You say Potato, I say Vodka :: This time it’s personal.

by Lincoln Chinnery
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 26, 2008

Over the past year, I've been writing and reviewing various vodkas in an attempt to help enlighten EDGE readers on what's out there in the vodka world, and what of that is worth buying. So far I've tasted eco-friendly vodkas (Square One and 360), flavored vodkas (44 North), infused vodkas (Alchemy and 267) and really, really bad vodkas (Nuvo & Regila).

Today I've moved on to three 'new' vodkas. So get your drinking glasses out and prepare for some sipping as I open Death's Door, find out of Karlsson has discovered fool's gold, and see whether price really matters with Sobleski.

Death’s Door Vodka

Although it’s apparently good enough to be served at the Hotel California... and the Washington Hotel, if you’ve never heard of Death’s Door Vodka, don’t feel embarrassed. Until recently I hadn’t heard of it either. A bartender at Xes in NY (The best place for Karaoke EVER!) mentioned it to me after my drunken rendition of ’Meet the Flintstones’. (And before you ask, I hold a note like a vampire holds a cross.) He said it was the best thing to come out of Wisconsin since Frank Lloyd Wright. With that said, I tracked down a bottle and began to drink it....I mean taste it, solely for review purposes only.

Death’s Door Vodka is a treat for the true vodka lover. Its main ingredient is grown, not chemically created (Yeah I’m looking at you Nuvo!) on Washington Island in Wisconsin’s Door County. (Yes, Miss South Carolina there are islands in Wisconsin.)

The name Death’s Door comes from the strait between Green Bay and Lake Michigan where Washington Island sits directly across from Door’s Peninsula. Back in the days of wooden ships and iron men, the perilous currents of Death’s Door Passage sunk ships and crushed many a French settler’s dream of a new life. Years of harsh winds, unpredictable surf and unique weather patterns forged Washington Island into a place that was perfect for farming wheat.

DDV uses the naturally grown wheat from Washington Island, which might sound redundant but in the case of DDV the term is 100 percent accurate. All of the wheat used is pesticide and herbicide free. The wheat is farmed and harvested by the Brothers Koyen, with a little help from there friends. (You try harvesting 800 acres of wheat by yourself and see if you don’t call in a few favors.) It’s then brought to the Cedar Ridge Vineyards, Winery and Distillery where the Quint Family personally oversees each step of the small-batch vodka making process.

Death’s Door Vodka is made in small batches for a number of reasons; superior quality control, unrivaled taste and a level of clarity matched by a select few. They spends their time and money on making a first-rate product while holding on to the best ideas in vodka making. Here are some of their mantras:

  • Grow with Mother nature- NOT against her.
  • Distill your product with pride- NOT over process it.
  • Sell a product that YOU are proud to put YOUR name on.

    Each chilled sip I had went down smooth... surprisingly smooth at that. Filtered to the point of excellence and distilled with scores of family know how and pride, Death’s Door Vodka is a perfect archetype of small batch liquors. When Death’s Door Vodka (and Gin) comes to New York in March make sure you buy a bottle of each and prepare your taste buds for an excellent ride.

    Check out for dates and events in NYC.

    Sobieski vodka

    The truth is out there... about where vodka comes from and how much it costs (or should cost...).

    When the boys in marketing decided to move vodka’s birthplace from the frozen potato fields of Mother Russia to the political friendly rye & wheat fields of Poland, it really irked my toboggan. I grew up knowing that Russia was the enemy and Poland was a punch line for some very cruel jokes. In the modern light of truth some facts have now become clear to me:

  • The Cold war is over.
  • Vodka was invented in Poland.
  • Star Trek (circa 1966) predicted cell phones and the Internet.

    Vodka has been king in Poland for more years than Bea Arthur has been alive. (Yes, that long!) And what better way to drive this knowledge into the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumer, than to name a brand of vodka after a member of Polish aristocracy. This trademarked marketing trick leads me to my next tasting, Sobieski.

    Sobieski vodka is named after King Jan III Sobieski of Poland. He’s noted as the man who saved Europe from the evils of the Ottoman Empire, but enough of history lessons and world leaders, I’m here to talk about vodka; not sound like an episode of School House Rock.

