What we’re drinking: Three expressions from Vestal Vodka
Where it’s from: A Polish vodka founded by William Borrell, who’s also made a name for himself with two award-winning “five-star dive bars” in London
Why we’re drinking this: We’re happy to defend vodka. And Vestal, which has been around for more than a decade but only just made its way to our shores this summer, has the unusual distinction of earning a perfect score for its vodka from the famed Difford’s Guide — apparently, the only vodka to ever do so — as well as a 99/100 score from the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) and multiple Double Gold awards last year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Vestal — a loose translation of virgin or new potatoes — sources their potatoes from the Kaszebe and Podlasie regions of northern Poland, harvests them young to retain flavor then distills them once in a column still or a hybrid pot-column still. They also rest the liquid in stainless steel open casks, which adds a surprisingly subtle but natural sweetness.
“There are two ways to make potato vodka — real potato vodka, which is a dying breed, or the other, which utilizes potato chippings in a mash, or even a powdered starch that falls off the potato to make a type of potato ethanol,” says Borrell, who grew to love vodka after spending his teen and early adult summers in Poland with his father, a former Time war correspondent.
He also offers some good-natured sarcasm: “As for distillation — there’s a famous Swedish company that I won’t name. They say they offer infinite distillation. Can’t beat infinity! They’ve won the distillation competition.”
Borrell, who actually started the company with his father and initially sold the product in London’s farmer’s markets, gave us three expressions to try: The core Polish Potato Vodka, a Black Cherry version and an Unfiltered 2015 Vintage (again, pretty rare for a vodka to have a year statement).
How it tastes:
- Vestal Polish Potato Vodka: There’s a real viscosity here, an oily mouthfeel and a surprising and lovely natural sweetness, some vanilla, a bit of mint and a hint of saline on the finish. Ideal for a martini with a twist.
- Black Cherry: Utilizing black cherries from Poland, you’ll obviously get cherry on the nose but a surprising amount of marzipan on the mouth. It’s tart and sweet and works well as a very cold shot, with Coke for a cherry cola riff or even as part of an espresso martini, where it becomes more of a black forest variation.
- 2015 Vintage Unfiltered: You may do a double take here, as the nose is like the purest essence of a potato — very earthy, too. But you’ll get something closer to herbaceous mezcal on the palate, albeit one with a creamy mouthfeel and some hints of white pepper and nutmeg. Great chilled in a wine glass, but probably a wonderful base for a dirty martini with a stuffed blue cheese olive.
Fun fact: Borrell’s bars in London are housed in former Victorian underground toilets. One of them, Ladies & Gentlemen, was “famous for being patronized by George Michael, and he wasn’t using it as a bathroom,” as Borrell dryly notes. “And he actually popped down once we had turned into a bar.”
Where to buy: Vestal Vodka’s White Label and Black Cherry expressions are available in a 750ml bottle with an SRP of $19.99 and $20.99, respectively, while the limited 2015 Unfiltered Vodka is $27.99. You can find them on The Whisky Exchange or Total Wine.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.