What is it about vodka?
It’s the best-selling liquor in the U.S. by volume and the spirit of choice for everyone from Bloody Mary sipping brunchers to shot-downing bros. But here’s the thing: I never quite understood vodka’s appeal. Unlike whisky and rum, vodka isn’t finished in barrels to age and mellow and take on complexity. Botanicals aren’t added to impart flavor and character, like with gin. Vodka is referred to as a neutral spirit. Neutral meaning, without any distinctive color, aroma, character or taste.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Vodka has lots of flavor. It’s in apple martinis and cosmopolitans and sea breezes and kamikazes and sex on the beaches! Exactly. Vodka is the shape shifter of spirits. It’s the syrups, juices and mixers that are combined with vodka in these drinks that do all the heavy lifting in terms of flavor. The vodka provides the boozy buzz. Unless you’re doing shots, you’re probably not tasting vodka. And if you are doing shots, odds are you’re downing them ice cold. You get the alcohol burn and that heat at the finish, but not a ton of actual flavor. Which is also why we live in a world where cookie dough, pumpkin pie and whipped cream flavored vodka is allowed to exist, as brands attempt to distinguish themselves and appeal to potential customers by creating these Franken-vodkas designed to taste like anything but an alcoholic beverage.
The race to see which brand could produce the most flavors-nobody-asked-for vodkas on one side, gave rise to the ultra-premium market on the other. Ultra premium vodkas boast about how and how many times they’re distilled (34 times in the case of Purity Vodka), and what materials are used to filter it—why use pedestrian traditional charcoal when you can use diamonds, as does Crystal Head? Some brands, like Absolut Elyx tout their single-estate sourced grain. Clean, pure, and artisanal are the buzzwords associated with the ultra premiums. Add to those words—costly, pricey, expensive. Purity, Crystal Head and Absolut Elyx will set you back in the neighborhood of $50.
And then there’s elit by Stolichnaya, which bills itself as an ultra-luxury vodka.
Made from single-source grain? Check.
Filtered and purified via an elaborate system utilizing quartz sand, charcoal, gravity and freezing temperatures? Check
The result is a vodka that’s so silky you can sip it…at room temperature. It’s dangerously smooth. This is a vodka made to be savored unhurried, neat or with minimal accompaniment. At $60 a bottle it probably won’t become your go-to but it’s a good call when you want to step up your game for a night.
Following the release of elit, Stoli decided to go the ultra-luxury class a step further. Their elit Pristine Water Series vodka is crafted on the principle that the water used can have a huge impact on the resulting flavor. The company trumpets the fact that each of the three limited-edition varieties is made with waters sourced for its exceptional clarity and purity from such locales as the Himalayan mountains, the Blue Spring in New Zealand and Colico Lake in Chile.
The folks at Stoli claim that these different water sources produce noticeably different final products. My side-eye was set to maximum as I walked into the penthouse of New York’s NoMad Hotel recently for a tasting of the entire line. That was until I sampled each—the Himalayan, New Zealand and newly-released Andean editions—neat and at room temperature, and, well, I’ll be damned. The Himalayan had the faint aroma of orange and other citrus, with subtle floral notes. The taste was sweet, with none of the burn associated with vodka. The New Zealand was lighter, slightly sweeter, with hints of vanilla at the start and a soft peppery finish. The Andean edition smells faintly of lemon and verbena, with a feather light taste of honey and vanilla, and is the sweeter of the three.
All three expressions meant to be savored… slowly…while contemplating whether or not your husband Sam could have killed Lila and why your former sidepiece Nate won’t stay out of your business because at $3K a bottle you have to be an Annalise Keating-level baller to be sipping on this.
Have a go-to vodka? Let us know in the comments section.