Karlsson's Vodka.. Made from Potato, not Grain! How interesting!

May 28, 2013

Traditionally I shy away from Vodka when tasting spirits.  Faced with this dilemma of flavored vodka products that stand front and center in nearly every bar in America, I've had to draw the line somewhere.  Those who know me- usually would say the same thing.  I don't review flavored vodka!  Which usually means I haven't reviewed vodka in a while.  Too many times do I receive samples, only to find that the PR agency has also sent a selection of the "flavored" varieties.  What usually happens is that I don't review any of them.  Too bad.  My rate card specifically reads, "No Flavored Vodka".... What is it that is so hard to understand here?

Fast forward to the WSWA show in Orlando, Florida.  I had the chance to bump into Megan Kennedy from Karlsson's Vodka.  In a room filled with grape vodka and wild cherry vodka, whipped cream vodka and sweet vanilla cake vodka, she stood there like a stoic against the invaders.  Why was she alone?  Because what Karlsson's makes is vodka with terroir.  Karlsson's Vodka is distilled from New Potatoes AND they vintage date their offerings depending on the harvest. 

Karlsson's is not your typical vodka.  It has FLAVOR.  Most vodka on the market is hardly more than alcoholized water.   And that's too bad.  Because with with ingredients like Virgin new potatoes that are both unfiltered and gluten free- plus single distilled- you are able to taste the potato, not a whisper.  This is a vodka that doesn't have to shout- but its authenticity is front and center.

There was a time when all vodka was made from potatoes.  What happened to that?

The 2008 expression with its florescent orange label over crisp white lettering in a hand grenade shaped bottle is most elegant indeed.  The vodka is crystal clear yet the marketing materials say it's distilled unfiltered.  This is an extremely pure product worthy of your highest adoration.  The material goes further by giving the specific variety of potato and the provenance of that potato.  In the case of the 2008 expression, here is the information from their website:

Karlsson’s Batch 2008
The first such release in April of 2012 was Karlsson’s Vodka Batch 2008, which is made exclusively from the 2008 harvest of the Gammel Svensk Röd (“Old Swedish Red”) potato from Bertil Gunnarsson’s farm in Cape Bjäre. “Old Swedish Red,” as the name implies, is a slightly reddish heirloom potato varietal that is grown exclusively on Gunnersson’s farm. Börje Karlsson selected it for this special release because of all the potatoes harvested in 2008, the Gammel Svensk Röd had the best natural taste and character.

Karlsson’s Batch 2009
Karlsson’s Vodka Batch 2009 is the second release in a Karlsson’s series of limited edition vintage vodkas. It is made exclusively with a single harvest of Solist Virgin New Potatoes from the Mäsinge Lantbruk farm in Cape Bjäre, Sweden. The Solist potato is round to oval in shape, with an off-white flesh and thin, easily-peeled, pale yellow skin. Solist potatoes are generally planted very early in the season, between the end of March and the end of April. The Solist is used in Swedish cuisine, often served boiled with just sea salt and dill. Because of the early planting, they can be harvested by the end of May through August. This potential for an extremely early harvest, before the Swedish celebration of Midsommar, makes the Solist highly sought after in early summer.

But what does this mean to me?

It means that the potatoes have a soul.   A what a great soul it is.  When you open the bottle the first thing that you sense is the aromatics of this highly expressive vodka.  They leap out of the bottle, up your nose and say DRINK ME!  I sense freshly cut dill, sweet new potatoes, freshly drawn cream, bagels hot from the toaster smeared with unsalted butter and a smattering of the soil.  This taste of the place is memorable and I am driven to making a batch of gravlax from the liquid pleasure held within.  This is potato to the 100th degree.  It's almost frightening to think of vodka being made of anything BUT potatoes!  The finish goes on and on swirling over your tongue and colliding with the rest of your mouth.  I wouldn't do anything more than serve this vodka with a couple Mavea "Inspired Water" ice cubes that have lemon zests frozen within.  Karlsson's 2008 expression is cool, Teutonic and robust.  I shudder to think that someone would mix this vodka with anything but the purest ice on the planet.  Maybe a peel of grapefruit, or perhaps a scant splash of a flavored simple syrup from a company called Fruitations...  I'm passionate about their Tangerine flavor and I think it lends just the right amount of sweetness to acidity. 

From the website: Virgin New Potatoes are a delicacy in Sweden. These tender heirloom potato varietals are not just delicious, but as they can be harvested very early in a short season, they also represent the long-awaited summer after what is generally a cold and dark Scandinavian winter. A seasonal delicacy harvested from June to September, these spuds are so revered that the first batch, harvested in early June, occasionally sell at auction for up to $150 per pound.

Virgin New Potatoes are harvested while the potato plant is still alive and before the potato tuber itself has fully developed its skin. The result is a delicate potato that is very high in water content but extremely low in starch content and only has a very thin film for a skin. While the potato came to Sweden as a crop in the 1700s it was only in the 1800s that a young farmer discovered the tender, early-harvest, new potato. It was then that this tradition was born.

There are a large number of heirloom varietals of new potato in Sweden and they differ in taste significantly. Even the same variety can vary in taste from year to year depending on the specific climate of the harvest season. Elements of terroir such as rain, sun, wind and temperature all affect the flavor of these unique heirloom potatoes. They are a source of pride for the farmers that pick them and a staple on the Swedish plate both at home and in restaurants. Often simply served boiled with dill and sea salt, the new potatoes from Cape Bjäre are commonly accepted as some of the best in the world. These Virgin New Potatoes are the source and the inspiration for Karlsson’s Vodka.

The 2009 expression is bold and robust like the 2008 expression, but it might have a bit more potato flavor and a bit less bite than the 2008 expression.  It is softer in the mouth and calls out for citrus peels frozen in Mavea "Inspired Water" ice cubes.  I wouldn't do too much to this vodka other than admire it.  There is pure delight in every sip.  This is a very sophisticated sip, but it's not for everyone.  If you usually drink grain vodka, you might not appreciate what history is trying to teach you.  That vodka should be made from potatoes.  I'm a Volvo driver, so the esthetic Sweden in the bottle is like the calling of the Siren Song.  The label is gorgeous.  A robust shade of lavender blue with the crisp white lettering makes this bottle really stand out on the shelf.  The large pourer is perfect for bartenders, like all the bottles- easily held in one hand while preparing a drink.  A plus to those of us who bar tend for our suppers. 

The Karlsson's Black Pepper Fizz


2 oz. Karlsson"s 2008 Vintage Dated Vodka

2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper frozen into an ice cube tray with lemon zests.  Essential to use filtered "Mavea-Inspired Water" which freezes nearly crystal clear!

2 oz. Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water - Lemon essence

Splash of Fruitations Tangerine Syrup

3 drops Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters


Add the frozen infused ice cubes to a Collins glass

Measure out the Karlsson's vodka and add it to the glass

Add a splash of the Fruitations Tangerine Syrup

Add the Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water


Drip 3 drops of the Bittercube bitters over the top



Please have a look at my upcoming book:

Apothecary Cocktails, Restoratives from Yesterday and Today



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