To say we get courted for promotion is an understatement. We got harassed by P.R. whores asking us to talk about their products. Psst! Let me let you in on a little secret: Best way into a New Times writer's heart is to offer free booze. With the economy in the tank, our paycheck not stretching as far as it used to, and working extending hours, we'll take anything that makes us forget our job isn't always the most rewarding.
That's why, when vodka brand Belvedere offered to come in and talk to us about its spirits, we were genuinely excited. For the meeting, Moet Hennessy USA brought its international brand ambassador for Belvedere, Claire Smith, who is a master mixologist and knows more about vodka than your average Russian citizen (which, er, we actually got corrected for assuming vodka was a Russian invention -- but let's not get ahead of ourselves).
This blond British barhead was full of vodka factoids. We actually learned something during our meet-and-greet: Vodka was created in the area we now call Poland. The word vodka actually means "water we love" in Polish, because before the invention of modern plumbing, vodka was cleaner than the water available at the time, so it had plenty of everyday uses. The assumption that vodka should be odorless, tasteless, and neutral is wrong; vodka actually can have a wide variety of colorful notes and be pleasing to the palate. And finally, there are two kinds of vodka -- old world and Western vodka. Old-world vodka tends to be spicier and more flavorful (this is the kind you'll find in Eastern Europe), while Western vodka is milder in taste because of the quadruple distillation process.
But there is no better way to learn about vodka than tasting it. Now, I
was skeptical. I had done wine, rum, and whiskey tastings, but vodka?
Mix it with soda or cranberry juice and I'm happy. But in this Pepsi
challenge-style tasting, Smith placed in front of those of us who
decided to participate six cups of unidentified vodka. The first three
were actually different brands of vodka. Smith asked us to smell
and taste each one. Here is a recap of the unanimous descriptions we
had for each vodka (the brand names were not revealed to us until we had
tasted and commented on all three):
Cup #1: Grey Goose
was pretty bad, almost unbearable. Words used to describe the smell
were "rubbing alcohol," "hair spray," and "nail polish remover." The taste
wasn't any better. Although it was more pleasing than the smell, the
vodka fell flat on the palate -- no taste or feeling except for the
mild burning sensation as it made its way down the esophagus.
You are pretty much getting robbed if you actually purchase a bottle of
this stuff. Smirnoff might actually be better if you ask me, or at
least a cheaper alternative. You are definitely paying for the brand,
Cup # 2: Ciroc
I learned long ago never
to trust any brands unqualified spokespeople are pushing (i.e. P.
Diddy). While the taste was definitely better than Grey Goose, the fruity flavor was a bit overwhelming, making it a little too sweet for
my taste. Smith said some don't even consider Ciroc a vodka since it's
actually made from grapes.
Verdict: Some of us sitting in actually enjoyed the taste (me, not so much).
Cup #3: Belvedere
smelling the vodka, sweet notes could be made out. While the smell of
alcohol was there, it definitely wasn't nearly as overwhelming as the
first cup. When sipped, it actually tasted pleasant. Going down, it
provided an inner warmth instead of that heartburn feeling.
Verdict: Everyone either chose this cup as his favorite or was torn between this one and Ciroc.
other three cups were samplings of Belvedere's other flavor choices,
which are flavored with natural ingredients, not artificially. Cytrus
had wonderful notes of lemon and lime, while Pomarancza blended orange and mandarin flavors. But the real reason for this
gathering was to introduce us to their newest ultra-premium vodka, Belvedere IX
(pronounced "One-X"). According to Smith, the vodka is made for the
nightlife and is flavored to remind you of that. Guanara, ginger, ginseng,
jasmine, cinnamon leaf, sweet almond, eucalyptus, black cherry, and acai
juice concentrate are the nine natural flavors that make up this
spirits robust flavor. Yes, the flavor is intense but not overwhelming.
Drinking it completely changed my way of thinking about vodka being
flavorless. It was something I could easily see myself drinking
straight on the rocks, though I would probably need to take it easy
considering it's 100 proof.
If you want to get your hands on a
bottle, the brand has so far only been introduce in New York, Los
Angeles, and Miami within the United States and is available in Miami (for