Most folks will not pay too much attention to their brand of Vodka. Since most Vodkas are intentionally distilled to be as neutral-tasting as possible, there really isn’t that much difference between one Vodka and the next, especially when Vodka is just one ingredient in a highball or cocktail.
I was an unrepentant Vodka man in the days of my callow youth, knocking back highball after highball of no-name bar vodka, with the taste entirely overpowered by the sweet mixers that are so often the ruination of foolish youth.
In the fullness of time, as my palate grew in sophistication, I left behind the sugary highball mixers, and started drinking my vodka with just a splash of soda water, or sometimes just over ice in a rocks glass.
In the waning days of the last millennium, I had completed the journey from the bargain basement vodkas automatically dispensed from a bartender’s highball gun, to an aficionado of the Eastern European Vodkas of renown.
Most vodka snobs start off with Russian Vodkas, beginning with Smirnoff, then moving on to Stolichnaya, eventually ending up with Moskovskaya or Russian Standard.
Ever the contrarian in the days of my callow youth, I waxed poetic on the joys of Polish Vodkas over their Russian counterparts, a love affair that continues to this very day.
Indeed, historical accounts differ, with both Russia and Poland claiming to be the birthplace of Vodka way back in the 9th century, and both countries still accounting for a majority of the world’s vodka consumption.
My favourite Polish Vodka is Luksusova, made exclusively from potatoes, and from the original recipe from its creation in 1928. While this Vodka was once the spirit of peasants and serfs, it has since become the tipple of Kings and Commoners alike.
There is a long-standing belief that all vodka is made from potatoes, but vodka can actually be any distilled from any one of a number of grains or plants, most commonly sugar beets, corn, or wheat.
While potatoes were the most readily available source for the homemade vodka of Eastern European peasants in centuries past, modern agricultural and distilling techniques have made wheat and similar grains the feed stock for 98% of the vodka produced today.
Indeed, we have our own domestic vodka industry right here in Alberta, with none of the distillers choosing potatoes as their base material.
While Alberta has long been home to large commercial distilleries, we are experiencing a renaissance in small craft distillers, and a vodka is usually the first spirit launched from a new distillery.
Readers will recall stories of Eau Claire Distilling gracing this very page, operating out of a former movie theatre in Turner Valley. Their Three Point Vodka is made from locally grown malting barley, which should not be surprising, as their first Master Distiller was formerly the Brewmaster from Calgary-based Big Rock Beer.
A little closer to home, Burwood Distillery opened their doors in Northeast Calgary in June of this year. With a single premium vodka as their only product, it should surprise no one to learn that they also use locally grown Alberta barley as the malting base.
Burwood Distillery uses a unique yeast to add some fruity esters during the fermentation process, adding a complex finish to their Vodka, making for a great martini!
If you are heading west to Banff, be sure to visit Park Distillery, right on the main street downtown, for either a distillery tour, dinner in the attached restaurant, or just to take a bottle home for later.
Rather than using the more typical locally grown barley, Park Distillery uses a unique grain called triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye. This grain lends a smooth and buttery finish to the vodka, which has proven popular with the Banff locals and tourists alike.
Our fair province now boasts close to twenty craft distilleries, with the vast majority creating vodkas from the holy trifecta of locally grown barley, wheat, and rye grains, with nary a potato in sight.
Instead of picking up another mass-market vodka from a far-off land, ask your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant to point you at a locally produced craft vodka from Alberta, and taste the difference that our quality local grains and fresh mountain water will make!