WINE & SPIRITS
IN SEARCH OF THE WORLD'S BEST VODKA
Recently, I made a pilgrimage to Poland in search of the world's finest vodka. There, about 70 miles from the Ukrainian border, I witnessed my first potato avalanche—a three-hundred-ton mountain of spuds rolling three tons an hour down a slope into a water-filled canal. (These were "grand cru" Podlasie potatoes, which are especially prized for their high starch content.) After being washed and scrubbed by a spinning gizmo, they drop into a huge, stainless steel pressure cooker and then into steel vats where they ferment into alcohol that is later distilled three times. This complex process was devised so we can raise a glass of Chopin vodka and say, "Na Zdrowie!"
While wine connoisseurs give obsessive thought to the raw materials and process that goes into making wine, rarely does a vodka drinker pause to consider the journey it took to get the spirit to the glass. Tad Dorda, the man behind Chopin and my host on this trip, is trying to change that. As the Polish delegate to the European Union, he's been lobbying for legal parameters to define what constitutes vodka. On the other side of the aisle, Italian, French, British and Dutch producers, who make vodka from grapes, other fruit and even maple syrup, are fighting for a more liberal definition.
"Real vodka, says Dorda, should be made only from potato or rye. One out of every four cocktails has vodka in it," he says. "Isn't it strange that consumers don't even know what it's made of?"
Dorda, whose distillery is the only one in Poland open to the public (it even has a small guest house on the property), is proud of the organically grown potatoes that go into his vodka.