Thursday, January 31st, 2008
I don’t drink vodka. Most of you know that by now. I don’t care for spirits that strive to taste more like nothing than their competitors. I don’t care for drinks made with vodka, which taste merely like alcoholic versions of whatever fruit juice has been added to the glass. It’s boring liquor for boring people.
That said, I get a lot of companies wanting to send me vodka samples to review on my site. And I get a lot of them, from flavored vodka (the only thing worse than unflavored vodka), to vodka distilled from weird ingredients (as if that matters a whole hell of a lot) to vodka that’s been distilled twelve times (to provide, it seems, a unique flavorless experience).
So when I received the following email from Paul McCann at Cirrus Vodka:
I distill a premium potato vodka here in VA that I would love to have you try and possibly write about. I’m glad to get you a sample.
…I gave him my standard brush-off:
I’m not normally much of a vodka guy, but I’ll give it a shot if you want to send it. Cheers
But what struck me was his reply:
I’ll get you a sample out this week. I usually like for non-vodka people to try Cirrus. I work pretty hard on not distilling the character out of the spirit. I am not one to adhere to the tasteless, odorless definition. After all what is the point of being able to enjoy something if it is totally void of any “spirit”. My belief is that vodka should be enjoyed as one would a bourbon or a whisky or anything else that you would drink by itself.
Whoa, I thought, that’s certainly the most thoughtful vodka description I’ve received from a distiller. My curiosity was piqued and I awaited the sample to arrive in the mail.
What arrived was the vodka I expected from a description like that. The front palate and nose are brimming with bright citrus flavors – one of the few characteristics I look for in a vodka. But what surprised me and encouraged me to try another sip was the unbelievably smooth, creamy mouthfeel that was immediately followed by rich coffee and bittersweet chocolate notes.
Seriously. I know this sounds like bullshit, but the vodka really does taste like this.
I was curious, so I had a few questions for Paul.
JM: Can you tell me more about how it’s made? Are you buying neutral spirits, and if so, where from?
Cirrus Vodka is a small batch vodka made from 100% potato (primarily russets). We are a full distillery. We do all of our own mashing, fermenting, distilling of our neutral spirit, and bottling. We are not a contract distillery. Cirrus is all natural in that we use NO additives for flavoring or anything else to influence flavor. Cirrus is pot distilled in a copper pot. The spirit is triple distilled because we only need to distill three times to achieve the finished spirit quality that we look for. The spirit is then filtered, but barely, because it does not really need it. The finished neutral spirit is cut to 80 proof with a very nice spring water that we bring in to the distillery.
JM: Are you using locally-grown potatoes? If so, are you using exclusively potatoes from Virginia, a blend, or perhaps primarily in the spring when the Virginia potatoes are in season?
I use VA russet potatoes when I can get them. The season is short here, July/August, so I am not able to produce a great deal of product using VA potatoes only. Plus there are only two russet growers here in VA. The remainder grow whites which are a low starch potato used in the chipping industry. During other times of the year our potatoes may come from all over the country.
JM: What are your thoughts on the differences between raw materials used for a distillate taken to 190+ proof?
Spirits taken to 190+ proof can still retain nuances of the raw material. Most vodka [manufacturers] are so hell bent on the “tasteless, odorless” definition that they filter it and filter it over and over. What they wind up with is a spirit that is just like everything else on the block. If you want something to mix, then characterless ethanol is just fine.
JM: It has always been my understanding that the water used to cut the neutral spirit plays more of a role in the final mouthfeel and flavor than the grains or potatoes used.
The cut water is indeed an important part of the final spirit. But it is only as important as the raw material, the process used to produce the spirit and how the process is run by the distiller. The water we use is just flat out great water. I knew I was going to use it before I had even finished development of the vodka.
I took a cue from Paul and tossed my bottle in the freezer. Last night, I poured a single, viscous shot into a chilled glass and basked in that luxurious, chocolatey mouthfeel yet again. It changed my mind about vodka – well, this one vodka, anyway.
You can visit Cirrus Vodka online here.