Podcast

Brian Stewart from Belvedere Vodka - Single Estate

You might have explored terroir in wine but now it’s time to explore it in Vodka. We talk to Brian Stewart about Belvedere’s Single Estate expressions.

By: Tiff Christie|August 6,2019

It’s a common misconception that all Vodka is created equal but with the release of their Single estate expressions, Belvedere Vodka is trying to show that this neutral spirit is anything but tasteless.

The two vodkas, made with Rye grown in the Smogóry Forest and Lake Bartężek areas of Poland, has been crafted to capture the distinctive character of these particular terroirs.

As the Vodka category begins to regain momentum, we talk to Brian Stewart from Belvedere Vodka to get a better understanding of terroir in Vodka, Vodka cocktails and the future of this neutral spirit.

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[00:01:10] -Single Estate Vodka explores the concept of terroir. For anyone who doesn’t know what that means, can you explain the idea?
[00:02:01] – Is it just a notional concept or is it something that really does come through?
[00:02:31] – With most people assuming that all vodkas taste pretty much the same, is the concept of terroir something that’s hard to convey?
[00:03:43] – They’re not very far apart, are they? The two farms.
[00:04:08] – Now presumably you used to mix the grains before. What made you decide to take each estates expression separately? And what was the process you went through to create that?
[00:07:11] – Now you advocate the Dankowskie Diamond Rye. What is it that makes it so unique?
[00:08:07] – Now, are the Single Estate Vodkas still four times distilled?
[00:09:24] – Talk to us about the Lake Bartezek area, I believe it’s quite cold there. How does that cold affect the rye compared to the ryes that are grown anywhere else?
[00:12:08] – How does that then affect the flavors? So if someone is tasting the Lake Bartezek for the first time, what are they tasting?
[00:13:17] – So the vodka really does have a character and a complexity…?
[00:15:36] – People should look at the sort of the grains and then look at where it’s grown and the terroir it can express?
[00:17:46] – Now you talked about trying to convey the message of these single estates to skeptical audiences. I imagine the most skeptical of them would be bartenders themselves. How have they reacted to the expressions?
[00:20:18] – There’s a lot of talk at the moment that vodka is actually coming back and that bars are starting to use it more frequently. Do you find that that’s the case?
[00:23:17] – You talk about vodkas being better produced now, are you finding that what you guys are doing with Single Estate is echoing through the rest of the vodka community?
[00:24:37] – Okay. The Vodkas have won several awards, do you think that’s managed to raise the profile additionally?
[00:25:50] – If someone was to buy a bottle of Single Estate for the first time, how should they use it?
[00:27:56] – Did you guys actually create any specific cocktails for these expressions when they were released?
[00:29:54] – With Lake Bartezek, what sort of cocktails are they creating? Are they doing things beyond the Martini style or are they sort of doing high highball expressions?
[00:32:37] – When it comes to pairing food, especially with the Lake Bartezek, what sort of food pairings were you looking at?
[00:33:38] – I believe you did a lot of work in creating the bottles for these expressions, do you want us to tell us a little bit more about that?
[00:34:57] – Beyond what you guys have been doing with the innovations that you’ve brought with Single Estate, where do you think vodka goes from here?
[00:36:07] – Belvedere, I imagine is available across the US and internationally?

Read Full Transcript

Belvedere Vodka usually works with seven farms in Poland to produce the rye for their vodka. For their Single Estate releases, they concentrated on two, only about 350 kilometers apart, which they believe deliver different taste profiles. The expressions were intended to give a fresh perspective on vodka. To talk to us about Single Estate Belvedere, we are joined by Brian Stewart, the US Ambassador for Belvedere Vodka.
Thanks for joining us Brian.

Thanks for having me.

Now, Single Estate Vodka explores the concept of terroir. For anyone who doesn't know what that means, can you explain the idea?

Sure. So terroir is simply kind of a catchall term that describes an environment around a particular crop. It's normally reserved for things like teas and chocolate and of course wine and now of course the beautiful world of distilled rye. The terroir is again... it's this really kind of affecting this crop based on how much rain the area is seeing, the temperature around it, anything that kind of goes into the production of that crop will pronounce its own terroir.

