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  1. #21
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    For some time I've been following a company called Shakers which makes vodka in the U.S. This company came out of the team that produced Pete's Wicked Ale which until sale of the brand was a successful, pioneering micro-beer. Shakers is making a splash around the country. Pat Couteaux is the company's distiller and has advanced degrees in distillation science. Pat Couteaux has been interviewed numerous times about his company's product. See e.g. www.cocktailtimes.com, also www.findarticles.com. He states that the grain from which vodka is derived and the mix of grains affects flavour and mouth feel. He classifies flavour as neutral if corn is used, "soft" if wheat is used and spicy if rye is used (he speaks of a "hint" of spice from the rye). He describes in detail the complex distillation process - 6 distillations - used by Shakers to get what it wants in the flavour profile. I am not an expert on vodka, much less chemistry, far from it, but he is focusing on grain source as a differentiator here. On the company's website, www.shakersvodka.com, it is claimed the taste "embodies" the wheat the vodka is made from. It is suggested the further removal of congeners, in two final extractive distillations, allows the wheat character to come through.

    There would appear to be different views of what constitutes a lack of taste. I am not saying I could detect these differences on a blind taste test but then again I rarely drink vodka. I recall having some Stoli recently at a Russian-style restaurant and it struck me as "empty", lacking body and flavour. But then too my regular tipples are some of the most flavourous whiskies made, so it is going from one extreme to another..

    Also, I would note each maker of GNS (as legally defined for proof level of course) establishes its own specification for its brand. There is no national standard which specifies what residual congeners can or cannot be in the ethanol or in what percentage. No doubt distillation to 190 or 192 proof in pratice will remove most congeners that affect flavour - most but not all because otherwise why would some distillers continue to rectify pure alcohol? Shakers' site makes clear that its first four distillations removes the water from the spirit. The last two are intended to remove congeners that (presumably) don't deliver the taste profile the company is looking for. If in fact the "wheat" still influences the final product there must be something in the spirit derived from the wheat that delivers this result - I assume this consists of very small amounts of "good" congeners that help impart the taste desired. I was reading of a vodka made in France and sold in the U.S. - can't recall the name at present - that is distilled from wine. It is sold here as a "vodka" (thus meeting the legal test Chuck has mentioned). The taste notes given indicate a scent of white grapes. Byrn writing in the 1870's noted that no matter how much a grape brandy from lees (kernels and skins of grapes left over from winemaking rehydrated for fermentation) is distilled, it still shows some character from the source material (the typical grappa flavour is what he had in mind). I can only assume that something must remain in the ethanol no matter how prolonged the distillations and filtrations to explain such results.

    Gary

  2. #22

    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Gary, the vodka made from grapes you mentioned is most likely Ciroc ( http://www.cirocvodka.com/ ). Its made from grapes, and distilled 5 times in pot stills. The character of the grapes is evident. I say with confidence that after my first taste of this, I could have picked it out in a blind test. I'm pretty sure I could pick it out, even if I'd never had it before. Its not an overpowering taste, but it is most definitely there. If you've ever had anything distilled from grapes before, you'd recognize this taste. Very good vodka by the way, highly recommended.

    Steve

  3. #23
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Calling a neutral spirit made from grapes "vodka" is as absurd as calling a drink that contains no gin, vodka nor vermouth a martini, just because it's served in a martini glass. Well, counter-intuitive if not absurd. In fact, the rules allow, maybe even require, any neutral spirit made from any material to be called "vodka." That's why the source has to be identified. Normally a spirit made from grapes would be called brandy, but at neutral proof it cannot legally be called brandy and has to be called vodka. As most of you probably have figured out by now, I interpret the current vodka craze as proof that the end times are nigh.

  4. #24
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Chuck, I think the reason that was introduced was to show that the grains (or in this case, grapes) of origin do indeed contribute some character to the beverage. You would intuitively think that after run through multiple high-performance distillations the ethanol shouldn't care where it came from, but actually it does. Water differences alone don't answer for the residual character.

  5. #25
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    There are only four possibilities.

