When you think of great vodka, think of ... chicken?
“If you asked Thomas Keller what his favorite dish was, he’d say roast chicken, because it’s really hard to make that well,” says Brent Lamberti, International Brand Ambassador for Stoli Group.
So, as Lamberti continues, while it’s really easy to create vodka — there aren’t a lot of rules, and you use a multitude of ingredients — it’s really, really difficult to make it shine.
To truly stand out, elit by Stolichnaya (which we’ll call Stoli from here on out) was introduced as the first “ultra luxury vodka” sixteen years ago, utilizing an old-school filtration method and some admittedly good marketing. Still, that was just $50.
In recent years, the the brand introduced the pristine water series, an extremely limited-edition variation on their core product, where each bottle cost upwards of $3000. If you find a place that serves the vodka in cocktails or martini, expect to pay $300-$500 per drink.
Seem ridiculous? Maybe. For science, we tested out all of the limited edition spirits, alongside Lamberti and Stoli Global Brand Ambassador Simone Bodini. And spoiler: The price tags are shocking, but our review is even more surprising.
To break down why a vodka cost $3000...
There’s real vodka history in the brand. Stoli, which recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, was the first company to import vodka into the U.S. It was the first brand with commercially available flavors. And it was the first vodka in space. Quality-wise, it’s also been recognized multiple times as the number one rated white spirit in the world.
It’s hard to find. elit only made 300 bottles of each of the three pristine water series expressions. Scarcity, y’all.
It’s made the way vodka is supposed to be made. In feudal times, Russians used to put their finest vodka in casks outside in very cold temperatures. The impurities would bind to the casks and freeze, and then the owners would filter the remaining vodka through cloth.
“We modernized that,” explains Lamberti. The brand uses a “freeze filtration chamber” to chill the spirit to negative 18 degrees Celsius, where it gets really thick and viscous, and then runs it through carbon filters. The shape of the bottle is actually based on the shape of the filtration chamber.
Speaking of how vodka is supposed to be, elit certainly has the right heritage: All the raw ingredients are sourced from farms Stoli owns in Russia, then shipped to Latvia, a former part of the Russian Empire.
Here’s the key ingredient — it’s in the water. According to Lamberti, there are five different ways to differentiate vodka: Where it’s from, what it’s made from, how it’s distilled, if/how it’s filtered and where it sources its water. The last one is important. “Think of it this way — 60 percent of every 80-proof spirit is water. And while water doesn’t affect other spirits as much, we’re dealing with a naked spirit here.”
So, for the pristine water series, elit used the same base spirit (97 percent wheat, 3 percent rye, triple distilled through Russian birchwood charcoal) that’s in their $50 bottle, but then utilized rare water sources from the Himalayas, New Zealand and Chile as their H20 component. “We think of as introducing terroir into the vodka world,” says Bodini. “This is the terroir of the water.”
As a taste test proved, each water source imparted different flavor to each expression. The Himalayan Edition (sourced from Langtang National Park) was smooth and soft (“like a pillow,” says Lamberti). The New Zealand Edition (via NZ’s the Blue Spring, where the water is naturally filtered through pumice in the Mamaku Ranges) has a peppery kick, and the Andean edition (with water from natural springs near the Colico Lake in Chile) has a sweetness the other two lacked.
The bottles are strikingly unique: The Himalayan Edition is made from hand-blown Bohemian crystal and sealed with a gold-plated decorative ice pick and presented in a walnut-carved chest. The New Zealand edition uses handcrafted bottles from the 135-year-old Royale de Champagne crystal studio and placed in a box crafted from Kauri wood, the oldest workable wood in the world. The Andean edition has hand-blown crystal by Glencairn Crystal in Scotland and features a gold-threaded base that “echos the silent ancestral language of the region.” All the cases are individually made and numbered.
People are definitely willing to pay for it. Without divulging names (although we know them off the record), bottles have been purchased by one well-known professional sports team after its recent championship, a world-famous actor with a proclivity toward ultra-luxury items, the head of a major sporting league and “some whales [high rollers] in Vegas.”
As for trying it yourself, you might be able to find a bottle in assorted high-end bars, clubs and restaurants around the country: 1 OAK in New York, Zuma in Miami and Del Frisco’s in Boston were three establishments mentioned that had purchased bottles.
Photos: elit by Stoli; Kirk Miller