Now, is it just a notional concept or is it something that really does come through?

I mean, it's funny because if you look at the actual science, when we compared the two liquids together, we can see that there's differences. But actually scientifically speaking, it's almost impossible to prove, which is really kind of funny. So it almost turns into a ghost story, like what you're willing to believe, but the reality is, it's not just a fake concept, it's actually something that does exist and it's proven between these two liquids that Belvedere has put together.

Now with most people assuming that all vodkas taste pretty much the same, is the concept of terroir something that's hard to convey?

It can be. I think there's other people, there's other spirits and fermented wines that had a little bit of an easier time and when you talk about grain spirits, the conversation of terroir becomes very difficult because people really want to tell you that there's no terroir amongst grain, which we've found to be very false. So it can be a difficult conversation, particularly when you're talking about vodka. I know a lot of the times when I'm speaking to these, the first thing that I hear is, "Well, you know, all vodka is meant to be odorless and tasteless." Which isn't true, that's a US definition, it's not an EU definition. And pretty much every vodka has a flavor, even the ones that talk about being distilled so high that it tastes like nothing, that's not true, it does have some type of ethanol flavor to it. So the idea that it's odorless and tasteless just isn't true and we kind of circle back with these two particular grains in the sense that yes, they are the same, but the way that we do them produces very different flavors.

Because they're not very far apart, are they? The two farms.

No, they're really not. It's about 310 miles apart from each other, but the temperatures that they go through and the environments that they are, they're very different, but the process in which we make these two ryes are identical at each Estate. So it's really kind of this beautiful controlled experiment and when you actually get to taste the liquid side by side, they are wildly different.

Now presumably you used to mix the grains before. What made you decide to take each estates expression separately? And what was the process you went through to create that?

Well, at Belvedere we've always looked to innovate. In fact, Belvedere itself was an innovation in the vodka category. We're the world's first luxury vodka and the idea was that we were taking the Polish heritage … the 600 years of making vodka and we were producing what many thought to be the finest ingredients to make a vodka, which was our rye. We were working with seven farmers to produce our Belvedere original and at some point, you can sit on something that's beautiful and just hope that the world continues to love you, but especially in this industry, if you do not innovate, you die.
So our look to innovate was trying to find the next step in our rye character and that was of course staying in line with our heritage because Poland has very strict laws in order to make vodka in fact they're one of the only countries that has a vodka appellation around it, meaning that everything for the base spirit has to be either a cereal grain or a root or a potato. And everything for the process has to be done in Poland, it has to be bottled in Poland, fermented in Poland distilled in Poland. It all has to be down in Poland to be a Polski vodka.
So once we kind of perfected that original statement of Belvedere, we looked to find the next step and we helped to cultivate a grain called Dankowskie Diamond Rye which is a Baker's grade rye. And we immediately fell in love with this because of the characteristics that it kind of had about it. It's a Baker's Grade rye, which means it yields less, we have to use more of it to produce the same amount of product that we use for original.
But we knew we were really onto something and we loved the liquid so much, we kind of just released it out into the world, called Belvedere Unfiltered, that was its original kind of idea and it was kind of unclear as to what this was. That we called it unfiltered because as it did go through the cellulose process, a cellulose filtration process, it didn't go through the charcoal filtration process, which kept those residual oils that are left on distillation kind of in place, which gave it this different mouth texture, a little bit of a different feel. But we knew we were on to something and we just sent it out into the world, we were just so excited, we wanted to share it. And it was kind of misunderstood as what we were trying to do with this.
It wasn't until we were working with this particular type of grain and we were doing this in the very west side of Poland and we found a gentleman and the Lake Bartezek region, Jan, who was producing basically the rye the exact same way and we helped him to convert his farm into this Diamond Dankowskie range so that he could distill the exact same way that the other estates 350 miles to the southwest in Poland was doing, so that we could see if there actually is a difference. That's where this kind of innovation came. We really were just wanting to know what happened. It was kind of an experiment and it worked out beautifully.

