Methodology for Vodka Reviews
I believe that tasting and reviewing Vodka must be approached quite differently than tasting and reviewing whisky or rum. Whereas whisky and rum are generally approached at room temperature and perhaps with a little water to open them up; Vodka is generally chilled, and one would rarely add water or ice when drinking Vodka neat. Vodka is also a drink which is never consumed in a vacuum. A traditional Vodka tasting would normally include food and good company. The style of food is in the vein of fresh bread or buns, potato dishes, sausage or ham, and pickled foods. The style of company of course is completely up to the individuals involved.
My Vodka tastings will begin with a chilled vodka sample in a shot style glass. Although some prefer Vodka to be chilled in the freezer overnight before tasting I prefer the temperature to be just above zero degrees Celsius. If vodka is too cold, it may numb the taste buds, and the light nuances of flavour in the Vodka may be lost. If it is too warm… well that just isn’t how Vodka is normally drank. (Flavoured vodkas may be drank warmer yet, perhaps chilled in the refrigerator for several hours before the tasting. )
My sampling sessions will begin first with a small sip allowing the Vodka to rest upon the palate before it is swallowed. Then a larger portion is taken into the mouth and swallowed without allowing it to rest on the palate (Shot style). In the first instance I try to discern the main constituents of aroma and flavour and whether there is any aftertaste associated with the drink. In the second case, I am discerning the amount of warmth the vodka imparts onto the back of the palate and whether there is any aftertaste or burn in the throat. After each swallow I take note of the elements I enjoy, and those that I do not. The texture of the Vodka, the light taste sensations which I notice, any aftertaste and/or any burn are all important.
Then I sample the Vodka in conjunction with foods, fresh bread or buns, potatoes, sausage or ham. I like a variety of foods which complement, but do not overwhelm the experience. I always invite a few guests to enjoy the experience with me and in particular I try to have guests who are familiar with the rituals of this spirit.
I will revisit the Vodka on my own in my private tasting room for more tastings just to make sure my review is accurate and consistent.
Because Vodka is such an important ingredient in cocktails I also place a significant weight in my review in the performance of the Vodka in cocktails, and for each review I will construct at least one cocktail and assess the performance of the spirit in that form.
Of course, I weigh the various factors based upon the level of importance which I place upon each step in the process. As a starting point for vodka reviews I will follow a template that looks like this.
The First Impression (10 pts)
- This is essentially a score for presentation and packaging. In my opinion the presentation for Vodka is much more important than it is for other spirits, because the nuances of flavour are much lighter and more difficult to discern for the average consumer.
The First Sip (20 pts)
- That initial sip when the Vodka first coats the tongue and fleeting flavours are recognized. The aroma of the spirit may be recognized here as well the texture and the mouth feel of the spirit. As the Vodka is swallowed particular attention will be paid to the aftertaste and whether any burn is creeping in.
Taking a Shot (20 pts)
- This isn’t so much about flavour as it is about smoothness and warmth. The palate should be left clean with no aftertaste, and the throat may be warmed but no discomfort should ever be apparent. The palate and the throat should be coated with a creamy sort of goodness, rather than a thin alcohol burn.
Out for Dinner (20 pts)
- How does this taste with food? Is the overall experience more enjoyable with the Vodka or does it add little to the occasion. This is highly subjective and more guests with more opinions is much preferred.
Cocktails (30 pts)
- My go to cocktail for this section will be the Cosmopolitan (of course for flavoured Vodkas I will make decisions based upon the particular flavours involved). When I make my Cosmos I use fresh squeezed Lime and the best quality natural cranberry juice I can find with no additives or preservatives. I want the flavours of the juices to shine through the cocktail without any bitterness creeping in from the Vodka. I want no unpleasant aftertaste, and if the Vodka does impart a little flavour it must be in harmony with the cocktail.
The Final Score shall be out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing Vodka. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are still preferable.
85-89 Excellent! Shots or cocktails!
90-94 You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 80 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89 Silver Medal (Recommended for shots and mixing cocktails)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Sublime Cocktails)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)