WHEN THE WORD ‘VINTAGE’ IS APPLIED TO VODKA it is usually followed by puzzled looks. For a spirit that is treated with disdain by plenty of bartenders, a small number of vodkas have found favour with the most discerning palates. Having been tasked with finding out more about vintage vodkas in London, I found this a real treasure hunt, with numbers scribbled on napkins over a Martini leading to unusual encounters and some choice working lunches.
Google searches on vintage vodka throw up images of old Smirnoff bottles and Kauffman vodka. Kauffman was founded in 2000 and sells mainly in Russia – itself an endorsement. Tracking it down in London proved to be a steady trail of “we’ve run out” interspersed with the (very) occasional find.
On the South Bank, Baltic makes a brisk trade in vodka. As the name suggests, it specialises in Russian and Polish dining and drinks. Among the latter can be found a rare Kauffman 2005 grain vodka. Bar manager Karol Terejlis takes a wine glass and pours a measure.
“Vodka isn’t vintage. It’s not possible,” he announces. It isn’t clear if he is being literal. There is a belief that the only vegetal matter sensitive enough for vintages to be distinguished are grapes and sugarcane or, if grain, only for whisky.
Dom Pérignon, of the Moët & Chandon house, only releases champagne by the vintage. If the annual crop of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that make up the blend are not up to standard, there will be no Dom Pérignon that year. In another arm of the business, however, Moët will produce millions of non-vintage bottles every year.
Another example, concerning sugarcane, is Martinique Clément rum. While there are blends of aged rum released every year, certain vintages stand out – notably 1976, 1970 and 1952.
Small batch provenance
Back to vodka, the Kauffman 2005 is soft and subtle – clear in both taste and appearance. Had this been towards the end of the vintage vodka treasure hunt, more precise tasting notes might have been made in recognition of the scarcity of this vintage in London – alas.
Like Moët & Chandon, Kauffman also has non-vintage vodkas in constant production, although unlike Moët these are in small batches. They consist of the soft and hard varieties. Mention must be made here of Little Water, an excellent burger bar and vodka house in the heart of Covent Garden.
Not only does it pair its imaginative, comforting dishes with the most complementary vodkas, it also stocks the non-vintage soft Kauffman, which is mellow with honey and lemon.
Tatiana Petrakova is brand ambassador for Roust – the second-largest provider of vodka, after Diageo. Roust’s portfolio includes Russian Standard, Zubrówka, Green Mark, Parliament and Kauffman, among many others.