Pure and Simple Luxury
Vodka’s new found popularity comes as New Zealanders embrace the pure and simple sleekness of this white spirit as their drink of choice.
With annual New Zealand sales up 11% at around 175,000 cases, some of Vodka’s popularity can be attributed to consumers trading up to premium styles imported from overseas, including Poland, Sweden, Finland, Russia and France.
The Eastern European legacy of endless toasts of straight Vodka enjoyed in shot glasses to the shouts of “Na Zdorovie or in Polish: Na Zdrowie” (“to your health”) has surpassed the previously popular assortment of Cosmopolitan and Vodka-tini cocktail attention-grabbers.
Behind the resurgence is the basic simplicity of consuming Vodka neat as it doesn’t require glasses shaped like balloons, swizzle sticks, fruit slices, olives, sprinklings of salt, tropical umbrellas or ritualistic paraphernalia of any kind. It’s ideal on its own and with company.
A versatile spirit, this colourless and unaged liquor can be distilled from any fermentable raw material. Although the legendary potato is used in the production of some Vodkas, most brands today are made from grain, primarily rye and wheat, and occasionally from corn and molasses.
Like many distilled spirits, the origins of Vodka are hotly debated. Synonymous with Central and Eastern European tradition, the name Vodka originates from the Russian word ‘voda’ meaning water and can be traced back more than five centuries to Eastern Europe, Poland, Scandinavia and the Baltics.
Initially produced for medicinal purposes, Vodka served as an aftershave, an ingredient in the production of gunpowder, and as a liniment for aches and pains before being recognised formally as a ‘drink’ in the 14th Century.
Despite such a colourful history, Vodka took a long time to become popular in the West. It took until the 1940s for the true love of Vodka to be ingrained in the Western World and that popularity has seen it become one of the most widely consumed spirits in the world today.
Vodka is normally produced from premium grains and cereals such as wheat, oats, barley, corn and rye but also potatoes, rice, sugarcane, grapes and other fermentable foods.
Vodka is a clear spirit predominantly without distinctive flavour or aroma. To achieve this, the spirit is repeatedly distilled in either pot or column stills. Many Vodkas are triple distilled, some four, five and even six times.
The distillate is then filtered through charcoal to remove any impurities. The spirit after purification is very high proof (usually 95% alcohol by volume (ABV)) and is diluted with pure water to bring the ABV level down a desired drinking strength.
In New Zealand, Vodka must contain a legal minimum alcohol content of 37% ABV, although it is not unusual for some to contain up to 50% ABV.
No maturation period is required for Vodka and apart from a few exceptions; the spirit is not aged for an extensive period of time or stored in wooden casks like most other distilled spirits.
A popular way of enjoying vodka is to drink it straight from the freezer, and although this is an enjoyable exercise, it is not a Russian or Polish tradition.Quality vodka should be enjoyed chilled, but not frozen, so you can still taste its character and enjoy its aroma. Feel free to cut it with cold water, as you might with a Scotch, and it is remarkable as an aperitif.
The unobtrusive nature of Vodka also makes it an ideal mixer. Combine with a coffee liqueur for a Black Russian, with orange juice for a Screwdriver, with tomato juice and Tabasco sauce for a Bloody Mary, or with Dry Vermouth for a Vodka Martini.
Of course Vodka & Tonic is a classic way of enjoying the spirit and no one said it better than Elton John in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” when he sung about drinking Vodka & Tonic “to set you on your feet again.”
Pure Vodka is by far the bestseller, but Vodkas can also be flavoured through simple infusion processes.
Keep Vodka top of mind when serving meals and snacks. Some classic food and Vodka pairings include seafood, caviar, sausages, pickles, and salted or pickled fish.
Each Vodka is unique and its identity is often determined by the finishing process – the varieties of charcoal used, the method of distillation, the equipment used, the quality of the water and other factors including the brand’s country of origin. By choosing leading and internationally branded Vodkas, retailers and consumers know they can trust the quality and purity of the drink.