BobBobRicard Vintage Vodka tasting
After a vintage vodka tasting this is how you might think you would see the world…..
But in reality, it was nothing of the sort. To Russians, drinking is about being social not about getting totally shitfaced. Or so our host, Russian Leonid Shutov would like me and my fellow diners to believe as we got down to eating Russian appetizers (zakusi in Russian) and drinking vintage vodka in his lush, gorgeous, diner deluxe as he likes to call it, in the heart of Soho, BobBobRicard.
Vodka is a palate cleanser to Russians, something that shouldn’t merge with the food but according to Leonid, it should be viewed as a “highlighter” to each dish, bringing out the flavours. For this reason, good vodka is as refined or distilled as many times as possible so that you can enjoy the food and not be encumbered with an alcoholic taste or burn. Leonid told us that 80% of alcohol is absorbed within 15 seconds of drinking so a small shot is all you really need to enjoy the peak of an alcoholic hit, that nice feeling that starts in your belly and spreads throughout your body. If you can taste the alcohol in vodka, you’re drinking the cheap stuff. Vodka should be chilled down to -18 degrees and then downed neatly as quickly as possible. A big bite of food, followed by a shot. And so on and so forth.
We were served, I would estimate 20ml of vodka in small crystal shot glasses. I was a bit hesitant at the idea of downing shots of vodkas but really, with vodka of such quality, there is no need to worry. Of the vodka’s we had, the deeply chilled Kaufmann Vintage vodka 2003 (retail £250) stands out in my mind. The super premium Kauffman is only made every few years and only from Russian wheat in what is deemed to be exceptional wheat growing years. The Kauffman vodkas are distilled 16 times and a silver thread, which has liquid nitrogen run through it, is submerged in the distilled vodka which freezes out further impurities. The Kauffman ’03 had a bready warmth to it as it slipped down, paired with a mouthful of Beluga caviar. This caviar was Iranian, Leonid wanted us to know as it’s now virtually impossible to get Russian caviar nowadays. Iranian sturgeon is very heavily policed, I guess you can say that there are benefits to Islamic regimes. Kill a sturgeon, off with your head, literally. Leonid noted that he used to eat a pound of caviar a day but he’s cut back a bit since. The ’03 was extremely mild and sooo soo smooth, like sliding down a luge, quick and fast, hitting your stomach but not really noticing it. I just felt all warm and fuzzy inside. And the caviar, wow! Intensely fishy, extremely flavoursome, it just doesn’t compare to the tobiko roe you get on a piece of sushi.
The Kaufman ’06 while still startlingly smooth and fresh seemed to have initially a honeyed taste to it. And with good reason, as honey is added to the fermenting wheat. The ice cold shot of vodka shot past the oxtail tongue in aspic perfectly in my mouth and seriously went down a treat. I could get used to this, unfortunately.
Imperium by Russian Standard Vodka is so called because it’s the one that set the standard. Dmitir Mendeleev was the fellow who invented the periodic table and he was also the person responsible for inventing the recipe for proper standard Russian vodka. Only filtered four times and distilled a bare 8 times, this vodka had a more grainy flavour to it when combined with our next dish of cured cucumbers and pickled herring. The herring was cured without sugar and had a salty fish flavour which was tempered by fresh sweet onion and boiled potatoes, all melding into a savoury mouthful.
Just for fun, Leonid brought out a chilled bottle of Stolichanya Red for us to compare to the vintage vodka. I never thought that I would consider myself a vodka connoisseur but whoa, talk about tasting the difference. While considered a “premium vodka” this one was not even close to the vintage vodkas. Reeking of an oily smell, it was rough and abrasive on the tongue and really burned as it went down. I was not liking it at all. The vodka burned, not because of the alcohol, but because of the fatty acids that are only removed during many, many distillations.
Although we’d had roughly 8 shots of vodka with our appetizers, I was barely feeling the vodka, just a nice warm convivial feeling, enjoying the meal, the conversation of my fellow diners and the general bonhomie of sitting down to a meal with friends. Just what vodka was intended to do. I tip my hat to Leonid for showing us the proper way to drink vodka.
That wasn’t the end of our meal, just the beginning, as Leonid had a ’90 Pomerol on deck to accompany the main course and an ’01 Sauternes for dessert waiting but I will save those for another post. In the meantime, drop by BobBobRicard and ask for the vintage vodkas next time you’re in Soho.
1 Upper James St., Soho, London W1F 9DF.
Tel: 0203 145 1000 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org