Stolichnaya Sunday’s – Blue Label (50%ABV/100 Proof)

In the second of our Stolichnaya Sundays, we will look at the export variety, their Blue Label. This is essentially the same as the Red Label, but is bottled at 50% ABV. It is interesting that Stolichnaya, like Smirnoff*, bottles their export strength in packaging with a blue label.

On its own
Nose: Clean and neutral, with a tiny hint of grain.
Taste: Initially, very smooth (especially for 50% ABV); the strength only really appears once you have swallowed it. Overall, this is a very clean and neutral vodka; it’s quite easy to drink with some character coming from the grain and bready notes.

From the freezer
Nose: Clean, grainy nose.
Taste: This has a rich, thick texture, like syrup; it’s very viscous. Full of flavour and, again, it’s very smooth for a spirit at 50% ABV. There’s a robust warmth, but no real burn. Potent, but excellent.

Vodka Martini
Unusually for Stolichnaya, this drink has quite a neutral flavour. It’s clean and strong, but, beyond that, it’s rather silent in character; given its strength, it’s rather easy-to-drink. I think this could be well-suited to a pre-dinner drink.

Vodka Tonic
This makes a clean Vodka Tonic with a hint of vanilla and anise. Strong, but relatively silent; no fuss and easy to drink. Tasty and satisfying.

Probably my favourite use for Stolichnaya Blue is in a Vesper as the strength is closer to the strength of alcohol in the 1950s and whilst providing a more potent drink, the cocktail is just as smooth as ever. A very good choice.

Stolichnaya Blue is a clean vodka that adds more power to the drink, almost as if it gives the cocktail a backbone for the other ingredients to sit on. My favourite vodka for Vespers.

* Smirnoff Export Strength does differ depending on where you buy it: some locations have it at a measly 45% ABV, whilst others at the full 50% ABV.

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Stolichnaya Sunday’s – Red Label

Following the success of Seva’s Seagrams’s Sunday, a series of articles focusing on the gin products of Seagram’s that I published on Sundays, I bring you a new series, this time looking at vodka.

Not just any vodka, however, but Stolichnaya Vodka, a brand that has long been a favourite of mine. As such, it’s well overdue that I to write some more focused pieces for SummerFruitCup.*

Stolichnaya Vodka originates from Moscow and was founded in early 40′s, although a trademark for the name was granted in 1938. By the 50′s, Stolichnaya became known as a vodka of quality, winning various accolades, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it became widely available in the US, thanks to a reciprocity distribution agreement with Pepsi.

Stolichnaya Red is the “standard” Stolichnaya, which is bottled at 40% ABV. It’s a good all-round vodka that’s excellent for sipping and cocktails alike.

On its own
Nose:
Taste: Clean, with some cereal grain flavours. Quite bready with a hint of sweet creaminess at the end. Not spectacular, but sound and very good considering the price.

Frozen
Nose: Grain, with a light, creamy vanilla note.
Taste: Relatively smooth with a tingle at the end; very clean, with faint hints of grain and bread, followed by a touch of bitterness. Overall, very good.

Vodka Martini
Very crisp, quite clean, with smooth hints of vanilla, cocoa and coffee. Very cool. A good standard, although not exceptional.

Vodka Tonic
Very fresh and very easy to drink. Some of the vodka’s flavours come through, as does its smooth texture.

Stolichnaya Red Label is available form grocery stories for around £14 for 70cl.


*I have written about the brand for other publications, including this article on the James Bond Martini.

Cocktails with Stolichnaya Chocolat Razberi

Gone are the days when flavoured vodkas, for western markets, were relegated to citrus, vanilla and pepper. Sure, for years there has been the old student experiment of dissolving Skittles into vodka to “taste the rainbow” (and then get a sugar-high), but I’m talking about some really unusual flavours.
Pinnacle Drinks have kind of led the field on this one, with flavours such as: Cookie Dough, Cotton Candy, Cake, Gummy (Sweets), Marshmallow and a plethora of flavours involving whipped cream. The idea of using such unconventional flavours as these must be paying off, as Smirnoff have recently released two new vodkas in the US flavoured with Whipped Cream and Marshmallow, respectively.*

After all of this innovation, it was with curiosity that I gingerly approached Stolichnaya Choc Razberi.

This was originally released in the US, but, following their success there, it is now available in the UK. It is a mix of natural flavourings, consisting of “sweet, tangy raspberries and silken chocolate”.

The Taste

Own (Room Temperature)
nose: creamy raspberry and then a crisp, slightly bitter chocolate. Dessert is nature.
taste: smooth with a little warmth, quite sweet and creamy too. This is meant to taste like a chocolate covered raspberry, add a little cream and this exactly what you’ve got. The vodka based is very clean with little burn. Overall this quite confectionery in nature but I think it would be very popular at a  party.

