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Imbibe Ice Awards 2008 - Vodka

Vodka

There’s no denying that vodka has been absolutely key to the growth in luxury spirits sales in recent years. Pushing back the boundaries on everything from production methods to packaging, this supposedly neutral spirit has succeeded in catching consumers’ imagination like no other. And as the ICE judging proved, the vodka category is still capable of whipping up some lively debate in the trade, too.

Many of the 16 brands up for scrutiny (all priced over RRP £25) came with a complex back story – esoteric distillation methods, organic raw materials, historic recipes – and this was a point of contention for our panel. While some argued this would be a key selling point in a crowded market, others maintained that these stories held little sway with the majority of customers, who were more likely to buy on the basis of a strong brand, a good bottle, or the recommendation of a pretty waitress.

When it came to flavour, it was character and balance which won the day – indeed, some judges expressed an anxiety that the trend for ultra-pure, super-neutral vodkas had now gone a little too far, and a return to some slightly feistier, old-school styles was generally welcomed. All agreed, however, that the category should be commended for some outstanding bottle design – a fact which has helped make vodka the must-have spirit on any fashionable nightclub table.


The Judges

Igor Beaulieu – bar manager, Prism, Ugo Bellan – assistant manager, Light Bar, St Martin’s Lane, Sam King – director, Ghost; co-founder Aura, Steve Manktelow – operations, Ignite Group, Alessandro Palazzi – bar manager, Duke’s Hotel, Ian Wisniewski – freelance spirits writer


ICE winner

Ultimat

A triple-distilled, 40% abv, luxury vodka distilled in Poland from a blend of rye, wheat and potato. Ultimat impressed the judges with a deft balance of character and smoothness, marrying delicate fruit/floral aromas with a pleasingly rounded flavour, full of grain character and a touch of acidity. Likewise the cobalt blue crystal decanter achieved exceptionally high marks for what the judges felt to be a truly premium design, perfect for the luxury market.

Amathus, 020 8808 4181


ICE runners-up

2ND Grey Goose

This French vodka justified its popularity by scoring highly for its distinct full-bodied, creamy wheat flavours and exceptional length, combined with an intriguing and much-emulated frosted bottle design

Diageo, 020 7927 5200

3RD Belvedere

Highly praised for a design that succeeds in weaving a sense of luxurious mystique around the brand, Belvedere also scored well for taste, only missing out on the top five by one point.

Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7235 9411

4TH Stoli Elit

A characterful vodka with a feisty, herbaceous palate followed by a peppery kick and a slightly woody undertow. The assertive design was more divisive, though.

Pernod Ricard, 020 8538 4484

5TH Chopin

Creamy potato characters and a long finish mean this Polish vodka deserved to be savoured neat. The frosted bottle, however, was considered too similar to competitors.

Amathus, 020 8808 4181


Best by taste

1 Ultimat
2 Stoli Elit
3 Grey Goose
4 Effen
5= Cape North
5= Chopin

Best by design

1 Ultimat
2 Wyborowa Exquisit
3 Belvedere
4 Grey Goose
5 Roberto Cavalli Vodka

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine - January / February 2008

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