June 07, 2013

Understanding Absolut Vodka: A Day at Sea Onboard Yacht 42

NoGarlicNoOnions was recently invited to join a few select guests to sail across the Lebanese shores, into the world of Absolut Vodka.  Aboard the magnificent Yacht 42, brand Ambassadors Mr Johan Ekelund & Mrs Rebecca Almqvist, joined us especially from Sweden to enlighten us about the real story behind this premium spirit.

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Several hostesses welcomed us aboard with a warm smile and a sun-creme bag courtesy of C&F. Small chocolate cakes and fresh fruits sticks topped with chocolate syrup were awaiting to be devoured.

A day stacked with events and information was about to start:

We were kindly asked to find seats on the lower deck, as the journey into the world of Absolut Vodka was about to kick off. A large nice cozy air conditioned deck with sofas, small tables and five LCD screens... Everything feels like you're in a luxurious hotel room. Mr. Johan has been in the beverage business for over 12 years, he tended bars in many establishments in Europe to finally become part of Absolut vodka ambassadors for the last 2 years: "How great it is to be able to travel all around the globe and talk about my passion". While Mrs. Almqvist, has also been in the drink business for quite some time. She today owns a bar in London, where she has settled for the last couple of years. She’s been an ambassador with Absolut for the last 4 years now. The mid-sea venture started with an informative presentation by well known bartenders from around the world and their experience with vodka and especially with Absolut and its different flavors. The event was focused on the brand's remarkable impact on the spirits world and how it positioned itself in terms of advertising and being the first spirit to recognize the bartender as prime elements in its marketing and sales strategies.

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The second presentation was related to how vodka is made and its history. Did you know that Vodka simply means "Little Water".

The Best In Our Field: 

"We use our heads to produce a vodka with a nose." Theoretically, vodka can be made from almost any fermentable organic material - from wheat to molasses. Absolut Vodka, however, is made solely from grain, which more than 400 years of tradition that have proven to produce a pure vodka. Absolut Vodka uses a special method of distillation that retains a smooth grain character and is extremely low in unwanted by-products.

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This is the story of how Absolut Vodka is made.

Steps of the process:

  • Fermentation - The Happy Life and Death of the Yeast Cell

A few thousand years ago, someone made the bright discovery that when deprived of oxygen, the yeast cell turns sugar into carbon dioxide and ethanol. Fermented beverages are born. These beverages were eventually distilled, giving us dozens of different spirits, one of which is vodka. Fermentation is an extremely delicate and complicated process where the yeast cell converts the sugar in the mash to ethanol. The result is a mixture with an 8% alcohol content and a hundred or so by-products, some unpleasant tasting, some harmful. A concern for quality from the very beginning of the production process minimizes these impurities - using only high quality grain, preparing the grain, safeguarding against bacteria and carefully controlling the fermentation process. Virtually all remaining impurities are removed in the distillation and rectification.

  • Distillation - The Trickle Down Theory of Alcohol

Turning the fermented grain mash to vodka takes distillation. The principle has remained unchanged ever since it was accidentally discovered over a thousand years ago. There are two kinds of distillation: batch distillation and continuous distillation. Batch distillation is an age-old method used for many types of spirits. Refined to a high degree of sophistication, this method is still used in areas like Cognac and the Scottish highlands to make cognac and whisky. Absolut Vodka, however, is distilled using the second method, continuous distillation. This type of distillation builds on the same laws of physics as batch distillation. The essential difference is that the spirit is cycled back and forth producing a very pure final product. Continuous distillation turns the 8% fermented mash into crude spirit with an alcohol concentration by volume of 85-90% (170-180 proof).

