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Sunday
Jun122011

Inside the Mind of a Vodka Drinker 

From the research journal of D. Driscoll:

Any serious reseacher should attempt to understand his subject through examination, experimentation, and, if possible, real-life participation.  Like the psychologist who enrolls himself in an asylum or the journalist who embeds himself in the battlefield, I have decided to put both my mental stability (which is already questionable) and physical well-being in harm's way in an attempt to understand what makes the vodka drinker tick.  I am doing this neither for personal glory, nor for any petty pageantry, but rather as a serious scientific study. 

My intial research began sometime ago while tasting with a reputable vodka producer.  This vodka, which will remain unnamed to protect the integrity of this report, uses several species of potatoes to create its spirit and each group of potatoes is fermented and distilled separately, then blended together at the final stage.  On this occasion the producer had sourced isolated samples of vodka from each species of vodka to create a tasting that would highlight the flavors of each one.  Never had I witnessed such an attempt to create a singular flavor with vodka, a spirit that is generally heralded for its absense of flavor, and I was utterly fascinated, to say the least.  However, after tasting each one individually and struggling to take notes, I came to the conclusion that I could not tell a single one of these potato vodkas apart from the next.  I was discouraged, but at the same time energized, knowing that I had some serious work to do if I was going to understand this mysterious spirit.

A few weeks after completing the potato vodka experiment, I threw myself into countless samples of vodka from numerous producers and foundations.  Wheat vodkas, rye vodkas, brandy-based vodkas, sugar cane vodkas, and anything else I could get my hands on.  Some were distilled twice, while others were distilled as many as seven times - each process rendering the spirit more neutral.  After more than a month of serious examination, I had determined only that some vodkas were better than others, but had yet to ascertain just what made them so.  It was neither the flavor nor the lack of flavor and it rarely had anything to do with texture.  Certain vodkas did standout due to their clean profile and pure finish, with no trace of alcohol or burn despite being half-composed of ethenol.  I assumed that this was the goal of a fine vodka, but it wasn't until I tasted the Potocki vodka from Poland that everything clicked in (for more information on that examination please view footnotes 14.1 or consult the scientifically-minded KLS Journal 6.9.11)

The Potocki tasting would forever change the way that I understood vodka and would propel me into a series of personal experimentation from which I wasn't sure if I would wholly emerge.  Nevertheless, this past evening, I decided that for the sake of research and for the understanding of future generations, I would attend a private function where alcohol would be served and imbibe nothing but glasses of vodka with some ice for hours at a time.  My intent in putting myself under such strained circumstances would serve my study in proving two possible hypotheses: 1) over-indulgence should help in understanding the difference between intoxicated states based on traditional methods (i.e. beer, whiskey, wine) and that based on flavorless hyperdistillation 2) perhaps the side effects of such an onslaught (i.e. headache, vomiting, nausea) could also effect personal preference for vodka over traditional methods.

Upon arrival at the testing grounds, I made sure to appear unassuming and perused all of the options available for the evening.  Although I knew exactly what I would be drinking, I wanted to make the experimental conditions as relaxed and authentic as possible.  Throughout the course of the night I consumed nearly seven glasses of straight vodka with some ice.  The flavors were minute, but with each sip I seemed to enjoy it more.  I found myself no longer thinking or focusing on flavor, but rather simply enjoyed myself and my evening.  By midnight I should have been thoroughly intoxicated, but my mind and body were still going strong - what could have been causing this strange phenomenon?  By previous measures of traditional methods, I should have been either passed out or babbling in the corner, but I was able to walk out of the confines completely in sound mind.  Could it be that the vodka drinker is attracted to his subject based not necessarily on flavor, but on the consequent state of intoxication and its allowance for increased enjoyment of stimuli?  Hypothesis number one achieved.

After returning home I purposely put myself to bed on the couch as a safeguard against any possible drunken behavior that could seriously anger my female counterpart.  However, there seemed to be no need as I settled down and proceeded to fall asleep within seconds.  Only at one point in the night did I wake up and at that time I was quite dehydrated, but more than able to fetch some water to quell the thirst.  At 8:30 AM I finally awoke from a slumber with a minor headache, but no apparent nausea or other common side effects of traditional methods.  Some aspirin and some water quickly soothed the trouble and I was able to ingest some toast and engage in morning conversation with my female counterpart before heading to work.  Currently, I am standing in the lab and typing this report with little notice of any ill effects from the previous evening other than general apathy. Hypothesis two seems to be proven and should become more clear after studying the results of further research and self-experimentation.

Could it be that the cleaner the spirit (i.e. the more it is distilled) the more focused and clear the intoxicated state?  Could a cleaner spirit also therefore result in more mild side effects from intoxication?  Could this mean that the mind of a vodka drinker is a mind more engaged on enjoying itself and the other pleasures of life, rather than focusing obsessively on flavor and authenticity?  The only way to answer these questions is through further testing.  After cleansing my body today with constant dosages of water, I plan to continue my experimentation later in the week.  I hope to ingest an entire bottle of vodka in a controlled environment to test whether the positive results of these hypotheses were the result of flawed research or impacted by outside events.  Either way, the mind of a vodka drinker is clearer in my mind and closer to understanding than perhaps ever before.

-David Driscoll - June 12th, 2011

Thursday
Jun092011

Potocki Vodka

As most out there would assume, when a vendor wants to come by and taste vodka with me I don’t exactly jump into the air and yell, “Sure thing!”  If there’s anything we really don’t need anymore of at K&L right now, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything that my spirits customers could care less about, it’s vodka.  If there’s anything more difficult to sell based on quality and authenticity (two things that are requisite of any new product to hit our shelf), I don’t know what it is.  Vodka is image, vodka is brand loyalty, vodka is R. Kelly in the club.

