Vodka can be distilled from anything, but most often, that “anything” sprouts from the soil, from grain to potatoes to sugar beets. Now, a growing number of vodka producers want consumers to remember those ties by emphasizing terroir and provenance.
Perhaps the most vocal proponent has been Belvedere, who rolled out two Single Estate Rye offerings in 2017. The bottlings spotlight how rye grown in two different region of Poland manifests when distilled into vodka. Tasted side by side, the two show nuanced differences: robust vanilla and spice dominate the warmer-climate Smogóry Forest bottling, while the Lake Bartężek, distilled from rye cultivated on the shores of a glacial lake, is lighter, with a lemon peel and ginger finish.
“Vodka has been thought for so long as an odorless, tasteless spirit,” says Brian Stewart, Belvedere’s national brand ambassador. “And that’s so far from the truth. Vodka has flavor, particularly depending on what you’re distilling with.”
Hangar 1’s Fog Point vodka, distilled from wine made from California grapes, also underscores the nuances terroir can impart. Head Distiller Caley Shoemaker compares two bottlings made two years apart, each distilled from wine produced with fruit from a different California vineyard. Pine Ridge Vineyard’s Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend add a beautifully sweet, floral note to the 2018 bottling, she says.
By comparison, the 2016 expression was distilled from Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Blanc, a blend of Picpoul, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc grapes. To Shoemaker the finished vodka possesses “much deeper floral notes, as well as Asian pear, vanilla and a peppery finish.”
Among other terroir-centric bottlings reviewed this month, consider Source One’s savory, peppery vodka distilled from estate-grown oats and cut with water from the High Sierra snowmelt, and Bēt Vodka, which is made in and around Minnesota from locally grown sugar beets for distinct earthy sweetness.
D. George Benham’s Vodka; 93 points, $27. Made from grapes and a blend of grains (wheat, rye, corn), this smooth vodka is neutral on nose and palate, whispers of grapefruit, almond and charcoal. It slides into a clove-accented finish.
Hangar 1 Fog Point Vodka; 93 points, $134. This limited-edition vodka is “inspired by the Bay Area fog,” the producer says. The base is distilled from a Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend from California’s Pine Ridge Vineyards, then cut with water sourced from Hangar 1’s “fog catchers.” The finished vodka is remarkably silky and layers a distinctly fruity note with earthy unsweetened chocolate, finishing lightly with a dusting of lemon-pepper.
Belvedere Single Estate Rye Vodka Lake Bartezek; 92 points, $38. One of two new bottles introduced to demonstrate the impact of terroir in vodka, this bottling is crisp, light and overall neutral on nose and palate. A vegetal hint on the palate leads into white pepper, ginger and lemon peel on the exhale.
Belvedere Single Estate Rye Vodka Smogory Forest; 92 points, $38. One of two new bottles introduced to demonstrate the impact of terroir in vodka, this bottling has a subtle lemon note in the fragrance, and a creamy vanilla palate that finishes with white and black pepper sparks.
Black Cow Vodka; 91 points, $33. Distilled from whey, this vodka has a faintly earthy aroma and neutral, slightly sweet palate that finishes with a citrusy lilt. It’s more about texture than flavor: markedly plush and rounded, ideal for a head start on White Russians and other creamy cocktails.
Shelta Cavern Spirits Vodka; 91 points, $30. Made from malted barley and wheat, look for distinct fruity notes on nose and palate. It’s not the absolute neutrality some seek in vodka, but it’s still pleasant, light and soft with tinges of coconut and cinnamon heat into the finish.
Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka; 90 points, $30. A small-batch wine country vodka distilled from organic grapes. The faintly fruity aroma channels bubble gum or lychee. Those notes echo on the palate, layered with hints of rosewater, cinnamon and white pepper heat. Sip or mix.
South Fork Vodka; 90 points, $19. This small batch vodka distilled from corn has a distinctly sweet, marshmallow-like aroma. The palate also has a sugary tone, hinting at marshmallow and coconut, finishing brisk. Best Buy.
Bēt Vodka; 89 points, $35. Pronounced “beet,” this vodka is made with Minnesota-grown sugar beets and distilled just over the border in Wisconsin. Expect a slightly sweet aroma and mild, earthy palate with an unusual grippy, drying quality. The brisk finish is slightly fruity and earthy.
Steel Blu Vodka; 89 points, $18. Opening light and citrusy, this corn-based vodka finishes brisk, clean, and slightly peppery. Though the alcohol level is comparable to most vodkas at 80 proof, it somehow feels hotter.
Sourland Mountain Spirits Vodka; 88 points, $24. Billed by the producer as a “farm to fermentation” vodka, look for a neutral aroma and slightly sweet palate that shows fleeting hints of coconut and dried cherry, finishing with white pepper and ginger sparks.
Source One Vodka; 87 points, $34. A single-estate vodka distilled from oats and cut with water from High Sierra snowmelt. Look for earthy, spicy, savory dried-herb notes on nose and palate, reading slightly vegetal. The finish is brisk and peppery, with a mouthwatering saline hint.