A quick look at any American liquor store’s vodka selection will demonstrate the general lack of fondness for potato vodkas on these shores. Compared to the myriad grain vodkas on the market here, potato is given little shelf space. The general consensus (from the Bartender’s admittedly unscientific and anecdotal survey of public opinion) appears to be that potato vodkas are too oily in texture to appeal to the mass market here. Or, as many a drinker of mainstream American beer has said upon trying a proper Trappist ale for the first time, “Eugh. Too much flavor.”
It’s been a long week here for the Rebel Bartender, with the seemingly endless stream of grain vodkas to try – enough to determine, at least, that most of her problems with vodka in general are actually problems with grain vodka. Fortunately, she remembered trying Chopin once and enjoying it; and so it was that she found herself with a bottle of the stuff, getting ready to give it a go.
The difference between Chopin and grain vodkas is clear long before it even reaches your lips. The nose is less sweet; there’s some vanilla, but it’s much richer and has earthier notes that give a much fuller sense of aroma, forming a surprising contrast for someone used to the thin harshness common to grain vodkas. But even more distinctive is the taste: rich and smooth in texture, with very little burn. Trace notes of sweet spices (nutmeg, even clove) linger in the back of your palate, and the creamy mouth-feel and slightly sweet flavor are very pleasant, almost like tapioca pudding. And in a martini, the vermouth brings out those earthy and spicy tones while harmonizing with the slight sweetness, creating a truly exceptional drink with almost no work at all. The $35ish price point is a bit high, but for a classy, impressive, flavorful martini (or even straight shot), it’s hard to beat this vodka.
Initially, Chopin was going to be the only potato option on the list, but a dark horse challenger arrived at the last minute. One of the fine clerks at Plaza Liquors in Tucson suggested Vikingfjord, a potato vodka out of Finland, saying that it was comparable with Chopin for less than half the price. The Bartender was skeptical of his claims, but decided to try it out – for $12, it was hardly much of a risk.
The results? Not bad at all. Much sweeter than the Chopin, with an immediate strong vanilla flavor (but lacking the harsh vanilla-extract tone of most grain vodkas), and a smooth, buttery texture. There’s a pleasantly mild burn with perhaps a touch of bitterness in the back of the throat, but a refreshing one. Vermouth tempers the sweetness some and makes for a richer and fuller flavor, albeit one still very slanted toward the “sweet” end of the spectrum.
Ultimately, the Bartender found it superior to the grain vodkas, but not quite in the same league as the Chopin. For the price, though, if you’re a fan of the vodka martini, it’s worth having a bottle of this around for everyday. But do keep some Chopin in reserve for when you want to impress someone. Or just for days when you feel like dressing up in a tuxedo, putting on some appropriate spy music, and channeling your inner James Bond.