I recently spoke with Chopin Vodka founder Tad Dorda to discuss the changing vodka market and the brand’s newest product introductions.
Chopin is a small-batch producer that makes single-ingredient vodkas – potato, wheat and rye. Each bottle contains only three ingredients: potatoes, wheat or rye; yeast and well water. Chopin sources the ingredients locally and distills its vodka four times in a copper still. It’s distilled in Podlasie, Poland, at a century-old distillery.
In addition to the three vodkas, Chopin offers limited distribution of Chopin Single, a single-ingredient, single-distilled craft vodka line. Each Single release represents a different harvest and vintage – for example, 2011 Young Potato, which retains a strong flavor thanks to the single distillation. Each year’s product is affected differently by the weather, soil conditions and harvest time, creating a set of vodkas comparable side-by-side like vintages of wine.
He’s also a leading advocate for legal criteria that would mandate what could be called a vodka based on ingredients and origin, like regulations created for tequila, Champagne, Bourbon or Cognac. He believes that would lead to the creation of higher-quality vodkas and protect the industry from sub-standard producers.
BD: Where does your love of potatoes come from?
TD: I’m passionate about Poland and vodka. My family plants and harvests many of our potatoes by hand, just as my ancestors have done for centuries. There’s a culture of growing potatoes that’s passed down from generation to generation. I inherited that from my parents, and now [my daughter] Alexandra is learning it from me. My entire family likes to be there for the harvest each year – we want to be part of the process.
BD: What is your opinion of the current vodka market?
TD: I want to elevate the discussion about vodka – it doesn’t have to be a tasteless spirit just used for mixing. Mixability is important, but a good vodka shouldn’t be undrinkable straight. Consumer education in vodka is just starting – there’s a long way to go before consumers stop treating vodka like a tasteless commodity and begin to understand subtleties in taste and texture. We need to begin talking intelligently about this spirit.
BD: Did you ever consider adding a flavored vodka when that part of the category was growing exponentially?
TD: The flavored vodka craze did a lot of damage to the category because it distracted from the quality of what’s in the bottle. Chopin offers flavored spirits in European markets – mostly fruit flavors with a long history in those countries – but we’ve never sold a flavored vodka in the U.S. and we never will.
Jeremy Nedelka is editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine.
Pictured atop: Tad Dorda and his daughter Alexandra.