Enter Jan-Roman Potocki.

I’m always willing to meet with the founder or producer of any product because I appreciate the willingness to discuss to specifics. When Jan came in to the San Francisco store he didn’t talk about gold medals, or where his vodka was being poured in New York – he got right down to the details.  Potocki Vodka is made from 100% Polish rye, it’s distilled twice (because once is not enough, and three times is too much), and his family has been making it since 1816.  I swirled the spirit in my glass while I listened.  I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, but at least this guy was the real deal.  We get people in periodically looking for authentic Polish vodka, so maybe we would bring in a few bottles just for them.

Then we tasted it.

Just for the record, no product in my opinion is more difficult to decipher quality in than vodka.  It’s taken me years just to tell the difference between decent stuff and the really good ones, but sometimes I’m still unclear as to why some are as expensive as they are.  With Potocki, there’s no question in my mind whatsoever – this stuff is amazing.  What’s so good about it?  I’ll make a list and that way it will be easier to explain:

1) My Eastern European friends tell me that good vodka should be sipped like fine single malt scotch.  This stuff goes down without so much as a hint of burn, but it’s not a textural thing (if that makes sense).  I’ve had plenty of clean, smooth, non-threatening vodka that didn’t do anything for me.  The Potocki vodka still tastes faintly of rye, so there is some kick from the grain.  A hint of vanilla comes through somehow and the stuff is clean as mountain spring water.  I went back four times to re-taste and each time I thought it got better.

2) The guy who has his name on the bottle actually makes it.  That’s a big plus.

3) With ice and a splash of vermouth, this stuff would make a vodka cocktail actually worth drinking over a gin martini every now and then.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.

4) It’s authentic Polish high-end stuff.  From what I’ve read, this is the best Polish vodka around and Poland is where vodka comes from, so by that logic it’s the best authentic vodka there is.  Having tasted numerous Polish vodkas, I concur.  I love having authentic examples of regional specialty spirits in my store, so this helps us out with that niche.

I can’t promise you that you’ll have the same experience that I had because I think that tasting a ton of other vodkas is necessary before recognizing the quality, but this is about as excited as I’ve ever been about vodka.  I am ordering this immediately for delivery next week and it should retail for a little over $34, which makes it competitive with the other high-end brands.  I’ll be recommending this one however because it might be the best vodka I’ve ever had.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun092011

Tasting Today @ Gitane

 

The Rittenhouse 25 will be open and available for a measly price today at Gitane.  We'll be starting right at 5:30 as usual, so make sure you're there on time to get a full pour.  Should be somewhere around $8-9 for a glass, which considering the $170 price of this whiskey per bottle is a steal!  I hope we can keep doing these tastings at Gitane for some time to come.  So far the turnout has been amazing, so I hope to see you there today. 

-David Driscoll

 

Tuesday
Jun072011

The Day In Pictures

Too beat to type right now.  Going to express things visually.

These are on their way.  Got my final taste today of the samples.  Mmmmm.....good.

Today was the staff appreciation BBQ, so I made sure that our managers were hard at work appreciating me.

Westby the grillmaster getting some sirloin ready with his fancy olive oil. 

Today's weather finally felt like summer.  This salad helped too.

Jorge "El Guapo" esta descansando con un plato de comida deliciosa.

After lunch it was booze time.  New makes from Glenglassaugh.  Regular, wine-aged, peated, and young bourbon.  200ml bottles should be in soon.  Interesting stuff from the newly re-opened distillery.

Remember that Laphroaig that John Hansell liked so much a few weeks back?  Thanks to David OG and his detective skills we managed to get it distributed in CA.  Then we bought all of it, so now it's exclusively ours.  I agree with JH. Very, very good.

Before you laugh this off, I really like what Absolut is doing in its support for regional pride.  This batch is flavored with grapes, dragon fruit and papaya.  It smells like beautiful rose wine.  With soda it's divine.  For $19.99 we're gonna sell a ton out of the SF store.

As I left to head over to Martin's West, I had a flat tire. I managed to drive over to Big-O real fast and get some new ones, but I had to walk the rest of the way.  No matter, I got there in time and the Springbank 18 was poured.  What a nice way to finish the day.

-David Driscoll

 

Tuesday
Jun072011

Bringing Back The Blends

I have a deep passion for all things retro - I still practically live in the '80s.  Therefore, I have always admired John Glaser's enthusiasm for blended whisky, a great drink for a Mad Men-themed party and the first choice of an all-but-dead drinking culture.  I don't believe that John loves blended Scotch because it's a nostalgic throwback kind-of-thing, but rather because he really finds beauty in the grains.  Grain whisky is lost on just about 99% of the single malt drinking population and I can understand why - the flavors are more herbal, the textures not nearly as supple.  However, the art of marrying well-made grain whisky with quality single malt is still a fascinating and rewarding adventure should one choose to immerse oneself in it.  It takes time though.  I didn't just pour myself a glass of John's Compass Box Double Single (a delicate balance of Glen Elgin and Port Dundas) and jump out of my chair - it took time and focus to figure out what was going on in that glass.  When I figured it out, I was spellbound.  For that reason, I've always felt that John was fighting an uphill battle because most people have no patience or desire to drink something that doesn't speak to them instantly. 

John isn't backing down from that challenge, however. 

He's more fired up than ever.

Click on this link and see what John is up to now.  I'm going to try and talk with him later this week to get some more info.  I'll also be in London at the end of the month, so hopefully I can visit with him and see exactly what the future holds. 

Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll