Thursday, 9 April 2015

Even more of a muchness: another 3 way vodka test

L-R: Vladivar, Stolichnaya, Green Mark
 Am I really so far behind on my posts? I ask myself? How come? Well, this week I’m going to take you back to about 9 months ago when I was preparing for a trip to the Glastonbury Festival. In a couple more weeks, I’ll be telling you all about that – so just in time for the 2015 edition really. For now though, it’s a return to the recurrent theme of wondering whether vodka is particularly interesting or not. Considering how many words I get out of it, it probably is – just not in the same way that other, more refined spirits are. Enough prevarication then; here’s the post.

With an extra long weekend at the Glastonbury Festival approaching, Mrs Cake and I thought it would be prudent for us to stock up on festival booze. I suggested we try a different supermarket for a change, in order that we might benefit from a different variety of products, so as we passed it on our way to Go Outdoors in Cheadle anyway, we plumped for Morrisons. What delights would await, I wonder?

Answer: not many.

My usual tinnie of choice, Holsten Pils was more expensive than it usually is in Tesco, so it was immediately apparent we would have to return to our usual supermarket anyway. I could have tried a different brand, but it would’ve meant either dropping my standards or paying a lot more – and when you want 32 cans, that increase can stack up.

Baileys was on “offer” at £14, but I decided to try a completely different brand (by which I mean budget) and go for Country Mist (14.5% ABV, £5.19), but more on that some time in the future…

More pertinent to this post though, is that Mrs Cake decided to stock up on vodka. I told her I’d got loads, but she didn’t want to use my stash. Then she thought she’d wait, and get some from Aldi, and I convinced her that it would be good to try a new brand – Green Mark fit the bill, on offer at £11, but showing a slightly below par 38% ABV).

Here comes the “factual” part.

The green mark was a soviet government seal of quality between the 1920s and 1950s and though this vodka is named for that, it was never actually awarded such a seal. Green Mark is in fact a recreation of a recipe gleaned from research into Glavspirttrest records.

All vodkas have some kind of factor that is supposed to set them apart from the rest – or so it seems. With Finlandia, it’s that it is produced with springwater so pure it requires no chemical treatment. With Grey Goose, it’s that is produced in the Maitre de Chai tradition (look it up), and that it is filtered through “champagne limestone”. Ketel One has any number of factors it would claim make it “a truly exceptional vodka”. Luxury brand Belvedere is distilled from Dankowskie rye, which is considered ideal for distillation (blah, blah, blah), and adheres to over 600 years of vodka making tradition blah.

You get the idea… none of this explains why my friend Paul (and no doubt, many others) consider vodka brands all to be “much of a muchness”. Well, I’m not done confirming or refuting whether that is the case yet… which brings us to this week’s tasting experiment; yet another 3 way vodkachallenge for which Mrs Cake would be joining me: the new Green Mark, pitted against my existing Vladivar (37.5% ABV), and the undisputed champion of previous challenges and frankly, personal favourite (second only to its higher alcohol content brother), Stolichnaya (40%).

I brought six shot glasses out of the cupboard and prepared three blind samples for Mrs Cake, after which she did the same for me.

Firstly, a brief word on presentation…

Vladivar is presented in an uninteresting cylindrical bottle with a cyan coloured label and friendly but gothic white lettering. It is made from 100% pure grain, triple distilled and charcoal filtered. It is a British product.

Stolichnaya is pretty utilitarian looking and is made from wheat and rye grain. It is apparently filtered through quartz, sand, activated charcoal and woven cloth.

Green Mark has quite an elegant bottle, curvy and extra-narrow at the top – a bit like Glenmorangie in that regard – and has a novel cap instead of a normal crappy screw cap. It looks all right – I sure appreciate the effort.

So, on with the tasting. I encouraged Mrs Cake to have a sniff of each sample first, and see if she got any impressions. She said they didn’t smell of anything, and I agreed. So we proceeded to drink.


Now, we were busy making a pizza at the time (no, it wasn’t the most dedicated tasting the world has ever seen), so I’m sorry to say the tasting wasn’t particularly stimulating. We both picked out Stolichnaya as the best (as expected), but it wasn’t by a massive distance on this occasion. Mrs Cake picked Vladivar as her second favourite, while I thought Green Mark was worthy of runner-up status, but 2nd and 3rd were very close. What swung it for me was that I could detect that extra 0.5% alcohol, and while I’m not saying that alone is enough to justify picking one over another, if there’s nothing else to choose, well then it probably is. I do find it bizarre how apparent minute differences in alcoholic strength seem to be – particularly in clear spirits – but they really are [seem to be].
Aaaand… the conclusion

So Stolichnaya is still the champ, but Green Mark places a respectable 4th in the overall vodka rankings, displacing the Vladivar. You’re probably wondering by now what the official countdown is… so I think I might publish some lists to that end around Christmas/New Year time. That’s a long way off as it stands, but that just means I can get a lot more vodka tasting in between now and then.

Before I go, there is one more conclusion to draw, and that is that Morrison’s is not so good for the booze. They did have offers on Glenfiddich Rich Oak and Glenfiddich 15 mind, but I managed to talk myself down from any unplanned scotch expenditure. I’m regretting that now, as it turns out I had sufficient unallocated funds in my booze budget. Ah well. To be continued…

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