In addition to Russia, Central Europe, and Scandinavia, vodka is made in other European countries. Most often, this came about when existing distillers added to their range of beverages an eau-de-vie, usually colourless and neutral tasting, in order to respond to market demand. Others were more original in their approach.
Austria. The country’s proximity to Central Europe explains the existence of a few local brands, such as the rather bitter 1777 Lviv, inspired by a Ukrainian recipe, and Monopolowa.
Belorussia. Poland and Russia long fought over the possession of this former Soviet republic, which has its own vodka producers, notably the brands Ababycabl (made in the capital, Minsk), Leader, Legend, and Old Warrior.
France. Eristoff, with its far-off Russian origins, has no real national identity. It belonged for many years to the Italian group Martini and is now part of Bacardi, one of the world leaders. This neutral vodka has a 37.5 percent alcohol content, and more than eight million bottles are made and distributed each year in several countries, including France. It is found in many European countries, as well as in North America, in its original bottle with a slightly flared base. The name comes from an old noble Ukrainian family, once known as Eristhavi, but was changed to the more Russian-sounding Eristoff in the middle of the century. Constantine Eristhavi created the recipe for the vodka in 1806 in Novgorod, then passed it on to his son Alexander and eventually to his grandson Nicholas, who then sold it to the Benedictine company, which was later taken over by Martini.
Grey Goose Vodka is made by the cognac maker Mounier and is exclusively distributed on the American market by Sidney Frank of New Rochelle. Made of wheat, rye, and barley, it is distilled in four stages, contains forty percent alcohol, and comes in a pretty bottle with a satiny surface. It was the only vodka served on board the Concorde during a special flight between New York and Bordeaux for the 1997 Vinexpo trade fair.
“La Vodka” is a brand distilled in France by a Bordeaux-region producer.
Germany. Gorbatschow, the most common brand, has nothing to do with the last secretary-general of the Soviet Communist Party. It is named after a family of distillers from Saint Petersburg who fled the Bolshevik regime in 1921 and went into business in Berlin, where they intended to
supply vodka to other Russian refugees. The brand now belongs to Henkell, a large producer of efferves- cent wines. It comes in different strengths, with 37.5, 40, 50, and 60 percent alco- hol.
The Dethleffsen group, a major producer of spirits that has been around for more than 250 years, makes the Rasputin brand of vodka. Decorated with the image of the famous monk who haunted the court of the last czar, this vodka exists in transparent versions (with 37.5, 40 and 70 percent alcohol) and in versions flavoured with lemon and cranberry.
Other vodkas have names that allude to the Russian world — such as Puschkin of the 1B Berentzen group, which comes in both neutral and flavoured versions — and to Germany, such as Bismarck. There is even one named after Karl Marx.
Great Britain. In addition to the brands made by gin producers (Gilbey’s, Gordon’s, Tanqueray, etc.), which often carry the company name, there are several other British vodkas:
• Black Death. The macabre name and the skull wearing a top hat on the label might lead you to believe that this is an extra-strong vodka, but it contains only forty percent alcohol.
• Selekt. A fairly neutral grain vodka, destined primarily for the Russian and duty-free markets.
• Vladivar. Originally made by a small brewery and then sold to the Whyte & Mackay group, this vodka was launched with an ironic advertising campaign featuring, for example, a parade of Soviet troops on Red Square in Moscow.
• Virgin. In addition to Richard Branson’s activities in fields as diverse as the record business, aviation and cola, his group also has a range of vodkas with alcohol contents of 37.5, 40, and 50 percent, made by the whiskey distiller William Grant.
Ireland. Irish Distillers, the largest producer of spirits in the Republic of Ireland, makes a vodka called Hussar.
Italy. The country produces mostly light vodkas with between twenty-five percent and thirty percent alcohol, usually flavoured with fruits or plants. The Zucco group, which makes several liqueurs, including the famous Amaretto Disaronno, has been making the Artic range of vodkas since 1997. All but the pure vodka, with forty percent alcohol, contain twenty-five percent alcohol. There are no less than eleven versions flavoured with fruit juices, ranging from pineapple to peach, banana, lemon, melon, and mint, which come in a bottle created by the designer Berton.
They are similar to the Keglevich vodkas, made by Stock, which contain thirty percent alcohol and are flavoured with lemon, peach, and melon, and to the peach-flavoured Liudka, with twenty-seven percent alcohol.
The Netherlands. The Dutch invented industrial distillation, and, not surprisingly, they call some of their spirits “vodka”, including Ketel One, a grain vodka made by the Nolet distillery. Founded in Schiedam in 1691, the distillery has been owned by the same family for ten generations. This original vodka is made in the traditional way in a pot still, which lends it a remarkable mellowness. It is now widely exported, especially to the United States.
Ursus (which means “bear” in Latin), is a brand made according to a recipe created in Ireland when distillation was illegal there. It belongs today to the De Hoorn group and also comes in lemon and blackcurrant-flavoured versions.
Royalty became the official supplier to Queen Beatrix in 1988 and carries the Dutch royal arms. Made by the Hooghoudt de Groningue distillery in the north of the country, it comes in a blue bottle, a sign of its “nobility and dignity”. It is filtered through coal made from peat.
Scotland. Like London’s gin producers, Scottish whiskey makers have not been able to resist the temptation to make vodka. Among them are Grant’s, with a vodka of the same name; and the Campbell group, with the Karinskaya brand, which contains 37.5 percent alcohol and was formerly distributed by the Pernod-Ricard group.
Ukraine. In spite of its long attachment to the former USSR, Ukraine has always held on to its own style of vodka, called gorilka (which means “burning”), the favourite drink of the Cossacks of Dniepr. Instead of being made from rye, as Moscow vodkas are, it is made with wheat and flavoured with lime-blossom honey. There are several different brands, along with many Moscow-style vodkas.