From the Freezer
Thick and silky, initially sweet then some vanilla-raspberry notes which are reminiscent of raspberry-ripple icecream. You then get a dash of dark powdered cocoa. The drink is quite sweet but not overly so, I think it’s pretty tasty.

Martini
Clean and very smooth, perhaps a little sweet for the Martini “aficionado” with a touch of raspberry icecream sauce. Not a classic Martini but quite a pleasant and accessible drink.

On the Rocks
Over ce it is almost as if you are drinking a liqueur, the cream notes come out more. This would be perfect after dinner with coffee.

Vodka Tonic
I really didn’t think this would work but I was surprised. The dark bitter chocolate seems to complement the dry bitter quinine  and the fresh fruitiness of the raspberry reminds me of the liveliness a wedge of citrus adds to the drink.

White Russian
[25ml Stolichnaya Chocolat Razberi, 25ml Coffee Liqueur, 50ml Semi-Skimmed Milk]
Lovely. The choc-raspberry flavour works really well with the coffee liqueur and milk. I would suggest using milk rather than cream as I think the latter would be too rich. The raspberry adds fruitiness to a drink that is easier to make and even easier to drink.

In Conclusion
Despite being very keen to try it, I must admit I was slightly skeptical about Stolichnaya Chocolat Razberi; however these doubts were clearly unfounded. I think the quality of the vodka is high and the flavours are clean are genuine. The vodka really lend itself to cocktails and my favourite was easily the White Russian.

Stolichnaya Chocolat Razberi is avaialble from for around £ for 70cl.

*There is another brand of vodka called “Cupcake Vodka”, but, sadly, it is only a brand name and doesn’t taste anything like cupcakes. They also make a “frosting vodka”, but this is just plain old vanilla. I think this is pretty disappointing and rather misleading.

Cocktails with… Stolichnaya Citros

Followers of the site may recall that, last autumn, we reviewed the new Stolichnaya Gala Applik vodka. Well, today, we shall be looking at another flavoured Stolichnaya: Stolichnaya Citros. As you may have guessed, this is a citrus flavoured vodka; specifically, lemon and lime. In contrast, Absolut Citron uses just lemon and Smirnoff’s No.24 Citrus Twist contains an entire trio of citrus.

The vodka that we’re looking at today, however, uses Stolichnaya Red as its base and is flavoured with “fragrant lemons and limes”. It is colourless* and bottled at 37.5% ABV.

Room temperature
Nose: Sweet citrus, reminding me a little of lemon meringue pie.
Taste: This is full of fresh, sharp lemon and lime flavours; a cross between curd and marmalade. I also tasted a hint of cream. It had a rounder texture and more balanced flavour than the other citrus vodkas that I have tasted, such as Absolut and Smirnoff Citrus Twist. Overall, Citros is very good indeed.

Frozen
Nose: Zesty marmalade, with spice and vanilla.
Taste: Excellent citrus flavours; zesty, but not overpowering (which I find to be a common problem with citrus vodkas). There’s some sweetness that reminds me of marmalade, but it’s generally well-balanced with a layer of complexity from the cardamon-like spice.

Vodka Martini
Excellent. The citrus was there, but it was far from overpowering. The more complex citrus notes, as well as a spicy cardamon flavour, seem to keep the drink from becoming too zesty. This was a fresh drink, with some initial sweetness and a dry finish, and is definitely one I will be having again.

Vodka Tonic
As you would expect, this drink worked very well. It was very easy to drink and provided cooling refreshment. Although the drink is quite straightforward, the mix of citrus and some of the spice notes hidden within it gives it a deeper character.

Kamikaze
Pretty good, cool and refreshing. There were two layers of citrus: the initial burst from the fresh lime and then a bolder mix of citrus from the vodka, along with a hint of spice.

Fruit Cup
30ml Stolichnaya Citros 20ml Red vemrouth  10ml Ginger wine
Stolichnaya Citros made an incredibly tasty fruit cup. It has the typical rich, herbal notes that you would expect from a fruit cup, but the vodka adds a lightness to the drink and the citrus makes it even more refreshing and a little more complex than usual. I mixed mine with ginger ale and I think it worked very well indeed.

Vesper
A tasty Vesper, although less intense than a “Classic-style Vesper”, as this vodka is only at 37.5% ABV, rather than the 50% of Stolichnaya Blue. What is does seem to do is mitigate the need for the twist; in fact, if you had given me this blind, I would have thought it had had a twist and the peel had been removed. Fresh, zesty and a nice alternative to the Classic Vesper.

