The Vodka Report - Vodka goes vintage

She says: “Master distiller Mark Kauffman was very clever to use the concept of vintage as a marketing tool for vodka. It provides a sense of history and perspective.” 

Kauffman changed distilleries a couple of times before selling, but it now has a new home. Made in Moscow, Roust plans to release the latest vintage, from 2012, later this year. 

“People like a sense of place,” Petrakova says. “Everyone talks about single-estate because there’s a perception of provenance that people enjoy. Take Zubrówka for example – the grass is sourced from Białowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site where bison still roam. 

“Vodka is 60% water. At Russian Standard they use lake water from St Petersburg, which has the softest lake water in Europe, apparently.” 

Tattie toffs

Another vodka embracing the notion of single-estate and provenance is the Swedish wheat Absolut and, by association, the Swedish potato vodka, Karlsson’s. Although the terms single-field and single-estate are loosely defined, their meaning is at risk of being diluted by bigger distillers misappropriating the words to give more commercial brands a sense of story. That said, Absolut Elyx is able to boast: “From seed to bottle, everything is done within a 15-mile radius of the distillery.”

With the launch of Karlsson’s, the tradition of producing potato vodka in Sweden was somewhat revived. In 2001 a group of local potato farmers formed a cooperative to help their businesses survive among the growing demand to put the land to use for leisure and tourism. 

One local resident had been prominent in the launch of Absolut and he recruited his former colleague, Börje Karlsson, to the task. Karlsson’s master blender was interested in how the variety of potato would affect the taste, as well as the significance of terroir. 

In 2008 they launched their first single-variety vintage, using Gammel Svensk Röd (old Swedish red) which, by all accounts had the best flavour of all the varieties that year and is left unfiltered to make the most of the natural flavour.

Distillation around the Karlsson’s site has been on and off since 1518. While Karlsson’s may have put Swedish potato vodka back on the map, distribution of the non-vintage Gold blend is predominantly in the US. It can be found in NYC’s Soho House, Smyth Hotel and Mario Batali’s new place, Babo. 

London is a different story. According to the manager of one London members’ club, there may still be a bottle of Karlsson’s Gold rolling around the till area over at The Red Church by Brick Lane. Heads up. Karlsson’s is just not forthcoming in London – it took a meeting with the brand ambassador to procure a sample of the 2009. This vintage uses at least 17lb of Solist potatoes per bottle and is described as rich and floral.

Karlsson’s is now a part of the portfolio of Berry Bros & Rudd Spirits, which is very comfortable with the notion of vintage as an expression of time. Karlsson’s produces a vintage almost every year, but has not launched any since the 2009, which was released in 2012/2013. But there is talk of a 2012 Princess vintage which may be released later this year.”