I’ve been extolling some of the virtues of young whiskeys for a while now, much to amusement of my high-end Scotch-swilling friends. But I like to think I recognized it for what it was. And what it is is smart marketing and capitalizing off a much larger field of palates than aged whiskey currently holds.
In this case, I’m talking about white whiskey, which is starting to make its presence known in newspapers and blogs, as is the case with this SF Gate news article about the new white lightening.
But more to the point, white whiskey, or young whiskey, is more about the ingredients that it’s made with than the storage container. My recent blog post on Rogue’s Dead Guy Whiskey hit on the idea that Rogue doesn’t really care that it only ages it’s whiskey for two months. The whole idea is that it’s made from the same ingredients as Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, which is probably novelty enough for most people.
White whiskeys are allegedly somewhere between a vodka and a tequila on the nose, and they can range in intensity. I haven’t had one yet, but I’m going to be keeping my eye out for something soon.
Take your pick, barley, wheat, potato, sugar beats, chances are you’ll find a vodka on the shelves made from any one of several traditional and not-so-traditional products these days. Especially from around our little corner of the northwestern United States. Between Idaho, Washington and now Montana, micro distilleries are popping up like microbreweries have in the last two decades.
And not always in the most urban or hip settings. Take Eureka, Montana for instance, home of Flathead Distillers, makers of Flathead Vodka. The state’s third active distillery has a brand, an image and a product, and if you like good vodka at a competitive price, a following. Albeit small.
I managed to get my hands on a bottle of Flathead Vodka this week, thanks to the help of vodka makers David and Nancy Lehenky and the folks at Grizzly Liquor in Missoula.
As per my usual routine with new vodkas, I put the bottle in the freezer and promptly forgot about it for about 2.5 hours. After which I poured a small amount in a modified vodka glass. (a glass made for cordials, but which actually reduces the heat of the alcohol through its flute-like shape)
On my first taste, I noted that this vodka has a clean, peppery sensation to it, and I use sensation rather than taste, because good vodka shouldn’t have any really perceivable taste. The one thing good vodka should not have is a medicinal or vegetal taste to it. And I didn’t taste anything remotely vegetal. The peppery sensation comes from a strong liquor bite that is perhaps a tad more prevalent than in other vodkas, though it doesn’t take away from this particular vodka’s appeal.
Sipped on the rocks, this vodka is smooth and clean and like velvet on the palate.
For a second round, I mixed up a couple of lemon drops with Meyer lemons for the wife and I. Usually I like to see what a particular spirit will do when it’s mixed with other elements, particularly citrus. Meyer lemons offer a perfect compliment to this vodka, as the strength of the finish, along with that peppery sensation, seem to meld into the sweet floral nature of the lemon.
I don’t add any sugar, just two-ounces of vodka, a half-ounce of Cointreau and a whole meyer lemon squeezed into a shaker. I served it up in a martini glass, and the drink was absolutely delightful and refreshing. Whether summer or winter, a nice vodka-based citrus drink is hard to beat.
Another selling point is that this vodka is made from sugar beets, so it is gluten free. There are not too many other than those made from potatoes or sugar beets, that can claim to be gluten free.
Perhaps the best point about Flathead Vodka is its price. If you want well vodka, you’ll pay less certainly, but to have a really good vodka retail for less than $25 is brilliant. Way too many of the new micro distilleries are overpricing their drinks hoping to appeal to some kind of liquor snob. But most people today want quality for less price. This vodka is not only a very tasty, but it’s priced to be competitive with many of the major brands that do not put as much passion into the making of their product.
I’m told Flathead Vodka will be a Montana vodka for Montanans, and I like that attitude.
You can buy your bottle of Flathead Vodka at Grizzly Liquor or at bars and other stores in Kalispell and Whitefish.
за ваше здоровье,
Seems I’m a little late to this game, but another craft distillery has opened in Montana. Flathead Distillers, owned and operated by Dave and Nancy Lehenky of Eureka, produces small-batch vodka made from sugar beets. Dave Lehenky said he wanted to use beets, because they are grown locally, and because many people have allergies to grains.
The Vodka has been on the shelf in Eureka and Whitefish since mid-December, and I’m waiting to find out if the vodka will be available at Griz Liquor soon. For now, you can try the vodka at The Great Northern Bar and the Whitefish Golf Club Restaurant, according to Nancy Lehenky.
For my part, I’m very glad to see more micro distilleries taking advantage of the fact that Montana is one of the easier places to open up this kind of business. And local products are great for the economy, especially when everything is owned by a conglomerate or made in China these days.
Here’s a great article from the Billings Gazette on the new micro distilleries opening up around the state. Look for one in your neck of the woods.
My first reporting job introduced me to the delightful Nemiroff Vodka. The first all-nighter we pulled during the lead-up to a very busy election that would culminate in the Orange Revolution introduced me to the art of drinking vodka Ukrainian style. The pure, smooth lines of Ukrainian vodka can make any night start out great, but the fact that I grew up far from my Ukrainian heritage meant that I had to take it slow.