Now you advocate the Dankowskie Diamond Rye. What is it that makes it so unique?

Well, Belvedere worked with the Lodz Institute, which is an agricultural institute in Poland. It's revered as one of the best agricultural institutes in Poland and part of the world because of their knowledge of distillation of grains. And they helped us to bring this grain to be and it produced, again, a Baker's grade rye, which typically not a lot of people want to work with, it's difficult, meaning it takes more care, it takes a certain amount of knowledge, but the end result and the flavors that you get with this rye are outstanding and that's a big draw to us and why we wanted to use it. It gave us a different texture to our already beloved Polish rye that we use for our original Belvedere. So it was a big draw to us to kind of master this rye in our quest of innovating the category. That's one of the main reasons why we moved to it.

Now, are the Single Estate Vodkas still four times distilled?

Yes it's the same process across the board for us in Belvedere and the first actual distillation doesn't happen on the Belvedere distillery. This is actually pretty common practice in vodka distilling, something that a lot of people don't like to talk about because they don't really know where that first distillation is coming from. It's a liquid that's purchased and then redistilled at distilleries to kind of make it their own. But because we work so closely with our farmers in Poland, we know the exact steps that it's going through and we feel it upholds the heritage of vodka making because in Poland, vodka is known as the liquid of the people and this is always kind of distilled in someone's farm or their backyard. So we believe this is the first step in holding tight to our heritage, which we love.
So that first distillation is happening off site with our farmers and then that liquid comes to us at Belvedere where it goes through a three step rectification process, which is three more column distillations. We do this because we feel that it is bringing out the most unique character driven liquid that we can possibly do. And of course we've been doing this for quite some time at our distillery in Poland that we've really dialed it in and it really kind of makes for our very characterful driven vodka.

Talk to us about the Lake Bartezek area, I believe it's quite cold there. How does that cold affect the rye compared to the ryes that are grown anywhere else?

Well, yeah, so the Lake Bartezek region is very North in Poland and it does get a very harsh winter and that has a lot to do with the Baltic Sea. It's effected by these whipping winds that come off the ocean and just kind of cruise across the land creating these very cold air climates. So during the winter, it does get a very harsh winter, in fact, it's covered in snow 80 days out of the year. The ground at one point that the rye is planted in, is completely frozen. But the other side of the Lake Bartezek is known as the land of a thousand lakes, there's more than a thousand lakes in this region that were created by these Arctic glaciers as they crossed over the land and as they settled, they deposit into these bodies of water, but also everything they picked up with them as they cruise across continents such as boulders and minerals, creating these rolling hills and these beautiful expressions of kind of the landscape.
During the summer because of these lakes, it's actually very popular European vacation destination because it's beautiful in the summer. But because of the cold climate that they get in the winter, it actually makes for not a super hot summer, but a very mild kind of relaxing summer. So it has these short, mild summers and springs, but it quite quickly moves into this very harsh winter. That affects the land in the sense that it just has a crisp air to it at all times, it's really just a beautiful place to see. But in the winter time it is really reserved for kind of something that is going to be character driven and have the ability to resist this cold air and that rye is perfect for this part of Poland because rye is very resilient.
I mean, to have the know how and I guess the faith of planting a grain into the ground that you know in a few months will be completely frozen and just have the ability that it just will first come spring, not even when the snow has been completely melted. You can kind of part the snow away and see these little green buds of plant life coming through the ground. I mean it has to endure a very, very harsh winter and still we'd have this beautiful grain that comes through in the spring. But again, all this is to the helping to develop its character.
Also the soil in this region has a lot of clay in it and not kind of plates of clay, but more of a grainual kind of marble clay to the soil and it really allows the rye to dig in and not become uprooted by these heavy snows and rains. So it allows it to really gain its strength and not move away from where it's already been planted. So that helps it in that sense as well. It's really kind of a perfect scenario for this particular grain to grow.

How does that then affect the flavors? So if someone is tasting the Lake Bartezek for the first time, what are they tasting?

