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.
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