This article originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register (October 30, 2015)
Is vodka your favorite drink? That was the question posed by Purity Vodka Master Blender Thomas Kuuttanen at a recent dinner. More than half of the hands went up. Whether it was true, shouldn’t one answer favorably in front of a vodka producer?
Well, I did not raise my hand. I could not lie. Vodka is not my favorite spirit. I am a gin drinker. I find vodkas to be rough, flavorless and odorless and some are like rubbing alcohol. Sure, it is a neutral spirit and can be the base in many cocktails but I like the flavors that come from other spirits.
We did not get the response you would think from a vodka producer. He responded that vodka is, in fact, not his favorite spirit either. Having worked in the spirits industry in Sweden for many years, he is more of a fan of whiskey. Thomas explained that he found vodka kind of sad; vodka is more about image and not about content. But, spirits are about soul and passion, and that is what Thomas set out to make, creating Purity Vodka, which is the winner of more than 100 gold medals in blind competitions.
After the Industrial Revolution, factories were making the colorless, odorless, tasteless vodka that we know today. But, Sweden has a history of vodka that predates the Industrial Revolution. In the old days, Thomas explained, vodka was produced the same way as Scotch whisky, which used grains, small pot distillation, and was not aged in casks. Thomas set out to bring back the old style of vodka. He started experimenting and spent 10 years developing Purity Vodka.
Purity Vodka is made in small batches. This makes the process slow, labor-intensive and costly. But, it is worth it. He starts with winter wheat (grains that grow through winter, resulting in more intense flavor and higher starch content) and barley (like in single malt scotch). Thomas said the use of multiple ingredients is like a painter who uses different colors to achieve depth.
Purity Vodka is distilled 34 times. During this time, 90 percent of the liquid is lost as only the perfect cut of the “heart” is kept. You might think this results in boring, stripped vodka, but it is the opposite. The final spirit is full of flavor but is so refined that it is not necessary to filter.
Purity Vodka is complex and has delicate flavors. There is no burn when you sip it. It has floral and mineral notes with a hint of lime. After a few drops of water are added, the aromas are more floral and tropical with a richer, creamier mouthfeel. Starch reacts to water, so like with whiskey, when water is added to vodka, it releases flavors and aromas over a period of time.
Thomas describes the complexity of Purity Vodka as a symphony. “If Islay Scotch is an electric guitar, Purity Vodka is a symphony where everything is integrated and working together.” Purity Vodka can be sipped neat or mixed in fresh cocktails. Either way, Purity Vodka is bringing the glory back to vodka.
Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.