Part 3 of Andrew’s ‘Man Cave Poison’ series explores Chopin Vodka, a handmade polish vodka distilled from potatoes, rye and wheat.
What does vodka mean to you?
Russia? Old ladies sipping it along with tonic while they lament about their husbands? Maybe single ladies in New York sipping Cosmos while they try to imitate a HBO TV series?
Vodka is supposed to be flavorless and scentless, right? Like an aspirin, colorless and always reliable to take your pains away? Well I argue different. The only thing I want flavorless and hollow in my life is water and that’s it. So why would I even bother drinking a vodka that has no flavor, no character, no life in it? Now I’m not naming names when it comes to the negative category, it’s just not really worth the time, but I will talk about those interesting vodkas that I do think are worth the time.
Vodka really is a catch-all word for a clear alcohol of a varied mash origin that has been watered down to a certain proof point for immediate bottling, packaging and safe consumption. Now different ingredients and mashes are what make up country and cultural differences but the baseline is that a clear alcohol is made, distilled a couple of times and filtered for purity. If you want, you can believe all of this is the noble pursuit of a hangover-less booze that’ll help you out the morning after a heavy night but, in reality, all of that distilling and filtering is a clever marketing tool so they can charge you a bit more for a basic product.
So what the hell is a vodka distiller supposed to do? You’ve seen some go the chain restaurant route: take a basic vodka, add unnatural flavors to them, tell you to mix it with juices and syrups and, bingo!, good times to be had! And an awful hangover afterwards, surely. Or you’ve seen the super premium vodkas that guarantee you that well dressed people drink this vodka because it makes them sexy and dashing and charismatic as all hell.
But I don’t care about any of that; I want a drink that’ll taste good, make me forget about my day and interest me enough to order another. Marketing-wise, this is the oldest game businesses have tried to play to: get an old rummy to order another. Chopin Vodka is actually pretty good about this. Now I’m an odd man when it comes to any hootch but especially with vodka. I love the idea of testing out a boring liquor and waiting to be surprised and Chopin vodka actually came in. Distilled from three different types of old fashioned grains, these vodkas are actually interesting. Potato vodka is an oddity these days, especially because most vodkas are made from wheat, corn or other cast-off grains. While it is the traditional Russian and Polish vodka makin’s, potato adds a certain solidity and wholeness to the liquor. When you drink it you can feel it, so to speak, like a solid smoky Scotch or a pure sugar cane rum.
Their wheat vodka has a liveliness to it, like you want to make a simple cocktail from it. Toss this around with some vermouth and you’ve got their CEO cocktail. Maybe a little lemon juice and simple syrup and you’ve got a Summer Delight in your hands. The wheat vodka, which is only made with yeast during the mashing process and filtered water thereafter, as are the others, is simple, easy and pure, just how I like about anything.
The Rye vodka is my favorite but only because I like any liquor made with rye. Rye whiskey is always spicy, jumpy and ever present and this rye vodka is the same. I’ll sip the potato vodka on the rocks, mix up the wheat vodka with some simple ingredients but the rye whiskey is a loud drinking buddy who tells the stories about you that you don’t want out told out loud, the advice you wouldn’t normally share or the pickup lines you hate but work. Rye vodka is a bitter old man who has bite to his bark and doesn’t give a crap if you like it or not and I liked it a hell of a lot.
Vodka is a squeaky clean knife that is designed to slip between your ribs and hit you where it hurts. If I ask anyone what the characteristics of vodka are, they’ll most likely tell me that you aren’t supposed to taste, smell or even care about the vodka but what the mixers are. If you want to get sloshed without tasting anything, go for it. Who am I to stop you? But if you want an actually interesting liquor to bounce around, give a shot to a vodka that actually has some character to it.
As I always say, you never know what you’ll like if you don’t try.