Tag Archives: vodka

Vodka Conversion

7 Mar

I used to hate vodka. Really. I couldn’t see the point of it.

Its only purpose, in my mind, was as an affordable filler during my university years when it found itself appearing in many a glass of vodka and coke – the sickly sweetness of the latter covering the cheap flavours of the former.

Then I discovered whisky and I gave up on vodka for good, solidifying my taste buds in the “I hate vodka” camp.

Vodka? Absolut-ly not!

But…oh and there’s always a but isn’t there?…last year I discovered something that made my head turn. When I was in Victoria, British Columbia I headed to a little distillery called Victoria Spirits (which I wrote about here). They were making hemp vodka. It was beyond incredible – it had texture, mouthfeel, rich oily flavours; it was something spectacular.

So, I started to become more interested in this previously shunned spirit, though I didn’t come across anything that matched what they were doing at Victoria Spirits.


Until recently when I tried Vestal Vodka.

Vestal is an intriguing vodka with an even better story. Made from potatoes grown on the owner’s farms in Poland, the folks at Vestal are trying to do something a bit different and premium end.

Owner William Borrell strikes a pose

William Borrell – the son in the father/son team at Vestal and also the brother of that slightly famous singer and guitarist from Razorlight – explained to me they are trying to show people that, just like a wine, vodka can be subject to the same idea of “terroir” – or, the fact that produce is subject to varying flavours dependent on the geography, geology and climate of where it’s grown.

When I heard this, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Vodka is such a bland spirit – normally – that I couldn’t imagine it changing all that dramatically just because one potato was grown up north and the other down south.

But oh I do love to be proved wrong.

I was assured by William that both the bottle called Kaszebe (made from potatoes grown in sandy soil in Poland’s north) and the other release called Podlasie (which uses potatoes farmed in eastern Poland and picked before they are fully ripe) were made in all the same ways with the only difference being the potatoes. If so, then, well, I’m a believer. The former was crisp yet creamy, with hints of coffee and cocoa. The latter was all about sticky fresh summer fruits soaked in honey. Both were highly delectable neat and I would avoid any mixers if you get your hands on some.

A farmer plows the potato fields used in Vestal's vodkas.

I also had the chance to try its latest release: the Vestal Amber. Made from elderberry flowers, the liqueur is sweet, bold and biting. It had hints of the scents you get on your hands after picking berries in the wild, was gently drying on the tongue (akin to the sensation you get when you eat something bitter) and bursting with rich flavours.

Vestal is all about using old-fashioned techniques – such as the horse and plow technique you see above – along with imparting 21st century creativity into the mix. William – who, up until recently lived on a barge in London – is highly passionate about his creation and, while it is only a small batch producer right now, I have a feeling that as more people try out the fantastically pleasurable flavours of his vodka, the more that fame is going to increase.

Vestal is available online at: http://www.vestalvodka.com/shop.html, globally through The Drink Shop and through retailers such as Harvey Nichols and Waitrose.

Spirit of Victoria

5 Jul

On my continual quest to find good, unique booze, I recently came across a fantastic little outfit producing some of the best spirits I´ve  tried of late.

Nestled away up a country road on a former vineyard in Saanich, just outside Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, is the small, artisan distillery called Victoria Spirits, which produces Canada’s first premium gin – along with a selection of other products like hemp vodka and orange bitters.

It’s a family affair, with everyone from the mom and step-dad, to the son, daughter and in-laws contributing in their own small way, from marketing and label design to, of course, lots of taste testing.

It all begins in a small workshop with a wood-fired still, made by third generation still makers in Germany.

On the day of mine and my father´s visit, Peter Hunt, the master distiller, was whipping up a batch of hemp vodka. The golden pipes of the still were snaking around a large, copper orb where the various ingredients that comprise each tipple bubble and brew, like a witch’s cauldron on Halloween. Inside the 217 litre pot – which is sealed like a bank vault – were thousands of toasted hemp seeds bobbing around in liquid. It smelled oily, nutty and intoxicating, sure to cast a spell.

It’s a labour-intensive process – because it’s a wood-fired still, the process needs to be controlled throughout the full six hours and wood added every five to 10 minutes to keep the temperatures perfectly balanced. But this is what makes it a grand example of an artisan distillery.

After checking out the ¨lab¨ we headed upstairs to try out the final product. And I wasn´t disappointed.

The signature gin is rich and flavourful, with each of the 10 botanics that it is comprised of (things like orris root, coriander, star anise and, the classic, juniper) working together rather than overpowering. The Oaken Gin – or aged gin, which Hunt jokes is the “gin for whisky drinkers” is distinct, slightly oakey and a far cry from the products a corporate distiller would pump out, while the Left Coast Hemp Vodka is nutty and much fuller than any ordinary vodka, leaving an oily aftertaste that is pleasantly surprising and could easily be drunk on its own over ice.

The company is growing strong, and will soon be in stores across Canada – my only fear…everyone else will find out about it and I won´t  have any to myself!

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