In Conclusion
Stolichnaya Citros is the best citrus vodka I have had and is one of my top 10 flavoured vodkas overall. It stands up well in a a variety of cocktails, without overpowering them with dominant flavours.

Stolichnaya Citros is available for around £17 for 70cl from The Vodka Emporium

*Surely all vodka is colourless?  Good point but some flavoured vodka is coloured.

Autumn/Fall Cocktails with Stolichnaya Gala Apple

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At Summer Fruit Cup we’re big fans of summer cocktails, but, as the leaves start to change colour and the sea winds begin to blow, we thought that it’s time to start looking at more seasonally-appropriate cocktails.

There are many possible spirits to choose from when making autumnal cocktails, but when I recently tried the new Stolichnaya Gala Applik, I knew that it would be perfect for the job.
Stolichnaya Applik is flavoured with crisp Gala Apples (my favourite variety) and is bottled at 37.5%. Stolichnaya have also recently released a new, duty-free, flavoured vodka, Stolichnaya Chocolate Raspberry.

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What is an Autumnal Cocktail?

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To me, this is a tricky creation, as it needs to aid a smooth transition from the summer coolers of July and August to the winter warmers of January and December. As a result, they need to be both refreshing and comforting and/or warming. Here are the ones that I’ve tried.

Squashed Apple

#1 – Squashed Apple
[25ml Stolichnaya Gala Apple, 25ml Apple Juice, Muddled Butternut Squash, 1 Dash Angostura Bitters -SHAKE]
Very fresh and crisp, and very easy to drink. The muddled butternut squash adds both a rich gold colour, as well as a light, sweet butteriness.

#2 – Toffee Apple Toddy
[50ml Applik, 25ml Caralicious Vodka, 25ml Lemon Juice, 100ml Boiling Water]
Warming and not too sweet, nor too intense. There are hints of caramel and vanilla, as well as toffee and fresh apple. The drink is a bit lighter than a winter toddy, but still has warming quality; perfect for September dusk.

Applik Alexander

Applik Alexander

#3 – Apple Alexander
[25ml Applik, 15ml Amaretto, 50ml Single Cream, Pinch of Cinnamon, SHAKE]
A most unusual mixture, but very nice; fresh and creamy, with spiced apple flavours and a dry, bakewell-tart finish. Both spicy and fresh, it provides the comforting balance that I’m looking for in  an autumnal cocktail.
Mrs B (not a fan of cream cocktails) declared this, “My favourite cream cocktail; they are usually heavy and sweet, and this is neither.”

Autumn Collins

Autumn Collins

#4 – Autumn Collins
[25ml Applik, 25ml Honey Syrup, 25ml Lemon juice, Top up with soda Water]
Fresh and crisp, with predominantly apple flavours alongside some hints of honey and spice. For some extra flavour, mix the garnish berries round a bit.

#5 – Apple Blackberry Fix
[Equal Parts, Applik Vodka, Lemon Juice, sugar syrup. Pour over a tumbler full of crushed ice. Stir. Pour half a part of Creme de Mure over the top]
This is a variation on the Gin Fix or Bramble; Apple Stolichnaya works well with the flavours of blackberry. The sweetness from apple and honey are balanced out by the tartness of the lemon juice.

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In Conclusion

.I think Stolichnaya Gala Applik is quite a versatile product and it lends itself particularly well to these sorts of cocktails. The flavour of the vodka is crisp and fresh and, thankfully, doesn’t have the artificial air of many other flavoured spirits.

Our favourite cocktails were the Apple Alexander and the Autumn Collins.

Stolichnaya Applik is available for around £19 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

The Vesper

Update: I seems that after inventing “the Vesper” Fleming was never really a fan: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/9/27/1348745314585/Ian-Fleming-writes-to-the-001.jpg

Ever since I first read Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale”, I have been captivated by the detail Fleming pays to the food and drink enjoyed by his well-known character. The Vesper, a drink of James Bond’s own creation which he enjoys in the casino in Royale-les-Eaux, is a perfect example of Fleming’s attention to detail.


Bond orders his first Vesper, an extract from Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953):


‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’

‘Oui, monsieur.’

‘Just a moment.  Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?’

‘Certainly, monsieur.’  The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.

Bond laughed.  ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner.  But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.  I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad.  This drink’s my own invention.  I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’

He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker.  He reached for it and took a long slip.


The first Vesper I mixed used Gordon’s Green Gin, Grey Goose Vodka and Dry Noilly Prat Vermouth, which were the best ingredients I had on hand at the time. After my first glass I immediately developed an affection for the drink, but I knew it could be made better, it could be more authentic.

