Russian Vodka Brands and Styles of Vodka
Russian Vodka Brands
The concept of a brand in Russia is not understood in the same way as it is in Western countries because of the long-standing manufacturing monopoly during the communist period. The names of the different vodkas produced in Russia refer more to different styles, and they may be made by several distilleries at the same time. In addition, these names are not attached to a particular family or region, but rather to certain qualities and flavourings. There is still a limited number of them, even though new brands and names have appeared since the collapse of communism.
Located in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan, Altai is a mountainous region (the name means “mountain of gold” in Mongolian), with an altitude of three thousand metres at its highest point. Vodka, made from varieties of wheat that are highly resistant to the low temperatures of this Siberian region, has been produced in the area for more than a century. The water there is especially pure.
This explains why the French group Pernod-Ricard decided to launch an international brand of vodka called Altai. Since 1994, the group had been looking for a high-range vodka that could compete with the leading brands.
Made in the village of Sokolovo, the vodka is made entirely of wheat, distilled three times and filtered several more. With an alcohol content of ninety-six percent when it comes out of the continuous still, it is then diluted with pure water from the Altai Mountains that surround the village. Packaged in transparent, silkscreened bottles, it has an alcohol content of forty percent.
In addition to a premium brand for the international market, the PernodRicard group wanted to develop this vodka on the Russian market through the intermediary of its subsidiary Rouss. Even though it is one of the most expensive on the market, and one of the most recent, it was lauded in 1996 by the Izvestia newspaper as the “the best Russian vodka among those created since perestroika”. As of 1998, this vodka will be distributed by Pernod-Richard subsidiaries in thirteen countries in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
This high-range variety of Moskovskaya is made in Moscow in the city’s main distillery, which also makes other vodkas. It is considered one of the finest for its subtle grain flavouring, but it is somewhat lacking in character because of its purity.
This brand of Russian vodka appeared in 1996. It carries the name of Vladimir Dovgan, a businessman who is partly responsible for the opening of Russia to a market economy. In 1990, at the age of 26, he started manufacturing equipment and products for pizzerias and bakeries. He registered his name as a quality brand and label for different products.
To make a range of vodkas of high quality, he called on the top specialists in the field. As early as the first year of operation, the Dovgan range received awards at several fairs and expositions, not only in Russia (Moscow and Saint Petersburg), but also at SIAL in Paris and Anuga in Cologne. There are nine types of Dovgan vodka: Rye, Winter (flavoured with mint), Cranberry, Lemon, Honey, Forest (St.-John’s wort and forest herbs), Tzar and Gold (bay leaf and rose). They are sold in a variety of packages.
In 1997, Dovgan opened a production facility in Nimegue, Holland and then went after the European market with the help of a sales network. The company plans to go into business in the United States soon. Hoping to compete with premium vodkas by stressing its Russian origins, Dovgan is making its name known by sponsoring cultural and charitable events.
Left to right: Dovgan vodkas: Orange, Winter, Gold, for women, wheat-based.
In Russian, the word krepkaya means “strong”, a good description for this vodka, with its alcohol content of fifty-six percent, making it one of the most alcoholic Russian vodkas. It nevertheless has real aromatic potential and a true personality, marked by distinctive spicy notes. Because of its strength, it can be either drunk straight or mixed in a cocktail.
This original vodka calls to mind the Cossacks of the Kuban River region, located in southern Russia, not far from Georgia. The vodka differs from the Moscow style in that it is distinguished by citrus (orange and lemon) notes that lend it a highly characteristic touch of bitterness.
Made in a new distillery located near Moscow, this vodka claims to be the vodka of the Kremlin. Distilled three times and filtered through charcoal, it contains 37.5 percent alcohol and also comes in versions flavoured with lemon, pepper, and blackcurrant.
Vodkas with lemon flavouring like this one are popular in Russia. Mild and unctuous (a little sugar is usually added to reduce the acidity of the lemon), it can be made in different ways. The most interesting versions are flavoured with an infusion of lemon peel, while others simply have flavoured concentrates added to them.
Named after the Russian capital city, this is the best example of the classic Moscow style of rye-based vodka (malted or non-malted), with no added flavourings and containing forty percent alcohol, in conformance with the principles of Mendeleyev. The Osobaya (“special” in Russian) version is in theory reserved for export and is a lemon-flavoured beverage.
This is a flavoured vodka that was the favorite of the hunters of yesteryear and anyone else who had to face the frigid Russian winters. It comes in many styles, depending on the brand and the producer. In the classic recipe, an infusion is prepared that contains around ten herbs and spices, including ginger, cloves, juniper, anise, and orange peel. This is added to a classic vodka made from grain, along with a little sugar and white wine, making it somewhat like port. The mixture is left to macerate for a while before it is distilled again and then bottled. It can contain up to forty-five percent alcohol.