Well, that was the experiment that was the whole idea. We knew that when we did the single estate for the first time in Smogory Forest, which is the 310 miles to the southwest of Lake Bartezek, that it was different than combining our eight farmers ryes together, so we knew there was different comparisons there. What we expected from Lake Bartezek, we almost expected kind of more of a bold flavor because in the world of wine, the more stress you put a grape through, the more characteristic bold flavors you get from it, but in this case, the rye actually comes out much delicate. It's much more delicate than its brother to the West in the sense the Smogory Forest is very bold while Lake Bartezek is very light, it's very sippable and a light kind of texture to it. It has notes of lemon grass and menthol and very mellow characteristics to it. It's almost a little delicate in the sense of a rye driven vodka.

So the vodka really does have a character and a complexity...?

It’s one of Belvedere biggest missions is to help people understand that vodka does have flavor, it has character, depending on if you're distilling with wheat or corn, that's going to affect the end flavor. Our mission at Belvederes always been to champion our flavors and the differences between the two are very distinct, there's no denying that. I've had the privilege to talk about these vodkas in front of some of the most skeptic crowds and even at the end it's very much clear that there's a difference between the two.
The Smogory Forest has this bold flavor to it with salted caramel right up front, star anise in the middle, toasted bread and then sharp kind of pepper pop on the end, while the Lake Bartezek has again, this more of a kind of like a lemon grass or menthol kind of lightness to it. Even the mouth textures are different, which is phenomenal because again, the process in which we make these are identical. There's nothing different in what we're doing other than where the rye is planted. Even the type of yeast that we use in the fermentation process is identical on both sides. It's not this heritage yeast, it's very much just kind of the commercial yeast so that we can again, control this experiment to make sure that we're getting exactly what we're looking for.
And this was our step in the next innovation on this category because I think really where this category has gone is that idea that it doesn't matter what vodka I get, if it's expensive, it should be smooth - if it's not expensive, then it's going to be a little bit harsher, that's completely wrong. The textures are different, the flavors are different. It's really important to kind of understand what it is that you're looking for because we do it in all other spirits. Bourbon drinkers who kind of thought Bourbon was a little to mellow for them, they switched to rye whiskeys because they liked that pepper pop. It's the same thing in vodka, you should kind of understand what it is that you like about it and it'll help you direct you to find a better flavor so that we can get away from this notion that vodka is just this boring spirit because it's not, it's really outstanding. And when you think about the complexity of it, it's almost very challenging to really challenge your palate and define these different things.

People should look at the sort of the grains and then look at where it's grown and the terroir it can express?

Absolutely. I encourage people to do this very much so, because I think a lot of the times when you get these people who are very against vodka, it's because maybe they've only tried a wheat vodka which might be a little too heavy on the ethanol for them or they've tried a corn vodka. Corn yields a little bit more sweetness to it when you distill with it, so maybe it's too sweet for them. It's important to understand, we do it with every other spirits, its important to understand what it is that you like about that and what it is that you like about drinking and then when you apply that to what it is that you're sipping on, you have a much better experience with what's in your glass. I think the consumer has done this with every single other spirit, but it's been ignored in vodka because of this misconception.
So of course when you apply all other things that we know about all these other distilled spirits, when you apply it to vodka, it actually makes vodka very interesting category because it's really unadulterated in the way that we distill it. It's not having the assistance of aging in a wood barrel, which helps to mellow it out. It's kind of, when you look at it, hopefully the way that we do it at Belvedere where it is simply just rye and water in a bottle and that's all you're getting and that's all the flavors should be.
There's important other elements to look at in that category where I've said before that Poland has these very strict regulations as to how to make vodka. It is a law that the government put in place, it's not something that we kind of were hoping people would follow, it's law to them. And the other part of that is, once we're done done distilling, we cannot add anything to the bottle, we can't add any mellowing agents, we can't add any sugar, any chemicals, anything like that, it would be against the law and we'd be shut down.
Anywhere else in the world that doesn't have an appellation to it, you can have a one liter bottle of vodka and you can add up to a hundred mils of glycerin, sugars, flavoring, artificial, whatever you want to and you don't have to put it anywhere on the bottle. That’s something important to look for, I always talk about as well. It's just kind of recognize what you're tasting, is it kind of seem as though there might be a little hint of something that shouldn't be there? Recognize these elements because they're easier to depict when you know what you're looking for and that again, will help you enjoy the experience of what's in your glass.

