Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spirits: Karlsson's Gold Vodka

When I assembled my list of actually good vodkas a few months ago, Karlsson's was on my potential list for inclusion but didn't make the cut because, well, I hadn't actually tried it. I first heard about it in my copy of Jason Wilson's Boozehound (an all-around great book) which describes it as a total rejection of the modern multiply-distilled and ultra-filtered "premium vodka". Wilson even uses the term "potato eau-de-vie", and given my love for other products that use the same philosophy I was dying to try it.

Although I started to see advertisements in Imbibe Magazine, several reviews, and even a couple single-vintage line extensions (single-vintage vodka!) it was months before I stumbled across a bottle of Karlsson's for sale locally. That wound up being a little too late to make the aforementioned list, but I have no qualms tacking on an addendum. Shall we?

About: That's a pretty bottle, no? The shiny golden potatoes along the inside label are a nice touch. The stuff inside has an interesting provenance, stemming from what Wilson describes as an effort to capture a sense of terroir in vodka. It's produced from a blend of heirloom new potatoes all grown in Cape Bj√§re, Sweden. Once harvested, the spirit is run only once through a continuous still, not multiple times as is common with super-luxe flavorless vodkas, and is bottled unfiltered. Which makes the clarity of the end result a little surprising, but there you have it. Basically, they're trying to capture the flavor of the potato itself, with as little filtering or embellishment as possible. How do they do?

Tasting Notes: Served at room temperature, this is aggressively medicinal on the nose, a bit like smelling a bottle of aspirin. It's a bit offputting, but there are some notes of dried herbs and black pepper in there too. On the palate, it's immediately rich and creamy (not adjectives that I would normally use to describe vodka) and I'll be damned if it doesn't actually taste a lot like a raw slice of potato. It's subtly vegetal, sweet, a little bit peppery, with distinct notes of fresh thyme and heavy cream. But all of that is played softly and in balance, without much fanfare. As a result, ice waters it down too much and renders it unremarkable. My favorite way to drink it so far has been chilled and served on its own; when cold, the medicinal nose is almost entirely absent, and you can let the vodka rest and warm up on your tongue to taste the layers of flavor. Chilling also helps temper the medicinal and peppery bite of the finish, leaving behind a creamy sweetness that is, again, oddly... potato-y. Sipping vodka - who knew?

On the whole I really like this stuff as a curiosity and a marked departure from the intent of most vodkas. It's definitely more intensely flavored than the other vodkas I reviewed previously, and I feel like it wouldn't mix quite as effectively - it's really meant to be enjoyed on its own. I'm not sure if there's a huge niche for that in the liquor market, but I'm glad that somebody is trying to fill it.