Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Annals Of Vodka Keep Adding Chapters




The phenomenally crowded vodka market doesn’t seem to be scaring off any would-be competitors. Barely a week goes by without the introduction of a new or new-to-the-U.S. brand.

The latest is a little something called Orzel Vodka, a re-branded Polish spirit that, at a suggested $35 per 750ml bottle, fits into the super-premium niche.

The product is from Heritage Brands, a Plantation, Fla., subsidiary of the Stock Spirits Group which handles 40 different brands of alcohol.

Last year, the company unveiled a Polish vodka called Czysta de Luxe, which it describes as “a product of a six-phase distillation process followed by filtration over quartz.”

After a year of good sales in Europe, the company rebranded it as Orzel — Polish for “eagle,” the country’s national symbol — and put it in a more eye-catching decanter style bottle it thinks will go over well with the younger consumers in the U.S.

Its debut was at various cocktail events in Miami’s South Beach in April and it has been trickling into hot nightspots in New York and Atlanta since then. Its availability should spread to other major metro areas before the end of the year.

The question, which is asked each time a new vodka expression appears, is whether the market can sustain literally hundreds of choices, particularly in an erratic economy.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), vodka has a strong 28 percent share of the American spirits market and it’s growing annually. In 2007, American consumers spent $1.4 billion on more than 35 million gallons of imported vodka alone.

To fully grasp the growth of the vodka market, I reviewed my notes on the topic. That produced this list of the new or new-to-the-U.S. vodka brands I’ve written about on my “Dowd’s Spirits Notebook” site (spiritsnotebook.blogspot.com) in just the past 18 months. It does not include literally dozens of others that are flavored versions of older brands:

DOMESTIC: Permafrost (Alaska), Firefly (South Carolina), Bee (New York), LiV (New York), Ocean (Hawaii), Boyd & Blair (Pennsylvania), Cold River (Maine), Prairie Organic (Minnesota), Sub Rosa (Oregon), St. Julian (Michigan), Cap Rock Organic (Colorado), Beauport (Massachusetts), 360 (Missouri).

IMPORTED: Sobieski (Poland), Crystal Skull (Canada), Akvinta (Croatia), Intense (Poland), Alexandar (Macedonia), Firestarter (Moldova), Jazz (Poland), Pshenychna (Russia), Debowa (Poland), Han (China), Boomerang (Australia), Pinky (Sweden), Blavod Black (United Kingdom), 02 (United Kingdom), Natt (Turkey), Gorzalka (Turkey), Tyrell’s (United Kingdom), Snow Queen (Kazakhstan), Diamond Standard (Poland), Baojing 168 (China), Sonnema VodkaHerb (Netherlands), Reyka (Iceland), Chinggis Khaan (Mongolia), Saaga 1763 (Estonia), Kai (Vietnam), Shpilka (Kyrgyzstan), Christiania (Norway), X-Rated (France).

American consumers are having a field day. Apparently George W. Bush isn’t the only one with a “Bring it on” mindset.

(William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage industry online at BillDowd.com.)