Now you talked about trying to convey the message of these single estates to skeptical audiences. I imagine the most skeptical of them would be bartenders themselves. How have they reacted to the expressions?

I love bartenders dearly because I was a bartender for 15 years and I managed bars and it's really funny because in my quest for knowledge in this world of spirits, I think vodka was the last thing I decided to learn about because it's everything that everyone tells you is that it's the most boring. But the reality is, like I said, there's a lot to it. When I approach bartender's with these two particular bottles, the first thing is they're kind of going, "Meh, may be it'll taste a little bit different, but it's still going to taste like vodka." That's kind of like the number one statement I always get.
But the trade, the bartenders have been extremely open to this and very welcoming to the fact that we're trying to make this innovation in the category because really what it does for them is these two expressions of terroir that is Poland, it helps them to express their own terroir because I always talk about how bartenders have such a range. I came up bartending in Los Angeles, California where produce is available to me year round, so I'd have these bright citruses and maybe even peaches in the late part of fall because I could and that was part of my terroir, where maybe someone on the East Coast, like in New York, they might be a little bit more kind of- where there's a little bit more herbaceous to it, it has a kind of more of that classic feel to it because produce, as I've learned now living in New York for the last two years, it's a little bit harder to come by really great produce.
So each terroir by a bartender is slightly different and when you give them the expression saying, "Oh, you have a lighter vodka that might apply to more kind of a citrus driven cocktail or a bolder vodka that might apply to more kind of like whisky style cocktail." It allows the bartender to put a vodka cocktail on their menu that they can then be proud of as opposed to just putting it on the menu and saying that one phrase that everyone loves to say, "Well, it's vodka. It's here to pay the bills." Well, at Belvedere, we don't believe that, it's just not who we are and we want bartenders to express their own terroir. So that's why this has also been a great tool for the trade to kind of reengage this category and allow them to kind of express what it is that they want to do ad rather than just putting something on a menu because they have to, because they know they need to have a vodka cocktail. Well now they have the ability to craft a vodka cocktail that expresses them and their own personal terroir.

There's a lot of talk at the moment that vodka is actually coming back and that bars are starting to use it more frequently. Do you find that that's the case?

I think so. I personally believe so and of course, since I've been with Belvedere, it's been my own personal mission because I've always liked vodka. And particularly when I was bartending and hanging out with my friends, it wasn't cool to like vodka, I had to go out and talk about all the brown spirits that we were enjoying and then go home and enjoy my vodka cocktail in private. But I feel it's the notion that we've shunned it a little too hard is definitely kind of on the minds of bartenders and they're kind of reverting back to that. Well, okay, maybe we don't have to have a bar that just doesn't serve it at all because it's this tasteless, odorless spirit. I think the knowledge is coming around and the quest is like I said, I set out to understand everything on my backbar and vodka was the last thing I learned about.
I think bartenders and consumers are so smart and so hungry for knowledge that they've consumed a lot of it. And one thing that's kind of unresearched at this point is vodka. So that might be part of the swing, that might be reason why bartenders are now kind of coming around and there's also better vodkas available now, there's better ways of producing. So that also helps in this category as well. We're out of that dark age of the era of artificial flavors and that is just shunned upon now, even by the consumers who really liked it, the whipped cream and fruit loop and split pea vodkas of the world are being sent away and it's a wonderful thing or getting back to the basics. And I think that's why bartenders are becoming more excited about it because the knowledge is also available.
So I think that's why bartenders returned to this and it's exciting to see personally for me because now I can enjoy a Vodka Martini on the bar and I'm not as shunned about it anymore. The reaction has been great and I think it's kind of go in the way that bartenders are going to see it as more of kind of proving their skill because when you think about it, the reality is that when you craft a cocktail, it's kind of like this idea of moving up through the leagues. So it was always said to me that when you first start out you make a vodka cocktail because you can put all these flavors in and you just cover up the vodka and you make a great cocktail. Well, that's you kind of getting into mixology and then you kind of graduate and you move into rums and those become a little bit harder and then you're messing with things like Jenever and liqueurs and things like that that really show you're skilled pro.
I actually think that it's the complete opposite. If you can make a vodka cocktail and include flavors and you're still able to taste the vodka that you are mixing with, that is a sign of a true, true professional. I can't tell you how quickly I've seen just kind of the idea of producing a cocktail of vodka in it and just losing the vodka flavor, I think anybody can do that. But a skilled professional can put together a cocktail with vodka in it and still be able to taste those nuances of the vodka. That to me shows a huge, awesome skill level.