    1) GNS is, in fact, not truly oderless, tasteless, etc. as the law requires, although presumably those are terms of art that have some legal significance, while being actually untrue, and human taste receptors can, in fact, detect residual source flavors in the 3 to 4 percent component of the distillate that is not pure ethanol. (I'm skeptical of this explanation.)

    2) All ethanol is not, in fact, the same so far as taste and scent are concerned and you can taste the source material in something that is virtually pure ethanol. (I'm extremely skeptical of this one.)

    3) It's the water. (My explanation for part of the phenomenon.)

    4) It's cognitive dissonance. (My explanation for the rest.)

  6. #26

    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Human taste buds can detect some substances in the parts per billion to parts per trillion range... TCA, the substance that causes a wine to be "corked" can be detected by some people in concentrations as low as 2 parts per trillion, although most people can't detect much less than 5 ppt. One gram of the stuff could taint a year's worth of Australia's entire wine production. An amount equal to a couple dozen grains of salt could taint an olympic sized swimming pool. Now, hopefully there is no TCA in vodka, but it is by no means the only substance that is detectable in very low concentrations. I have no problem at all believing that enough aromatics make it through the distillation process to influence the taste of the final product. I'd recommend finding a liquor store with a good selection of minis, and conducting a serious tasting of vodkas... but beware of cognitave dissonance, it works both ways

    Steve

  7. #27
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Your points are all well taken. I had reached a similar conclusion. The minis are a good suggestion.

  8. #28
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Chuck--for your tasting, make sure you include Grey Goose. If you're looking for flavors & character which wouldn't be water-related, it has a non-subtle anise taste & finish.

  9. #29
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    There are only four possibilities.

    1) GNS is, in fact, not truly oderless, tasteless, etc. as the law requires, although presumably those are terms of art that have some legal significance, while being actually untrue, and human taste receptors can, in fact, detect residual source flavors in the 3 to 4 percent component of the distillate that is not pure ethanol. (I'm skeptical of this explanation.)
    I'd be a subscriber to explanation #1 here. Again, I'd go back to the grape-origin vodka as a perfect example. If the distillate were absolutely devoid of anything residual, it shouldn't matter where it came from.

    2) All ethanol is not, in fact, the same so far as taste and scent are concerned and you can taste the source material in something that is virtually pure ethanol. (I'm extremely skeptical of this one.)
    I hope you didn't misunderstand my comments as suggesting this...I think this one's absurd.

    3) It's the water. (My explanation for part of the phenomenon.)
    If you soften the language to "part of..." then absolutely! Just not "all of..."

    4) It's cognitive dissonance. (My explanation for the rest.)
    I think this comes into play in just about any written discussion of spirits!

  10. #30
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    I checked my bookmarks and found the wine-derived vodka I mentioned, it is Ciroc Snap Frost Vodka. See www.cirocvodka.com. It is distilled from wine made from grapes frosted over in a snap frost. The frosting concentrates the sugar in the grapes. This is sold in the U.S. now. Paul Pacult reported in 2003 that it was "sweet, ripe, grapey" and had "fruity ripeness". Of course many vodkas can taste fruity (e.g. of pineapple) but Pacult's observations seem to detect, in part at least, the product's grape origins. The company indicates a 5-step distillation process is followed. Although I can't find details, I would think the last two distillations are extractive - designed that is to lower the level of congeners that can survive even intense fractional distillation (e.g. methanol).

    Just to contribute further usefully to this discussion, I want to add that I found a reference stating that the European Union allows a maximum 50 ppm. of methanol in neutral spirits. This is considerably higher than in the other countries that have adopted a national standard. The U.S. and Canada are not (from what I can glean) among these. Producers here of GNS set their own spec (i.e., beyond stated legal requirements related to 190 proof, etc.) and will aim in their best grade for much lower than 50 ppm. Apparently the EU standard is related to the fact that much spirit there is made from grapes or starchy tubers such as potatos (possibly also sugar beet) and these tend when distilled to create more methanol than other fermentables. I wonder if this explains why some Polish vodkas in particular seem more flavorful than most North American vodkas.

    As I have written here before: on the rare occasions I buy vodka I buy the one which advertises the fewest distillations.

    Gary

 

 

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