One night, while out dancing with a group of poets and politicians, the Ukrainian national poet, much like our poet laureate, slapped me on the back and asked me how I could hold my liquor so well. I smiled and said that Ukrainians all have vodka in their veins. He laughed his big laugh and got up to dance again, while I filled my vodka glass with ice water for the 6th time. Later that evening, as I put my poet friend in a taxi and walked home, I reflected on life in Ukraine on the eve of great change.
We worked hard as a weekly paper, pulling in sources from around the country for stories that really got at the heart of Ukrainian politics at the time. A sort of rush for truth and enlightenment on what everyone believed was going to be a historical change. At night, we crawled down to the Baraban, “The Drum,” and we mingled with politicians and foreign dignitaries. And we drank good vodka. Nemiroff is what a good Ukrainian drinks, shunning the Russian vodkas out of pride of country. The taste of it comes back to me now and then, but I haven’t seen the vodka since 2004. Imagine my surprise to find Nemiroff featured in the newest Lady Gaga video. Don’t ask me what I was doing watching her videos, but the Nemiroff stuck out like a sore thumb. What I’m hoping is that this indicates a marketing shift, where Nemiroff, a historically small-batch vodka distillery, will begin distributing in the United States. It is also my dearest hope that if it does go big, it doesn’t sacrifices the quality it’s known for.
Za vashe zdorovya,
Growing up on the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole has its bonuses. There is nothing really extreme about it. It does not have the spiciness and humidity of the lower latitudes nor the cool remoteness of the upper latitudes. You get a lot of rainy, gray, overcast days and television shows like Gray’s Anatomy. You get really good Pinot Noir and Burgundy wines. Hops tend to grow well there, and people from elsewhere seem to want to move there.
But drop a degree south, and you’ve got something altogether different. Vodka.
In Idaho’s famous potato belt, which, incidentally, is the 44th parallel, the production and distillation of vodka was almost a no-brainer. I’m just glad someone had the brains to do it.
44 Degrees North produces everything from flavored vodkas to a premium soft winter wheat vodka that is everything I’m starting to think a Rocky Mountain vodka should be. Clean and with a consistency like heavy silk, 44 Degrees North carries with it a hint of that Rocky Mountain water purity and all the clear goodness of Idaho’s soft winter wheat.
A chilled shot served neat will give you a clear picture why micro distilleries in Idaho and Eastern Washington are taking home the biggest prizes in the liquor world. No medicinal or vegetal tastes are discernible, and even when the drink is warmed, only the brightest esters consistent with good vodka are released on the nose and on the palate.
Even bruised by ice, as in a martini, 44 Degrees North comes across superbly clear tasty. While mixed into a cocktail like the classic lemon drop or a cosmopolitan, it serves as a big backbone for the tart and citrusy flavors rather than a thin, veiled alcohol in lower-grade vodkas.
Try the Mountain Huckleberry Vodka or the Rainier Cherry Vodka if you’re into flavored vodkas. They are both made from Idaho’s famous potatoes. But, if you’re into high-end tasty vodkas for food or martinis, try the Wheat Vodka. They all are available at Grizzly Liquor in Missoula.
Vodka is close to my heart. Not only is it the native drink of my homeland, Ukraine, it is a spirit which defines sophistication and delicacy. There is nothing better than good vodka and caviar.
I have had the opportunity to try good vodka both here in the United States and in the former Soviet Union. With the vodka popularity boom in the late 90s, many boutique distilleries opened around the world. Unfortunately, many distilleries opened with the goal of producing fine whiskey and other drinks. They pushed cheaper vodkas and gins out the door to keep customers happy while the real stuff aged in barrels.
A few produce good, drinkable vodka. A fewer still produced world-class boutique vodkas with interesting themes and fun packaging.
There are few rules to good vodka, it should be clear, creamy, smooth and non-funky-smelling.
I was shocked when I first moved to Montana and found that distilling laws were much more lax than those concerning brewing companies. That’s when I first heard of Vigilante Distilling. This Helena-based company, the owners of which were principally responsible for the bill that made distilling so much easier in Montana, is just getting started, but they’re off in a good direction with their first product.
I haven’t met them yet, but I’ve tried their vodka after getting a tip that it’s available at Grizzly Liquor.
Vigilante is good vodka if you’re in the mood for local vodka that can hold its own at a cold temperature. When it warms up, it develops a decidedly medicinal quality that isn’t altogether unpleasant, but it is noticeable.
What I noticed right off the bat is a sweet, smooth and clean taste to the back of the mouth. There is nothing harsh or abrasive on this vodka, but there is a slight herbal nose on it.
Like most vodkas, this on goes well with food. It’s not just the fact that it’s clear and clean, it actually brings out sharp flavors quite well. I tried some crackers with plum tomatoes, goat cheese and anchovies.
The labeling is fun and you definitely know you’re drinking something made in Montana. And the story on the back explaining the vigilante heritage is a nice addition to the overall package.
All in all, this vodka was good considering it’s made with sugercane products. My only complaint comes on the nose, where I’d like to find a little more grain. This is Montana after all. We have enough grain to go around. I’ve always thought this state could produce world-class vodkas, as it shares much in common with the vodka countries of Poland, Russia and Ukraine.