You talk about vodkas being better produced now, are you finding that what you guys are doing with single estate is echoing through the rest of the vodka community?

We just do what we do at Belvedere because we think it's right. I have noticed that there are other vodka expressions that are now talking a lot about their terroir and I really didn't see that up until just recently. And at Belvedere we released the single estates about... Well we've had one of the single estates in our repertoire for a long time. But now having the comparison and being able to talk about our terroir for the last year and a half, almost two years, I've started to hear other vodka producers talk about their terroir.
So I think it's interesting, which also means that maybe we're onto something now, maybe Belvedere has helped to discover something and that's fine. We don't mind if other vodkas want to talk about their terroir because it's only going to help to grow the category and that's what we've always wanted. We've always just looked to innovate the category, not try to go along with trends, that's never been Belvedere. We've always stayed true to what it is that we do and we always sure to help elevate, that's always been our mission. So great, I love that other vodkas are now talking about their terroir because they really weren't before and I think it's something we should talk about.

Okay. The Vodkas have won several awards, do you think that's managed to raise the profile additionally?

I think it's definitely raising a lot of eyebrows that all of a sudden Belvedere... when you win best spirit three years in a row, it really raises eyebrows to the attention of what it is that we're doing and how we're not, falling in line with those vodka tricks. It is simply just rye, water, distill, which allows you to kind of see our characteristics. So I think yes, when we keep winning these prestigious awards, it allows us to kind of step into the cool kids club a little bit. You got to have some kind of appreciation for what we're doing. So I think that helps of course.
The best praise is the praise from your peers and it's been an absolute blessing amongst our community, amongst our industry, that we're being recognized for what we're doing because at the end of the day, we believe that we're making a beautiful spirit and we hope to innovate, but it's nice to see that people are actually recognizing what we're doing and yes, that authenticates what it is that we have been doing.

If someone was to buy a bottle of single estate for the first time, how should they use it?

That's a great question and particularly because you talk about purchasing a bottle and most times someone who's purchasing bottles is not someone who's a real beautifully trained bartender. I would say the first thing you do to get to know these single estates, is what we've intended them to do, is either set them neat or set them on the rocks because that's what we really were looking to do with this is that, we also wanted to show people that vodka doesn't have to go into a cocktail, you can sip it and understand its flavor and complexity, if it's just neat or on the rocks. So I'd say start there, that's a great place to kind of figure out what these bottles are all about.
Now if you're looking to kind of elevate and maybe do something at home, I say start simple, start with what you know. I love to talk about the Smogory Forest and that's simple cocktail that I do at home is I just pour it over the rocks, I crack a little black pepper over the top of it and I give it a lemon twist and it's simple and elegant, but it goes with food and it goes through just sipping neat and relaxing. So start kind of with the basics and understanding what you already know and just watch how these two cocktails kind of elevate your regular favorite cocktails to a different level.
Now, in terms of kind of which way to go with either one of them, again, it's important to remember this, Smogóry Forest has a more bold flavor to it, so you can use things you normally would in a whiskey cocktail. In fact, it makes a really great old fashion, it's able to stand up to the aromatic bitters and citruses and things of that nature or the Lake Bartężek, it's a little bit more delicate. And if you were to throw aggressive things at it, like Cynar or green Chartreuse, you would lose the vodka, that's not what we're looking for. It almost plays more in the sense of like a gin where it's a little bit more light and delicate. It has the ability to play really well with lighter kind of liqueurs, it does great with Creme de Peach, it does awesome with a little bit of a fortified blanc wine or a grapefruit twist.
So I think if you stay in line along those lines of one kind of sits very familiar to kind of like a whiskey where the other one sits more kind of like a gin, but again, remembering that there are of course vodka, you'll find yourself in a great place making beautiful cocktails at home.