My first challenge was to find a bottle of Lillet to replace the Noilly Prat I had been using up to that point.  Before the 2006 film release of “Casino Royale”, Lillet was not as easy to find in the UK as it is today.  After an extensive online search and some telephone calls, I ended up taking a trip to Lillet’s UK distributor, arriving just in time to purchase their last two bottles.  At this point I discovered that Kina Lillet no longer existed and that I would have to settle for Lillet Blanc, at least for the moment.

The Vesper

Anyone who has looked into creating a more authentic Vesper will have probably come across David Wondrich’s informative article on the subject; this gave me a great start, but I wanted to go further. I identified three challenges:

1. Achieving the strength of Gordon’s Gin in the early fifties;
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2. Achieving the strength of the vodka in the early fifties; 
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3. Recreating the renamed and reformulated Kina Lillet.


With the passage of time, both Gordon’s Gin and vodka in general have become weaker, and so a Vesper made with modern ingredients just doesn’t have the same kick as the “large and very strong and very cold and very well-made” drink of the 1950’s.  After looking at a plethora of newpapers and magazines for Gordon’s Gin and vodka brand advertisments from the early fifties, I confirmed the following:

1. Gordon’s Export Gin

Gordon’s Export Gin (the variety most likely to have been used in France) was 94.4 proof (47.2% ABV); Given this information, I was delighted to find that Gordon’s still make an Export Gin at 47.2% ABV and eagerly asked the next relative travelling to the continent to pick me up a bottle.

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2. Vodka of the Early Fifites

Vodka varied between 80 and 100 proof (40-50% ABV).  I took Mr. Wordrich’s recommendation and used Stolichnaya Blue (100 proof). There is some suggestion in the book that the vodka used to make the drink in the Casino was not made with grain-based spirit  rather a potato one. I have searched for a 50% potato vodka still made today but am still to find one. (Answers on a postcard please).

 So with the first two challenges behind me, only one remained; the final problem and probably the trickiest:

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3. Recreation of Kina Lillet

Tasting reports suggest that the original Kina Lillet was more bitter than its contemporary, being more heavily flavoured by Cinchoma Bark, the main ingredient of quinine. In addittion sources at Lillet have told be that is was also more syrupy and viscous and was sweeter than the Lillet Blanc of today. I therefore established and experimented with four possible options:

1. Angostura Bitters – a method suggested by David Wondrich, add a few drops to the drink – although a convenient and tasty addition, the result was not as bitter as I would have liked, and the pink tint to the cocktail does not coincide with the pale golden colour of the drink in the novel.

2. Cocchi Americano – a substitute for the Lillet, this is a wine aperitif with a bitter kick and was recommended to me by Jay Hepburn of the Oh Gosh blog; once again, a trip to an obscure supplier was in order, but it was well worth a visit.  This is a tasty product in its own right and although it makes a good tasting Vesper, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, as the drink contained no Lillet, it wasn’t really a true Vesper.

From Left to Right: Stolichnaya Blue, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc, China Martini, Gordon’s Export gin

3.  Quinine Bark – A third alternative would be to add a little quinine powder or bark, either directly to the drink, or using it to create a Lillet infusion. I have now sourced some Cinchona Bark and have experimented a little with some success. I think getting the timing right for the infusion is  a bit tricky and also working out how best to sweeten the Lillet will take a bit to work out.

4. China (“kee-na”) Martini – a gift from a relative who had recently returned from Italy, this had sat unopened in the cellar for a few years.  On inspection, I discovered that it is a product made by Martini Rossi, heavily flavoured with Cinchoma Bark – how promising!  After testing various combinations, I found that a 50/50 mix of this and Lillet Blanc worked best, adding the level of bitterness that I sought, as well as the important pale golden colour described in the book. This seemed to be the closest I have come so far.

5. Jean de Lillet – a reserve version of Lillet Blanc, I cannot seem to find any consensus (even within the Lillet Company)m as to whether this is more or less similar to Kina Lillet than Lillet Blanc.

Although my quest for the authentic Vesper is ongoing, I feel that I have reached a milestone. Here is my somewhat work-in-progress recipe for a more authentic Vesper.

One More Thought

When you’ve spent as much time as I have thinking about this drink as I have you come up with some strange theories, here’s my favourite: The Vesper was that it combined three essential aspects of the book. James Bond, The British secret agent (GIN) The Russians whom Bond is fighting (VODKA) and the backdrop for their encounter, France (LILLET). Maybe the vodka undertones reflect the turmoil of the character?

Was this intentional or a happy coincidence? Who can say? But like I said I think it’s rather neat.


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