Peter the Great had the habit of sprinkling his glass of vodka with finely ground black pepper. Today, pepper vodka is made by macerating different types of chillies and peppers in grain-based vodka. The flavour is powerful and spicy, although the alcohol content is moderate (thirty-five percent). It is reddish-amber in color and facilitates the making of a Bloody Mary. There are many types of pepper vodka, depending on the producer and the market for which it is destined.
This vodka of Russian origin is mostly available in North America. Traditionally made of grains, it is distinguished mainly by its affordable market price.
This vodka of highly satisfactory quality is unusual in that it is made exclusively of wheat. It has a mild flavour and contains forty percent alcohol.
This is one of the rare vodkas that dares to admit that it is partly made with potatoes. It is slightly flavoured with cinnamon and contains forty percent alcohol. It exists in several versions characterized by great aromatic mildness.
Siberia, evocative of freezing cold, also stands for extreme purity, making it an excellent promotional device for this type of vodka, made with wheat flour and filtered several times through birch wood charcoal from the taiga. When tasted, it reveals pleasant aromas of anise. This vodka can be fairly strong; one version contains forty-two percent alcohol.
In the 1980s, Smirnoff made a noted comeback in the city where it had been born more than a century before. To celebrate the event, the company chose to re-create the recipe of its founder, Piotr Smirnov. Made only of grains (with a high proportion of rye), Smirnoff Black owes its special characteristics to the use of an old-style pot still (the type used in Charente), which is better able to develop the aromas of the grain, and slow filtration through charcoal. Smooth and especially aromatic, it is an excellent tasting vodka.
Light amber in color and fairly aromatic, this is an “old” (starka in Russian) vodka. It is one of the rare vodkas that is, in principle, aged for a certain length of time. But its characteristics are due more to its aromatization by an infusion of appleand pear-tree leaves, followed by another distillation with the addition of an eau-de-vie made from wine and a little port. It is very mild tasting in spite of its high alcohol content of at least forty-three percent.
A high-range Russian vodka that, is a perfect expression of the Moscow style. Its name means “capital” (stolitsa in Russian). Made from winter wheat, it is distilled twice and filtered through birch-wood charcoal three times. The water used to rectify it is both soft and pure. A little sugar is added at the end to make it smoother.
While its label still shows the facade of the Moscow Hotel, built under Stalin in the 1930s, Stolichnaya is now the leader of Soiouzplodoimport’s exports. It is meant to compete with major international brands like Smirnoff and Absolut. A special effort is currently being made to conquer the American market through the intermediary of the importer Carillon. There are no fewer than ten varieties of Stolichnaya, in addition to the classic style, which comes in two strengths, with forty percent and fifty percent alcohol.
Made with natural flavourings, it comes in the following varieties: Ohranj (orange), Limonnaya (lemon zest), Pertsovka (pepper and chili), Okhotnichaya (herbs and spices), Kaffya (coffee), Vanil (vanilla), Strasberi (strawberry), Razberi (raspberry), Persik (peach), and Zinamon (cinnamon). Eight different varieties of Stolichnaya come in refrigerated bottles that bring it to the perfect serving temperature (minus one degree Celsius).
With a fifty percent alcohol content, this is one of the strongest vodkas. It is usually drunk in small quantities with traditional meals. It is transparent and made exclusively of grains.
This new Russian vodka,with its modem design and deep blue bottle, symbolizes the new face of today’s Russia — no czarist or ‘Stalinist symbols are associated with it. With an alcohol content of 37.5 percent, this is a grain-based vodka of great purity made with water from Lake Ladoga, the largest’ in Europe.
Like its Polish cousin of the same name, this traditional vodka is flavoured with “buffalo grass”, which grows in a region that extends into both countries. The Russian version, however, does not have a blade of grass in the bottle. Mild and smooth, with refined flavours, it contains forty percent alcohol and is a perfect accompaniment to traditional Russian cuisine.
There are several other brands of Russian vodka that are not as well-distributed as those mentioned above, including the relatively new Posolskaya, similar to the Moscow style; Stolbovaya, a grain-based vodka that also exists in pepper and anise versions; Yubileynaya, flavoured with honey and brandy; Zolotoe Koltso; Anisovaya, flavoured with anise; Baikalskaya, which reflects the purity of the waters of Lake Baikal; Maccahapa Zarskaya Datscha, in memory of Czar Nicholas II; Saint Petersburg; Star of Russia; Strovia; Viktoria; etc.