    There are some fascinating details to note about Sobieski vodka. Their "Truth-in-Vodka" campaign rests on giving the consumer an excellent vodka at a decent price. At $11 for a 750 ml bottle ($20 for a 1.75 liter), you can get your vodka on without eBaying your first born. If you compare Sobieski’s price to that of more famous vodkas you see a 10 to 15 dollar difference. For some ,that might not be much, but depending on where you buy your liquor that difference is increased by the store’s overhead. Remember, not only are you buying the bottle, you’re paying the storekeepers’ bills and the price of advertising as well.

    When most consumers see low priced vodka, they think bottom shelf and move on. If you use that line of thinking when buying vodka, you’ll miss out on the second fascinating detail about Sobieski- it’s taste. Sobieski vodka is a premium Dankowski rye based vodka with a crispness that isn’t found in any of it’s equally priced competitors. Vodkas in that price range tend to taste like a warm subway seat or double as paint remover. Sobieski has a crispy thrice filtered taste to it that rang out in each glass that I had...and trust me I had a lot of them.

    Sobieski’s low price and sharp taste make it perfect for someone who’s looking to save a little money while enjoying premium vodka. If you already have a bottle of high priced vodka in your freezer go out and buy a bottle of Sobieski and do a taste test. My guess is, you’ll find out you spend too much on that bottle in the freezer.

    Karlsson’s Gold

    B?rje Karlsson and the Seven Virgin Potatoes or ’There’s gold in them darn hills... of potatoes.

    Potatoes, they make vodka what it is and vice presidents look stupid. What most people don’t know is that there are several different varieties of this lovely tuber, and Karlsson’s Gold uses seven distinct types in creating their fine product. Each potato type contributes subtle nuances to the product’s final flavor- it’s a seven-potato symphony of vodka excellence conducted by a team of maestros from the field of vodka.

    All of the key players involved in making Karlsson’s Gold are valedictorian graduates from an elite school of vodka making and distribution. Advertising ace Peter Ekelund, Master blender B?rje Karlsson and the creator of the Absolut bottle Hans Brindfors are recognized as the ’A-Team’ of Absolut in the vodka business world. Some might call this cheating but I call it a stroke of genius. Why not use the innovative ideas from the people who helped launch the world’s most famous vodka to make an even better product?

    I stayed up on a Friday night and examined the clarity, nose and taste of Karlsson’s Gold and found it to be the best potato vodka I’ve had in a long time. Each shot I drank took me further and further away from what I had previously experienced with the potato vodkas from my youth... a bitter after taste in my mouth and a slow, yet frightful, burn going down my throat. The taste of Karlsson’s Gold untraumatized my taste buds from the bad memories of low quality potato vodka. Each shot was a mini therapy session on how potato vodka should be- pleasantly delicious. Almost as if Dr. Phil was sitting in my mouth telling each taste bud " Why keep on kissing a cobra if you don’t have to?"

    Karlsson’s Gold is made the way great potato vodka should be made. It has a distinctive taste that is ready-made for ingredient rich cocktails; it is to be experienced like a fine wine. Just like you don’t make wine spritzers with a Ch?teau La Mondotte Saint-Emilion (1996), you don’t make screwdrivers with Karlsson’s Gold. The key to enjoying Karlsson’s Gold is to know what to use it for. I suggest a simple vodka martini, keep it clean and away from the fruit flavors and you’ll have a drink that’ll make the rest of the bar jealous. Check out the website to get more drink ideas

    It was a pleasure drinking and writing about all of these vodkas:

    Death’s Door Vodka- with its down home, take pride in what you do, small batch, quality is king approach to making vodka

    Sobieski Vodka- A clean tasting vodka for a cheap price is one of the better deals I’ve come across since I discovered free movies on the internet.

    Karlsson’s Gold Vodka- Like asking the boys from NASA to design a paper airplane, improving on perfection is hard but if any one can do it Ekelund, Karlsson & Brindfors would be the team to do it.

    Remember: No matter how smooth, clean, crisp or cheap it is, always drink in moderation, and never drive afterwards.

    "Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth."

    Steve Allen was an actor, writer, composer, producer, and talk show host.
    Born December 26th 1921. Died October 30th 2000.

    Lincoln C. Chinnery III is a freelance writer whose main areas of interest include dining, movies and nightlife. Lincoln welcomes questions and comments via email at [email protected]