Hold On To Your Hats, I Found a Vodka I’ll Actually Drink

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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.

14 Replies to “Hold On To Your Hats, I Found a Vodka I’ll Actually Drink”

  • Rick says:

    I’ve found that whenever you talk to the actual distiller (and not their marketing department), they tend to give a much more thoughtful description of the stuff.

    Very few vodkas nowadays subscribe to the tasteless, odorless concept, though all of them will tell you that everyone else BUT them is trying for it.

    You’re missing out on a lot of nuance with hating vodka as there have been some gorgeous ones coming out lately and, yes, Cirrus is definitely one of them.

    My review here: http://martini-lounge.blogspot.com/2007/05/cirrus-vodka-review.html

  • Rick

    I’m glad that Cirrus was able to turn me on to a true hand-crafted spirit, and I’m eager to try more.

    However, given some of the samples that have been sent to me recently, I might have to disagree with your statement that “very few” vodkas are subscribing to the tasteless, odorless concept.

    Perhaps I’m just not meeting the right people?

  • Rick says:

    I see your point, for sure. I think that it’s like anything else. Some of the artisan stuff is light’s out (Cirrus, Charbay) and some of the mass stuff (Trump, Grey Goose) is what people expect from Vodka. The same can be said for any genre of spirit.

    I think Cirrus, Charbay, Stiletto, and a few others actually have a flavor *profile* rather than just a flavor and are worth spending time on.

  • Well, according to what Mr. Felton has to say, there are a lot of smaller “distilleries” out there that order neutral spirits from contract distillers and cut the mass-produced, character-void stuff with water.

    So it’s not just the big boys. Here’s to our nation’s microdistilleries!

  • Charbay is definitely an interesting line, but their schtick is flavoured Vodka…

    I recently tried the Blood Orange straight and it was absolutely horrid… clearly made specifically as a drink base . . and that rubs me the wrong way and makes me want to NOT call it vodka…but a “Liqueur” which is what it really is.

    I haven’t tried Stiletto, but I’ve seen that they too are doing the flavour thing.

    The vast majority of Vodka companies are doing exactly what Jeff says – buying base neutral spirits and then having them processed or worse, simply having “their” Vodka made to order at some large industrial plant and then simply doing the marketing.

    I’ll be judging Vodkas at the International Wine & Spirits Comp (as well as some other spirits) this year – should be interesting.

  • Alex Nicol says:

    Jeff
    Vodka is a rectified white spirit,
    it is, as we all know, colorless,
    tasteless and odorless.When you add flavour you change the definition when you add suger change it again.
    nothing wrong with doing that have all the fun you can.
    What I find cynical is charging the consumer $25 for something I can buy for them in France or Eastern Europe for $1 a pop, bottled and with a label.
    Grey Goose has a lot to answer for!!
    Alex

  • Lance J. Mayhew says:

    Glad you found a decent vodka. That said, I think I’ve already got a dusty bottle of something or other hidden in the back of my liquor cabinet for guests who want a vodka/cranberry. If I’m reaching for a white spirit for my personal consumption though, give me gin. Maybe someday when I actually need to buy a new bottle of vodka I’ll look for cirrus.

  • Dan says:

    I’ve never been a huge fan of vodka, but I always keep a bottle around because a lot of my guests like vodka-based drinks. Lately I’ve kept a bottle of Level in my freezer and it’s quite good compared to other vodkas out there. It has a slight sweetness to it with some citrus notes on the nose and the tongue. My Russian roommate is quite fond of it.

  • Dr. Bamboo says:

    I’ve never been much of a vodka enthusiast either. To me, ordering a vodka drink always seemed like going to Baskin-Robbins and getting vanilla.

    That being said, when I grab a bottle for my home bar (or more accurately, kitchen counter), I usually get Tito’s. It makes a good Moscow Mule and a decent Cosmo too.

  • xian says:

    I’m gonna have to try Cirrus. I agree on pretty much every point on the absolute uselessness of vodka. A flavorless, colorless alcohol? What is the point? Oh, I’m sure someone a little more ‘refined’ can spell out all the subtleties of a liquor which I believe has the pasttime of being cheap, easy to make and gets you fucked up in a hurry.

    Pickles anyone?

    But, I am always up for a new experience. Especially a new drink 😉

  • Chris Bailey says:

    While I don’t hate vodka, I’ve almost stopped drinking it these days, for your exact reasons – I just don’t find it interesting and to have much to taste. I will use it as a mix for certain drinks and so on, but I am definitely a gin person now, and Tanq Ten is my usual favorite (but I like Zuidham, Hendriks, 209 sometimes, and will use Aviation for certain drinks (I’m not a fan of black licorice, so that’s harder). I believe you were the first person to make me a drink with Aviation, when at El Vaquero, but I can’t be certain (we sat at the bar and I asked the bartender to make me something of his own concoction with gin). This was shortly after we moved to Eugene last year. I digress…

    So, the one vodka I’ve had in the last several years that definitely was different, and the mention of Cirrus with the potatoes is Blue Ice. Blue Ice to me has quite a bit of flavor for a vodka, with much more of a carmel-like taste to it. It is very different than any other vodka I’ve had, and was recommended by a bartender in San Francisco. It is made in the US as well, and of potatoes (all Idaho potatoes I believe). I suspect it is worth a try simply to see that there might be one other vodka out there that doesn’t fit the typical profile.

    I just found out about your blog from Ed D. (the local Slow Food treasurer) when they were over for dinner the other night. Glad to find it!

  • Thanks for visiting, Chris. I don’t believe I’ve had the Blue Ice, but I will keep my eyes peeled!

  • Mark says:

    I may be wrong on this but don’t gins technically qualify as flavored vodkas? Or is your hatred for flavored vodka due to the fact that some/most/all(?) “flavored vodkas” use artificial flavoring?

  • Kevin Erskine says:

    Gin. by definition, is not flavoured since it goes through a second distillation with the botanicals.

    It’s when you add flavouring AFTER the final distillation it becomes a “flavoured” vodka and if you add sugras of any sort it becomes a Liqueur

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