BELUGA Part 1 – The Making of a Monumental Vodka
Article by Chip Dykstra
Published July 28, 2013
When the first bottle of BELUGA Vodka rolled off the production lines at the Mariinsk Distillery on December 13th, 2002, the brand positioned itself at the highest end of the market niche for Vodka. This is (the brand owners are quick to point out) not a brand for the masses, rather it is a brand which seeks those consumers who wish to separate themselves from those masses in terms of aristocracy, sophistication, and self-realization. In short the company has positioned the BELUGA brand as a “Monumental Spirit.” (See my article on Monumental Spirits here.) When a consumer chooses BELUGA he (or she) is not just choosing a Vodka, he (or she) is making a statement about the image they wish to portray to their colleagues and to the rest of the world.
To reinforce the notion that this is a vodka for the chosen, rather than for the rest of humanity the company has chosen a symbol of sophisticated aristocracy to be placed upon each bottle of vodka that they produce. The pewter fish which is mounted on each bottle of BELUGA Vodka is actually a sturgeon, the source of caviar which is the suggested food pairing for BELUGA Vodka. As you know, Caviar is not for everyone. It is an expensive indulgence which has always been linked to the wealthy and the elite. And in fact, in the advertising presentations which I have been shown, BELUGA aims its marketing campaign squarely at the upper echelons of society, those who are “experts in their fields”, and “people, who have reached the peak of their career”.
I have been told by BELUGA that,
“Our audience consists of grown up and accomplished yuppies. Their goals are not limited to simply enjoying themselves, since they strive for self-fulfillment.”
Of course this begs the question, What makes BELUGA so special, such that the brand can aspire to reach that elite class of consumers?
The answer to that question is rather complicated. Part of the answer, of course lies in the marketing which I have briefly touched upon; however, another part of the answer lies in the spirit itself. This article deals primarily with this second part of the answer as I will attempt to walk you through the production process of BELUGA Vodka and describe how this Monumental Spirit is made. You can decide for yourself, whether this spirit is one which you would aspire to place upon your bar.
BELUGA Vodka is produced by JSC Synergy, and it has been in production since 2002, when the first 38 bottles rolled off the production line at the Mariinsk Distillery on December 13th. The history of this plant stretches back 113 years to 1900 when it was built in a remote area of Siberia located to the north of the Republic of Altai in the town of Mariinsk. This town is situated in the Kemerovo Oblast of southwestern Siberia, where the West Siberian Plain meets the South Siberian mountains. I am told that the distillery was founded in this remote area of Siberia for a very special reason, the Getreidemalz Siberian spring water which is pulled from an aquifer 250 meters below the ground. The special properties of this water (the aquifer contains quartz) are said to make it ideal for vodka.
The brand is represented by four different and unique Vodkas.
- The super-premium Beluga Noble is the flagship product in Beluga family and is said to embody the nobility of the BELUGA family.
- The other super-premium brand, Beluga Transatlantic Racing, is the newest product in Beluga family and was inspired by the success of the Russian sailing team BELUGA in yachting competitions upon the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. This brand is said to reflect “the passion for excellence and freedom that is so congenial to the spirit of yachting”.
- Even higher up the ladder of aristocracy, there is the Ultra Premium brand, Beluga Allure which was also produced as an inspirational special edition Vodka, this time inspired by the successes of the Beluga Polo Team in international competition. The Allure is said to symbolize the aristocratic and noble spirit of the sport of Polo.
- Finally we have the most premium brand, another ultra-premium Vodka, Beluga Gold Line which was designed for special occasions and is said to embody a love for exquisite cuisine and the gastronomic experience.
Each of these super and ultra-premium Vodkas has its own special recipe, and each brand is constructed in a slightly different way to make it unique. However, each brand has its roots in a premium malt spirit produced at the Itkul Factory.
Making a Monumental Vodka
Malt Spirit (produced at the Itkul Factory)
The Itkul Factory (est. 1868) is said to be located in an environmentally pure region of the Republic of Altai. This is a remote area of the Siberian Taiga located at the very center of Asia in between the steppes of Kazakhstan and semi-arid deserts of Mongolia. The key to this location is the purity of the natural environment that surrounds the distillery. Natural purity is a major theme in the production and marketing strategy of BELUGA Vodka.
