And the winner is...

And the winner is...

La Dolce Vita: Looking for a clear choice in vodka

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As I carried my armload of bottles to the living room one evening, Angela raised her eyebrows. I was tempted to break into a very bad rendition of Johnny Nash’s great song I Can See Clearly Now.

“Research,” I said.

I set the bottles on the coffee table and a glass in front of each of the four bottles.

She said, “Get me some glasses, too.”

The story starts earlier in 2013, when I learned about a vodka called, intriguingly, Kealy’s Moonshine. In the summer, I had connected via LinkedIn with Nicole Kealy, who owns the Kealy Beverage Company out of the Lower Mainland, along with her husband, Mason.

I was intrigued to learn about their vodka, which they have made in Holland. After distillation it is filled through diamond dust. Yep, that’s right, diamond dust.

Why? Well, the Kealys set out to make vodka that didn’t distract from whatever mix it was blended with.

“The fact is, the majority of alcohol drinkers in the world mix their drinks, be it highballs, cocktails or shooters,” says the company’s website. “We decided to make your mixed drink experience taste like the mix, not the alcohol. We made it our professional goal to develop the best mixing alcohol in the world so you never have to suffer ‘alcohol shiver’ again. And we have done it! We made you a product so pure and clean, all you will taste in your highball is what you want to taste.”

I couldn’t get easy access to a bottle in the summer, but a check of the website last month said it was available in a Creston beer and wine store. And it was.

By coincidence, I had purchased another Dutch vodka as a last-minute Christmas gift that I hadn’t needed to give away. Before shopping, I looked for guidance from a random website, whose writer rated Effen vodka as the world’s best. And who isn’t going to like that name?

I rounded out the tasting lineup with Kirkland’s vodka, from an unknown producer under the Costco brand name, and Okanagan Spirits vodka, our go-to when we want to have a vodka and tonic on the deck in the summer.

The first sips were straight — no ice or mix. Kealy’s was unexpectedly smooth, almost creamy. It had no discernible taste except for alcohol, which was subtle and not in the least harsh.

Effen had a similar mouth feel, but with perhaps the slightest flavour of herbs, but nothing that we could actually identify. Interestingly, while the Kirkland brand promotes that it is distilled six times (each distillation removes more impurities and creates higher alcohol content — water is added after the fact to all vodkas to bring it down to the desired alcohol ratio; obviously, distillers are very fussy about the purity of water used at that point), the Effen process claims to be distilled “hundreds of times” in a process it describes as continuous rectification.

Of all the vodkas in our test, Okanagan Spirits is the only local craft distillery, producing very small quantities at a time. Falling somewhere between the mass-produced Kirkland and the other two brands in mouth feel, OS left a very pleasant aftertaste, but seemed to be a bit more alcohol-forward than Kealy’s and Effen.

Once we played with the neat samples, I brought out a syringe and pure orange juice to see how each bottle did in a screwdriver. I used the syringe to measure tiny screwdrivers, three parts orange juice to one part vodka.

Kealy’s clearly meets its goal in this test. It added no taste at all to the juice and had only a very subtle alcohol influence.

I find it interesting that in the Effen website, the distillation process is undertaken at a lower temperature than for most vodkas in an effort to avoid caramelization, which results from traces of burnt sugar. It, too, produced a very smooth screwdriver.

The harshest alcohol flavours were found in the Kirkland brand, although they were harsh only by comparison. Even they were far from unpleasant.

Personally, I don’t favour mixed drinks. I am happier with good quality brands of vodka, single malt whisky, brandy, aged tequila, gin or even rum, neat or on the rocks. My favourites are almost always from small producers. The exception is the occasional rum and cola, or gin or vodka and tonic on a hot summer day.

We had great fun doing our little test. There really was, in the end, no clear winner. But Kealy’s and Effen would be my first choices for neat shots. Okanagan Spirits will remain our choice for V&Ts, because it gives us an excuse to visit the distillery when we are in Kelowna.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneeckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.