Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: It’s Vodka ‘Cause They Say It Is

Two years ago, in a private tasting lunch in New York with Plymouth Gin master distiller Sean Harrison, we were discussing the popularity of vodka compared to gin.

He admitted there were some very good vodkas on the market that presented huge hurdles for gin to clear in its attempt at taking back a share of the market it had lost to its chief competitor. However, he noted of the continual tinkering with vodka recipes, “If they keep on going, pretty soon they’ll invent gin.”

Well, they have. At least Belvedere, the Polish distiller, has, even though it is calling its new creation vodka.

Vodka and gin both begin as neutral spirits, but gin departs from that by the addition of various botanicals, predominantly juniper berries which provide its major taste component. Vodka often is changed by flavor infusions such as fruits, but not usually by any complicated botanical recipe.

Belvedere IX (pronounced “one X”) has nine flavor additions to its base — from guarana, ginger, ginseng, acai, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf, almond, jasmine and black cherry. Belvedere can call it a vodka all it wants, but to me it’s a gin. And a damned tasty one.

Cold from several hours in the freezer, IX is an absolute delight sipped straight. The menthol-like coolness of the eucalyptus comes through immediately, with the zip of the ginger evident on tongue and palate. A vague hint of black cherry arrives on the finish. A lot of very distinct flavors somehow fusing into one pleasing one.

This is a very special “vodka” I’d recommend drinking very cold, as I did, and without fussing with it. It’s meant to be part of a cocktail recipe, say its makers, but I don’t know that I’d go that route immediately. The proprietary recipe, and the base vodka made from the signature Dankowskie Gold rye of Poland, has resulted in a fine product all on its own merits.

The company, named for the country’s presidential palace, just last week launched Belvedere IX in hot U.S. club circles in conjunction with Parisian graffiti artist Andre Saraiva who designed the label — a “tagged” glossy black bottle with electric pink graffiti, reinventing Belvedere’s trademark palace and trees as a nighttime vision.

Suggested retail price: Not yet set. If it’s not immediately available in your favorite spirits shop, be patient. It will be by spring.

Belvedere, by the way, isn’t the only one dipping additional toes into the still-booming U.S. vodka market.

Pol Roger, the noted French champagne house, has added a vodka to its wine-and-spirits portfolio. The label is DQ vodka, made for it in Sweden by the Nordic Spirit Co. from Swedish winter wheat and spring water. It will initially be aimed at top-end bars and clubs, then marketwide later this year.

The vodka is packaged in an Italian glass and aluminium bottle designed to resemble a fuse. It will go for an expected retail price of $48 for the 750ml bottle once DQ goes marketwide.

And, Dragon Bleu, the triple-grain French vodka, is about to break out of its own self-imposed tiny niche and make its way into cocktail glasses across America. While it is featured in numerous top-echelon watering holes in Europe, and has picked up silver medals at several prestigious international competitions, it is marketed in all but 49 of the United States.

That’s right, it is sold in precisely one state. Michigan; 400 locations in Michigan, as a matter of fact.

However, Dragon Bleu is about to be rolled out to markets around the nation, according to the company. The vodka is made from wheat, barley, rye and water from the Gensac Spring in the southwestern French province of Aquitane. Dragon Bleu was founded by Patrick Brissett, president of the International Centre for Spirits and Liqueurs. It retails at a suggested $32 for the 750ml bottle.

William M. Dowd keeps you up to date on the global beverage picture at