Did you guys actually create any specific cocktails for these expressions when they were released?

Absolutely. Yeah, we have created cocktails for these two specific spirits. It was to kind of showcase what it is and how to particularly use them. One cocktail that I created was a cocktail called the Catcher in the Rye, which has the ability to kind of showcase how to use it with particular flavors. This one was a small worry for us, because some of the flavors are a little bit slightly bolder. The Smogory Forest of course is the main component and then it's coupled by Cynar, a little bit of some yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice and grapefruit juice. Now, normally these are not that you would find in a vodka cocktail, but the ability that the Smogory Forest has to be a bold spirit allows itself to kind of play in with these. It gives you these beautiful delicate notes of grapefruit and lemon, but the Cynar is there to kind of bust through with the bitterness, but the salted caramel and the pepper pops of the Smogory Forest really pop through to give it this perfectly rounded cocktail.
The other cocktail that we lovingly referred to is our Diamond Back Rye, this is a cocktail, again, using later delicate flavors to pronounce our Lake Bartezek, again being the main star there. And then the Lake Bartezek is of course coupled by yellow Chartreuse, a little bit of a Creme de Peach and then rounded off with a grapefruit twist. This is a much more delicate kind of sipping Martini where if you were to pop those more bitter aggressive flavors in with Lake Bartezek, you would lose that beautiful menthol lemon grass flavor. We continue to create cocktails around this, but we've been more excited to see what bartenders around the world are doing with it. And again, they're playing with, it's kind of the same way that we are, but we're seeing awesome expressions of cocktails that are normally reserved for whiskeys and scotches kind of going along with Smogory Forest and more gin based style of cocktail, now being used with our Lake Bartezek which are really rounding out and allowing the kind of drinker to have a different experience around the spirit.

With Lake Bartezek, what sort of cocktails are they creating? Are they doing things beyond the Martini style or are they sort of doing high highball expressions?

Yeah, we're seeing across the board, so it's easy to think of a vodka cocktail immediately being turned into a Martini, but we're seeing all sorts of beautiful expressions done with these particular two spirits. And yes, we're seeing awesome, outstanding highballs with bright citrus and more of kind of like berry flavors added into them, where the Smogory Forest tends to be kind of again, yes, more of like a Manhattan style cocktail, but also more old fashioned style cocktails, where it's more of a bitter and sugar and stirred over a rock and then topped into a rocks glass. So the expressions are kind of endless in the sense of what you can do with these two spirits. They don't have to be reserved for that Martini glass or that Coupe glass, you can go either way. We're even seeing that sours work really, really well in the Smogory. So classics sours with an egg white are playing in really well. Just as long as we kind of are helping bartenders to create the expressions of things that they're looking for, then we feel like we're in the right place.

If you're at home with Lake Bartezek, what sort of flavors are working really well with that?

Grapefruit juice works incredibly well, so that's a great citrus to start with, lemon juice works really great as a sweetener element, simple syrup is fine and all, but we find that a honey syrup is working really well with Lake Bartezek. It kind of rounds out those lemon notes and it kind of gives it this beautiful roundness while also suggesting kind of a subtle soft sweetness as opposed to an aggressive, kind of more sharp sweetness.
I've even started to use fresh melon juice. I normally don't like melon in my cocktails, but I find that cantaloupe juice works really well in Lake Bartezek. In fact, I have a highball expression where I use lemon juice, honey and fused lavender, a little bit of some fresh cantaloupe juice and I top it off some soda water and it's this perfect sipping summer cocktail with Lake Bartezek. So expressions like that, you kind of feel free to kind of use in the sense that the vodka will lend its natural flavors to your cocktail, elevating those beautiful notes of spring and summer, but just kind of use what you like, just imagine keeping it kind of subtle in those flavors and not making them too sharp and you'll have a great delicious cocktail.

