East Van Vodka (Odd Society Spirits)
Review: East Van Vodka (Odd Society Spirits) (79/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on January 16, 2014
Odd Society Spirits is a small-batch craft distillery located on Powell Street in East Vancouver’s port district. They are about experimentation and embracing change while celebrating the ‘collective and individual oddities’ of their Founder and Distiller, Gordon Glanz. The Odd Society is dedicated to melding Old World distilling traditions with New World ingenuity (and ingredients) to build a portfolio of spirits which includes whiskey, vodka, and gin.
Gordon Glanz, began his journey into the world of spirits after high school when he spent a year in Germany working at a vineyard that also had a small schnapps still. He spent some time after that in the high-tech industry, but found his way back to distilling about six years ago. He earned an MSc in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland and he has furthered his craft working under the masters at Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown.
When I asked Gordon about Odd Society he said,
“We are a “craft” distillery. Under BC regulations that means all alcohol must be produced from BC agricultural products. Unfortunately, this also means that we cannot make a rum without losing the craft designation, which comes with some big tax breaks and other advantages. We have started with a vodka and then a creme de cassis. We have started putting away whisky for aging.”
(Note: Under the regulatory framework which exists in British Columbia, becoming ‘craft-certified’ means the distillery must do all of their fermentation and distillation on site; they must use 100% BC agricultural products, using traditional methods in small batches.)
The distillery uses two 350–litre copper pot stills made by Arnold Holstein in Germany, as well as one 15-foot vodka column. The pot stills which are 30 years old were previously used by a Swiss distillery to make fruit schnapps and liqueurs that are used in many famous Swiss chocolates, however they have been retrofitted to produce gin, vodka and whisky.
Odd Society’s East Van Vodka is produced solely from malted barley grown in Prince George, and malted in Armstrong, BC. The spirit is twice distilled in the German-made copper pot stills after which it distilled once more on a 15 foot vodka column still. Then the vodka is charcoal filtered and blended with purified Vancouver tap water.
According to Gordon, East Van Vodka is not meant to be a totally neutral spirit. It is meant to be lightly fragrant, and incredibly smooth. As Gordon says, “Consider it a single malt vodka.”
Note: The distillery has began to lay down Single Malt Whisky for aging. For their whisky, the last distillation with the 15 foot column still is eliminated. Hence they produce their Malt distillate in much the same manner, twice distilled on a copper pot still, as traditional Scottish distillers. Because their Vodka is produced from the same spirit as their Whisky will be (just once more distilled), an examination of the Vodka gives us a glimpse into the character of their future single malt whisky.
First Impression 9/10
East Van Vodka arrives in the tall, oval-shaped, corked bottle shown to the left. The presentation includes the curious Odd Society (Owl Man with a Pipe) logo which draws one to the bottle ensuring that it will be noticed in a retail setting. I like what I see, and in fact, I offer my kudos to the folks at the distillery for having the good sense to have a solid plan with respect to the marketing of their spirits.
The First Sip 14.5/20
I chilled the vodka in my freezer for a few days before I poured my first full shot glass of spirit. The East van Vodka is very creamy and sluggish at this extremely cold temperature, however even chilled to below freezing I can detect a substantial vegetal presence breezes above the glass. I remind myself that the spirit is one distillation removed from Odd Society’s new make whisky spirit (yes, they are currently distilling and barreling a double distilled new make malted barley spirit). The aim of Odd Society with respect to this Vodka is not to make a traditional neutral vodka spirit, rather it is to make a vodka which features some of the flavours and character of their distilled malted barley.
As I let the breezes meander about, I do in fact begin to notice the malted barley aroma growing in those breezes. The aroma is vaguely beer-like with barley porridge-like overtones and delicate impressions of brown sugar, spearmint and red licorice as well. After nosing, the first sip reveals a lightly spicy spirit with a malty sweetness and a firm minty fruitiness. East Van is very similar in flavour to new make whisky spirit; but it is smoother and lighter in the delivery than a typical new make whisky. For reference I would describe it as a hybrid spirit which sits between Vodka and new make spirit with the balance tipping more closely to new make than vodka. As a result, it is not a clean pure Vodka in the traditional sense. If you want another comparison, my feeling is that the spirit bears a striking resemblance to the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit.
The East Van is pleasant initially, although just like Aquavit (at least the few I have tasted) the spirit develops a noticeable burn after a few sips which begins to gnaw at the back of the throat, and it also carries a few unwanted vegetal flavours along for the ride. Scoring is difficult as I understand the producers were not aiming for a traditional Vodka flavour profile. However, the growing burn and the vegetal undertones must be accounted for, and the spirit is labeled as Vodka.
Taking a Shot 14.5/20
When I take a full swallow of the East Van Vodka, I again find the initial flavour to be pleasant, however, this initial pleasantry is followed by a creeping burn and a lightly sweet and malty aftertaste. In fact the aftertaste in the mouth was quite firm, and if malty beer-like flavours are not your thing, you may not like this. I found the flavours very interesting, although as the vodka warms (and if you take a subsequent shot), the burn and aftertaste become substantially less so.
Out for Dinner 14.5/20
If you have ever been to a Scandinavian dinner party, you probably know the tradition of eating your meal and then singing songs you do not understand and finally throwing down a shot of ice-cold Aquavit at the end of each song. The more you sing, the warmer that Aquavit becomes and the less enjoyable the experience is. The next day, you might have a bit of sore head if you sang and drank too much; but somehow the experience was enjoyable enough that you look forward to the next Scandinavian dinner party.
East Van is not a Vodka to sip while you sample fresh food and salty snacks. This is because unlike a cleaner vodka which would cleanse the palate between bites, the East Van carries its flavour into the food disguising rather than enhancing the gastronomic experience. There is a place for this spirit at the dinner table, just not beside caviar. This vodka is suited for throwing down shots after a song, grimacing, daring your friends to do it, and then doing it yourself all over again. I caution you to stop after the second song, and perhaps to move a long tall cocktail to enjoy leisurely for the rest of the evening.
East Van is a Vodka which relishes the cocktail experience in the short and tall form especially in combination with fresh fruit juice and/or soda (see recipe below). I allowed my friends to sample the spirit at a recent Vodka tasting event after we had finished evaluating three very well-regarded European vodkas (Khortytsa Platinum, Sobieski, and Belvedere vodkas). Although it would be disingenuous to claim that we loved this vodka just as much as the other three when we were sampling it neat, it is nonetheless true that we all believed the spirit made a full flavoured cocktail that rivaled the best cocktails we had tasted that day. All that new make character, the malty sweetness, and the firm minty fruitiness of the spirit gave the all the cocktails we tried a full round flavour which we embraced enthusiastically.
Final Score: 79/100
Recommended for Scandinavian Dinner Parties
And for Short and Tall Cocktails which are Full of Character
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.
1 1/2 oz Vodka
1 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Lime Juice
lime slice for garnish
Add the three ingredients with ice into a metal shaker
Shake until the sides of the shaker frost
Strain into a cocktail glass
Add a few splashes of soda
Garnish with Lime
Note: If you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!
You may (loosely) interpret my score 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 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)