It’s something of a cliché among whiskey and gin fans that while vodka is fine for partying, the flavorless, colorless, odorless spirit is unsuitable for serious drinking. In reality, rather than distilling and filtering their vodkas to the point of sameness, a slew of brands are producing super-premium expressions with a surprising amount of character and, dare we say it, flavor.
To that end, Belvedere has gone full bore with Belvedere Unfiltered, which the company dubs “the whiskey drinker’s vodka.” Distilled four times from a rare baker’s-grade rye found in Poland, it is full-bodied and complex (as vodkas go). Aromatic notes of toasted nuts and baked bread are followed on the palate by hints of salted caramel and white pepper. In Las Vegas, you’ll find Belvedere Unfiltered at STK, Bar Vdara, Tao, and Lavo.
Denmark’s Frïs and Sweden’s Purity also produce unfiltered vodkas—Frïs opts for a proprietary “freeze distillation” technique, dropping impurities out of solution—as does Absolut with its new Elyx, currently found behind the bar at Hakkasan and Rx Boiler Room. Other brands take a different tack. The bartender favorite Tito’s Handmade Vodka, an indy product out of Austin, Texas, is made from corn and cooked in a copper pot still instead of steel columns, adding loads of flavor and mouth feel to the original distillate (it’s filtered once through charcoal).
What makes these elixirs so compelling? While vodka is often distilled and filtered several times to remove congeners (the by-products of distillation that might be the source of those instant hangovers), “It’s often what we’re able to leave in the vodka, rather than what we take out, that makes a great drink,” says Las Vegan Tony Abou-Ganim, author of Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails. He suggests that common filtration techniques “often take out the bad and the good.”
For some aficionados, these new spirits possess enough character to drink them neat or on ice. In fact, these idiosyncratic vodkas could throw off a traditional vodka tonic. Sweden’s unfiltered Karlsson’s Gold smells and tastes distinctly of its potato origins (it’s best sipped chilled with a pinch of pepper). For most, however, the added flavor notes are subtle enough to enhance, rather than skew, your cocktail.
“We believe in the current trend of taking away artificial flavors and additives that don’t showcase the true flavor of each spirit,” says Michael Vorsanger, director of food and beverage at Vdara Hotel & Spa. Hence, on his menu you’ll find the Well Manner martini, featuring Belvedere Unfiltered, just a whiff of vermouth, and housemade blue cheese–stuffed olives.