The majority of vodka category growth in 2014 was in the imported segment and smaller, boutique brands. These brands are providing retailers and consumers alike the opportunity to hunt for the next hot new vodka.
Sifting through the mass of new brand names and conflicting claims can be daunting. In an attempt to shallow out the learning curve, here is a roster of the best and brightest of the new brands.
The tiny country of Slovakia is located on the southern border of Poland. It is there that you’ll find the picturesque city of Stará L’ubovna and the world’s oldest preserved distillery. Evidence suggests that it was producing a grain-based distillate similar in description to vodka as far back as 650 years ago. Now Master Distiller Ján Krak of the Gas-Familia Distillery is relying on a recipe discovered in the distillery as the inspiration behind the world-class spirit, Goral Vodka Master.
The brand is crafted using late-harvest Durum wheat and mineral-enriched water sourced from underground springs high in the Tetra Mountains. The mash is then distilled in Gas-Familia’s sophisticated 7-column still and rendered essentially pure with micro-filtration. Says Krak, “I have dedicated my entire life to perfecting the distillation process and producing the smoothest, cleanest and most timeless tasting vodka possible. I think in this vodka I’ve created that.”
Global giant Absolut has released super-premium Absolut Elyx, a luxurious vodka handcrafted in an antique, copper column still from single-estate wheat and pure glacier spring water, all sourced within a 15-mile radius of the distillery. Priced around three-times as much as the base Absolut brand, Elyx is classically structured and a genuine treat to sip neat or with a slight chill. The end result is an 84.6 proof gem with a clean, dry nose, a spicy palate and a long crisp finish.
“The vodka is particularly difficult and painstaking to produce. To then dump cranberry juice or flavored energy drink on top of Elyx rather misses the point,” says Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Absolut Elyx.
Bombora is a wildly popular brand of vodka from Australia. It’s made from locally grown red and white grapes and artisanal spring water. The fermented mash is then column distilled numerous times and bottled at 80 proof.
“After eight years of development and building up sales in Australia, we’re looking forward to expanding internationally. As for the continuing popularity of vodkas, we’re not seeing any evidence of a category slow down,” says founder and CEO Dave Freyder. “Demand for Bombora and other quality vodkas is still very high. I think the key is to work with premium ingredients and to market to consumers who care about what they are eating and drinking.”
If you’re looking for vodka guaranteed to grab consumers’ attention, then look no further than English import Black Death Vodka. The most striking thing about the brand is not its name, or the grinning skull on its label, but how good it is.
Black Death is produced at the Burlington Bottling Company in Witham, Essex. It is made from premium sugar beets and spring water drawn from deep underground aquifers. While more challenging to distill than grain or potatoes, sugar beets yield an exceptionally clean, character-laden alcohol. The vodka is triple-distilled in pot stills and vigorously filtered through charcoal.
In the final analysis, the real measure of a spirit’s greatness is taste. Here again Black Death comes out on top. The vodka raises little heat on the palate as it delivers the lingering flavors of citrus, cacao and vanilla. Great vodka in an eye-catching package equates to brisk sales.
One of the most respected brands of Danish spirits is re-entering the American market: Danzka Vodka. Marketed in brushed aluminum containers, Danzka is made in Copenhagen by the Waldemar Behn family, a leading German producer. The vodka is distilled from 100% wheat in the facility’s state-of-the-art, six-column still. After distillation, the vodka is filtered three times in huge columns of activated charcoal. It is rendered to proof using pure, de-mineralized water and bottled at 40% ABV.
Danzka is an excellent vodka, especially considering its modest price. It has a medium-weight body and a prominent bouquet of tangerines and grapefruits. The vodka rolls over the palate and fills the mouth with warmth, then gradually fades into a pleasant finish.