I was wrong.
By the old definition in the Federal Government’s “Standards of Identity” for distilled spirits, Vodka has to be flavorless, colorless, and odorless. Last year, the TTB rescinded that requirement – now I know why. If you would have asked me a year ago about Vodka, I would ignorantly tell you “all Vodka is the same – similar, at best”. I have friends who will hold me accountable if I try to claim otherwise!
As an avid whiskey and gin fan, Vodka never excited me. It’s neutral, feels uninspired, and does nothing to tell a story. They all tasted very similar. Some were better than others in side-by-side comparisons, but generally speaking, they all carried a similar sensory experience.
Then, we opened a distillery.
Vodka is the staple clear spirit that over 30% of the market drinks. While our goal has always been to open a gin and whiskey distillery, we needed to have Vodka as a core component of our lineup for growth. While the elephants of Vodka will out-place us, out-cost us, and out-market us, at least we can have something available for those who want Vodka. True-to-form, we didn’t cut corners. Against all guidance, we made a Vodka grain-to-glass. We didn’t do it for any reason other than it’s what we’re passionate about. We just wanted it to be our vodka.
I’ll never forget my reaction during that first distillation run – the vodka was amazing. It has character: flavor and aroma I would never associate with Vodka. Light orange and vanilla notes and a warm finish from the grain. It was so good, I bailed on the vendor that was quoting our charcoal filtration setup. Why would I filter this? This was a game-changer on my perspective of Vodka. Have I been missing out all this time?
The wheels started turning.
Earlier this month, we distilled our Vodka just like we would any other batch, but we made one major adjustment – we changed our yeast. Yeast is where much of the flavor is derived in rum, whiskey, brandy, beer, and wine. It’s where most brewers, vintners, and distillers derive their “signature flavor”. We typically use high-quality neutral-tasting yeast for our Vodka, but we wanted to know what would happen if we swapped that yeast with one typically associated with brandy. And?
When you put this “experimental” vodka batch against our F&S Texas Vodka, it’s night and day – a completely different product. Same grains, same process, same distillation parameters, same yields, different yeast. It’s truly amazing how much character is carried to the end product from the grain, water, and yeast when it’s all made in-house, and made in such a way that there’s no need to charcoal filter, add sweeteners, or artificial flavors after the fact.
I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.
It does prompt some reflection…
Most importantly – do y’all care? Does the market even want this? Based on the market landscape I have a hunch, but I’ve been wrong before.