  • The Dilemma of Vodka - Purity vs. Character

The last step is rectification, a method of removing unwanted by-products introduced over a century ago by the man on the bottle's medallion - Lars Olsson Smith. The crude spirit passes through a number of columns, each designed to remove a different set of impurities. One column extracts unpleasant tasting solvent compounds; another removes fusel oil; a third methanol; a fourth concentrates the spirit - 96% pure alcohol by volume and extremely low in impurities. It is here we are faced with the dilemma of vodka production - distillation and rectification technology have advanced so far towards producing an absolutely pure vodka that it has also succeeded in removing trace elements that give vodka the character of the raw material from which it is made. Absolut Vodka has solved this dilemma by, parallel to the main distillation, producing a spirit where the goal is to retain the fine character of the grain. The final composite spirit, produced at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), has that unique smooth and fine character. Exactly how this is done is a well-kept secret.

  • Water

The final stage in producing Absolut Vodka is adding water to bring the vodka to an alcohol content of 40% (80 proof). All water used in Absolut Vodka comes from its own well; the water's consistently even quality makes it the ideal water for premium vodka. Throughout the production process, Absolut Vodka is subjected to continuous tests. Every 10,000 liters is given a dozen tests using state-of-the-art technology and the most sensitive instruments known to man - the human palate and nose. As every bottle of Absolut Vodka sold is produced in the same place - Åhus, a small town in southern Sweden - we have complete quality control over the entire production process. Every bottle, every day.

The Famous Absolut Bottle

"We take as much care to ensure the quality of our bottles as the quality of our vodka. The Absolut Vodka bottle is made from low iron content sand for maximum clarity to show off its crystal clear contents. Most of the world supply of Absolut Vodka bottles is made nearby at the Limmared factory. Established in 1741, the glassworks once produced the original medicine bottles from which the Absolut bottle can trace its heritage."

The main ingredients in Absolut Vodka are water and winter wheat. The water comes from a deep well in Åhus where it’s protected from impurities. Winter wheat differs from other crops: it’s sown in fall, and harvested the next one. Days in between it grows under the Swedish snow developing its hard grain. Also, the use of fertilizers is minimized. 5 different blind vodka test were conducted:

  • First tasting: Clear, fresh with an elegant floral aroma accented by a subtle citrus note, initially soft with a gentle sweetness that gradually envelops the mouth—smooth and rounded texture with a hint of almond./Grey Goose
  • Second Tasting: Lively nose with hint of charcoal, toasted wheat, anise and lemongrass notes,medium finish.  /Russian Standard
  • Third tasting: Mellow nose with a hint of charcoal, toasted wheat, liquorice, with a touch of grape, medium, slightly sharp finish,very sweet, the least you accept between all/ Stolichnaya Red 
  • Fourth tasting: Creamy, sharp alchohol nose, has a rich, robust and complex taste of vanilla with notes of butterscotch and hints of dark chocolate., long rough finish. bread smell, friendly, surprising ,a more adult and robust character /Absolut Vodka
  • Fifth tasting: Very aggressive, slight traces of cereal and alcohol on the nose a moderate sweet rich palate strong alcohol /Smirnoff Red. 

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Lunch Food Buffet: Food could have been much better. The plates looked empty and the taste was acceptable. I was expecting more.

  • Mini burgers
  • Salmon & crab canapés
  • Cheese canapés
  • Hot Dogs
  • Chicken & Meat skewers
  • Calamari
  • Chips
  • Risotto on bread with cherry tomato 

Dessert:

  • Fruits sticks
  • Mini cakes with cream on top

An entire day of fun, food and drinks under the beautiful sun.

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Last but not least, here is a special recipe created exclusively by Mrs. Bec (Rebecca Almqvist), Absolut UK Ambassador:

A few years ago I twisted one of the only two vodka cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book. (The Russian cocktail) I named it The Swedish Cocktail.

The Swedish Cocktail

  • 2 parts Absolut vodka
  • 1 part Beefeater
  • 1 part white crème de cacao
  • 1 dash (from bitters bottle) Pernod Absinthe.
  • Shake and double strain into a frozen coupette glass.
  • Lemon twist, discard.
  • Garnish; Star Anis.

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