The raw material used for the production of the spirit is the local wheat which is grown on the Russian Steppes. This wheat is first dried and then cleaned to ensure all contaminants are eliminated. The clean wheat grains are then soaked with water to promote the process of natural germination. Wheat is chosen as the grain of choice for BELUGA Vodka because of the large number of different ferments it possesses. (This means chemicals and/or additives are not required for fermentation.) During the process of sprouting (germination) these ferments are activated which allows further processing of the starch within the grain into sugar. When the proper moisture level is reached, and the available starch is at its maximum, the sprouted grain is dried fixing these levels for fermentation. With the available sugars fixed, the malted grains are crushed and mixed with hot water. The starch transforms into sugar (fermentation) due to the presence of the natural ferments which were obtained during the process of germination. Unlike the process used for other grains no chemical additives are used in fermentation. The Malt spirit is made entirely through natural processes.
Once the fermentation of grain is complete, the process of distillation and rectification takes place. The Itkul Factory (which was refurbished recently) is now a state of the art facility where the entire process is completely automatic. This eliminates any chance of human contact which could influence the quality of the spirit in a negative way. The spirit is distilled five times becoming what the folks at BELUGA call a “pure malt spirit”. The malt spirit is a natural, ecologically pure spirit which is produced without any chemical or genetically modified products.
Making BELUGA Vodka (at the Mariinsk Distillery)
Each brand of BELUGA Vodka is unique, and therefore each is made a little differently. For the purposes of this article, I will describe the production of the super-premium BELUGA Noble Russian Vodka, and for each of the other brands I will note when their production process differs. In this way each of the four brands will be fully described.
BELUGA Russian Noble Vodka is produced at the Mariinsk Distillery from pure malted spirit (from the Iktul Factory) and pure Getreidemalz Siberian spring water. This spring water is pulled from a quartz seam 250 m underground. After the pure malt spirit and artesian water are combined, they undergo a double filtration, through quartz sand. Finally the spirit additionally travels twice through a 10.5 meter birch charcoal column filter impregnated with silver. A slow, delicate filtration is process is used to maintain the natural taste and characteristics of the artesian water.
(Note: In the case of BELUGA Transatlantic, and the BELUGA Allure, softened water is added to the filtered artesian water for a richer softer mouth-feel.)
The filtration process is different for each BELUGA brand.
For BELUGA Transatlantic, the malt spirit, artesian water and softened water undergoes an additional filtration through a natural cotton filter. (Cotton is a natural absorbent.)
For BELUGA Allure, a third filtration of the mixture of malt spirit, artesian water and softened water through the birch charcoal column (impregnated with silver) is required.
For BELUGA Gold Line, the malt spirit and artesian water undergoes an additional filtration through the birch charcoal filter (impregnated with silver), and afterwards an additional quartz sand filtration.
At this point in the process, BELUGA introduces very small amounts of special ingredients into the spirit. Each brand has its own recipe of ingredients.:
For BELUGA Noble, the special ingredients are: sugar, honey, oatmeal infusion, milk thistle extract, and vanillin.
For BELUGA Transatlantic, the special ingredients are: sugar syrup, malted barley extract, and wild strawberry extract.
For BELUGA Allure, the special ingredients are: fig extract, and maple syrup.
For BELUGA Gold Line, the special ingredients are: sugar syrup, lactose, rice infusion, and rhodiola rosea (golden root) extract.
The addition of small quantities of special ingredients is consistent with what I know of traditional European production methods where each distilled vodka has its own recipe and its own special ingredients. It is these special ingredients used in very small proportions which contribute to the individual character of each Vodka. After the ingredients are added, but prior bottling, the BELUGA Vodka is rested for between 30 and 90 days.
For BELUGA Noble, the rest period is 30 days.
For BELUGA Transatlantic, the rest period is 45 days.
For BELUGA Allure, the rest period is 60 days..
For BELUGA Gold Line, the rest period is 90 days.
This rest period apparently allows the molecular components within to stabilize allowing for a smoother more velvet-like mouth-feel and taste.
Bottling the Monumental Spirit
A description of the production process for Beluga Vodka would not be complete without a brief discussion of the final bottle presentation of the Monumental Spirit. According to BELUGA, the stylish elegant bottle design for BELUGA was specially created by the designers of an old French cognac house. The metal sturgeon upon the label is attached manually, and was hand crafted with meticulous detail. The exclusivity of Beluga vodka is highlighted with the special cork closure used for each bottle. This corks are made of ecologically clean materials and guarantees that the bottle is hermetically sealed. For the BELUGA Gold line extra exclusivity is accomplished through the unique numbering of each bottle, and the construction of the muzzled cork closure with the hot-waxing to seal.
Of course, producing BELUGA Vodka is only part of the story in the creation of the Monumental Spirit. The other half of the story is the marketing. Although perhaps these two halves are more intrinsically linked that I have led you to believe.
In BELUGA Part 2 – The Marketing of a Monumental Vodka I will complete my story by discussing the Marketing strategy of BELUGA Vodka.
If you are interested you may read each my reviews of all four Monumental Beluga Vodka Brands by following these links: