I was in Des Moines over the holidays so Distilled Iowan and I sat down with several bottles of vodka to hash things out. Solas Distillery in Omaha gave us a bottle of their Joss Vodka to try out, and we decided to see how it fared against several popular vodkas. Here’s the rundown: Absolut (Sweden), Belvedere (Polish), Smirnoff (Plainfield, Illinois), Svedka (Sweden), Joss (Nebraska).
In order to acclimate our palates, we first tried a blend of Absolut, Smirnoff, and Svedka. The first sip always burns the most, and we didn’t want that clouding our judgement for the real tasting.
After that we both tried Smirnoff.
Distilled Opinion: “It has powerful nose.”
Our Man in Omaha: “Yes, very astringent.”
DO: “Astringent, that’s it! It tastes… dirty. Not very good.”
OMO: “Very dirty, very astringent.”
The Belvedere was next.
DO: “Nothing in the nose. Write that down: just nothing!”
OMO: “Oh yeah, completely empty. The taste, too. Really neutral.”
DO: “Only a touch of astringency. Just the burn of the alcohol.”
Then we did the Absolut. The nose was slight and hard to find. It took us awhile to narrow down the taste, but Distilled Iowan said it best: “It tastes like chewing wet wood.”
OMO: “And low astringency. Kind of woody.”
Next we poured a round of Joss vodka.
OMO: “The nose has a noticeable, but slight metallic hint. It tastes like charcoal.”
DO: “Yeah, you’re right. Wow! This really has a kick! Overall it’s much sweeter than the others. This won’t be neutral in a mixed drink.”
After a few more tries of the Joss, we finished up with Svedka.
DO: “This has an astringent nose. [Tastes] It’s flavorful, definitely, but like a tin can.”
Then things got bit more hectic and my notes, a little more confused. Can you blame me? Most of this stuff is too good to spit out. We went back and forth between the Joss and the Belevedere, trying to figure out the difference. As the roaring fire warmed up the bottles, different flavors appeared. The Belvedere opened up a lot, giving a touch of astringency to the nose and slightly more flavor to the tongue. The Absolut became even more woody (their marketing materials call it “grainy”), and the Joss got even more of that punch.
DO: “I think Absolut has the strongest taste.”
OMO: “I’m of the opinion that Joss does. It’s also the boldest, with that really powerful kick on the back end.”
DO: [Tastes some more] “It’s close. If you’re an Absolut fan, there’s no reason not to try Joss. Don’t even mess with the other stuff. Likewise, if you love Belvedere, but want some taste, you should give Joss a go.”
Overall, Joss definitely had the most flavor, which might not be a bad thing depending on how you drink your vodka. Usually vodkas with a nasty taste (I’m thinking Smirnoff here) are deemed to be suitable only for mixed drinks. Smirnoff has occassionally done well in taste tests but I am at a loss as to why. At least this bottle had too much of that rubbing alcohol smell to make me to ever want to drink it on the rocks. Also, given the mild price spread between these tested vodkas I don’t know why anybody would want to put up with any vodka with a bad taste even it if is going to be used for mixing.
For just straight alcohol and absolutely no extra flavor, Belvedere is the best bet. If you want a neutral but sweet taste, go with Joss. Absolut has an interesting woody flavor that might not appeal to everyone, but it is not as sweet as Joss. I know that since it came out Absolut has been my (distilledopinion’s) choice for vodka on the rocks, especially since it is widely available. Svedka was fairly middle of the road, reliable, with mostly a slight dirty taste and mild astringency. Smirnoff fared the worst and we didn’t go back for seconds. Pungent, burning nose, like rubbing alcohol, with a fierce dirty taste. As they say, “only for mixing.”
Joss Vodka: Multiple distillations, Nebraska organic wheat;
Svedka: distilled five times using Swedish winter wheat;
Belvedere Vodka: Distilled four times from Dankowskie Gold Rye;
Absolut: Continuous distillation process using well water and winter wheat.
Smirnoff: No information on process or ingredients. Rumored to be corn.
I have to warn you about some of these vodka websites. The Absolut site is so loaded down with flash applications and videos that I had a hard time getting any real information. Smirnoff’s site did not let me past the age check, regardless of what age I listed or what browser I used unless I registered an e-mail address. Once in, I found zero actual information on their product. I did learn that it is made in Illinois from other sites. This is something that the British owners (Diageo) don’t want you to know. In fact, they have sued into submission the Smirnov brothers in Russia who tried to resurrect their family vodka line. This is similar to Templeton Rye, which most people assume is made in Templeton, Iowa. It is in fact made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana along with a whole host of other branded whiskeys. Exactly where most vodka and whiskey comes from will be the topic of a future posting. Apparently, purchasing raw distilled product from larger distilleries is common throughout the entire industry.
If a website or other marketing information says nothing about how the product is made, what it is made of, or where it is made, then assume that they don’t want you to know for fear it would hurt their brand.
So, take the time to learn where your favorite drinks actually come from. It might be interesting.