comes from the lush, forested, far western part of Poland, while the other, named Lake Bartężek, hails from northern Poland’s much colder Mazury lake district close to the Baltic.

To better show the differences between these two new vodkas, neither has been charcoal filtered, and with their launch Belvedere is ceasing production of its ‘Unfiltered’ range extension.

While the Belvedere Smogóry Forest has notes of soy, vanilla, coffee and toasted rye bread, the same brand’s Lake Bartężek has flavours of freshly cut grass, grapefruit and an oily texture.

Smith-Warner said that scientific analysis backed up the differences detected through tasting the vodkas, with Smogóry Forest having a higher concentration of Maillard reaction volatiles – which give the roasted, toasty characters – while Lake Bartężek contains more lipids, which produce an oily sensation, along with more esters and higher alcohols that bring grassy aromas.

As previously reported by the drinks business, she said that the influence of climate and soil on the raw material for making vodka, and in turn the character of the spirit, was bringing the notion of terroir – most commonly associated with wine – to vodka.

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Belvedere launched the new single estate vodkas within a railway arch in Hoxton, which had been turned into a fern and moss-covered space to reflect the lush forests of Poland

Speaking further about vodka terroir at the launch event, which saw a railway arch in Hoxton turned into a fern and moss-covered space, she said, “Vodka is anything but anonymous; we have created a vodka that is distinctive, that tastes of the place it comes from, and, without realising it, we were talking about terroir, which is amplified by rye, as opposed to something more neutral such as wheat or corn.”

However, with some frustration she said that, in the US – the largest market for premium spirits – the definition for vodka is “an anti-definition: it states that if a spirit is without taste or personality, it is vodka.”

Looking back over vodka’s recent history, she recorded the impact of the Lehman brothers collapse, and subsequent global financial crisis, on the white spirit.

“Vodka had an identity crisis after the 2008 recession which was in no small part due to the financial crisis, because it made the consumer look for comfort, and this spawned the era of hyper-synthetic flavours such as whipped cream and cotton candy,” she said.

Continuing, she remarked, “It was as though I had had a nightmare about terrible flavours of vodka and woken up and found that they were all on the shelves… and I was under pressure to do something similar [at Belvedere].”

Then she said, “Because we only use fresh ingredients, I couldn’t imagine putting confected materials into our maceration tanks, so, rather than chasing the hyper-synthetic flavour bandwagon, we pushed flavour forward using our raw ingredient, rye, not something created in a lab and added to our vodka.”

As a result, she said that Belvedere’s new Single Estate Rye Series showed the character and provenance of vodka made using rye grown under a protected GI, which was granted to Poland by the EU in 2013.

Summing up, she stated, “Terroir is not just a notional concept for vodka, it can help us create something distinctive and of its place.”

As a result, she said that she had a “genuine excitement for the future of vodka.”

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