When it comes to pairing food, especially with the Lake Bartezek, what sort of food pairings were you looking at?

More kind of delicate lightness, but I find that I just grilled a sea bass last night and I paired it with a Lake Bartezek Martini and it was wonderful. So a light white flaky fish works really well. I actually had a Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Balls, that worked really great and it also works really well with caviar. I always say if you have a great caviar , a little Creme fraiche, that's a great way to go too. But it wouldn't do well with a big New York Strip or rib eye, you're not going to do. Well there because you have light more kind of summery starters...
It also works really well with figs, figs go really well with Lake Bartezek. So just kind of in those salady green leaf kind of starter elements, you've got a great kind of beginning cocktail and from Mainz, I like it with fish, white, flaky fish works really great in that sense.

I believe you did a lot of work in creating the bottles for these expressions?

Belvedere thought a great deal about these bottles and we wanted them to help distinguish that it is a different style of vodka. We didn't want to kind of just put another bottle on the shelf and you think, "Oh, there's another Belvedere." The bottles are specifically designed to kind of also echo what a lot of scotches do because it’s that idea that the scotches are named after the regions that they're made in, which is why we're naming after the regions that these vodkas are made in. We wanted the bottle that have a little bit more weight to it, so you kind of understood that. Again, this isn't a better version of Belvedere, this is a different style of Belvedere. And I think with the two expressions, this particular bottle and being a little bit higher shows you that one, it's a Single Estate so it has a little bit more weight to the bottle, it shows you that it's something special that it came from somewhere special, so that's important to us as well.
The two particular colors on the bottle, one's kind of like a charcoal gray that represents Smogory Forest where Lake Bartezek has this kind of brilliant blue, those represent the regions that they're from. The idea was to really take these bottles and show you that it's not another just vodka, it's a different expression of what we've already been doing and that's kind of where the bottles lie in that sense.

Beyond what you guys have been doing with the innovations that you've brought with single estate, where do you think vodka goes from here?

That's an outstanding question and we already have some things in the works that I can't really talk about, but believe me, I think vodka is going in the right direction and for me personally, I think that's a great idea because I think vodka is moving away from that idea that it is an advertisement of a lifestyle or a party and we never adhere to that at Belvedere. But the idea that it's just kind of like this crowd pleasing spirit that anyone can have and it creates this version of a backyard garden party, I think that advertising style of vodka is moving away and vodka as a whole is moving into where it's from, what it's made from and how do we excel from that. So I think you're going to see vodka really talk about where it's coming from, its point of origin and a true story, which is kind of what Belvedere has always been doing. It's just nice to see it all getting into line.
So where do we go from here? Well, I don't know, it's very exciting, I hope to see even more expressions of delicious spirits that are just simply what they're distilled from and the water that's from the region and we get a lot of flavor from that.

Belvedere, I imagine is available across the US?

Yes. Belvedere is available throughout the US and of course our new single estate expressions are available throughout the US, so yeah, you pretty much find them here and we always like to say you should check your favorite establishment because we did reserve these Belvedere single estates to just be in the on premise accounts before they found themselves in liquor stores. We did that because we wanted the bartender to kind of reengage that old school conversation of, well, the consumer knows everything, but now we get into that old school where it wasn't the Internet wasn't so readily available and you had to go to your bartender to ask them, "Hey, what's new?" So we always say start there and that's a great place to kind of create a conversation with the bartender and hopefully they have it off the back bar.
Internationally as well. You can find us across the globe. I know it's doing incredibly well in the UK, Australia, I believe it's there. I think they just had their launch in the single estates? We didn't want to reserve this for it was one place, we love it so much we want the world to get to know it. It should be finding its way across the globe if it hasn't already.

Now if people want more information, they should of course go to Belvedere website, which is belvederevodka.com?

For more information, go to the Belvedere website, belvederevodka.com

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Brian Stewart from Belvedere Vodka - Single Estate

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