For those of you following the news, you’ll know that things haven’t exactly improved in Ukraine recently. There are many ways we can support the Ukranians right now, and one is to continue to support Ukranian companies. As a reviewer of spirits, that means we’re going to continue spotlighting as many Ukranian spirits as we can, continuing with this Polish-style potato vodka made by the same people who make Khor.
Evgeny Chernyak was born in 1969 in the city of Zaporizhzhia, located in the southern portion of what would eventually become Ukraine. He served in the Soviet Red Army from 1987 to 1989 and then went on to get a few degrees in machinery and finance from the national universities. After spending some time in the finance business, he struck out on his own in 1998 to start a distribution company for distilled spirits in Ukraine. Building off his success in the spirits industry, he opened a distillery in 2003 to focus on creating premium Ukranian spirits.
In 2008, he combined his businesses into a holding company called Global Spirits — and thanks to his successes in the spirits business, Evgeny is listed among the top 20 wealthiest people in Ukraine according to Forbes.
Krol Vodka (based on the word for King in Polish) is a line of vodka that tries to pay tribute to the original potato-based vodkas that originated in Poland in the 1790’s, using the same traditional methods and processes — except for the fact that this particular version is made in Ukraine.
As a Polish-style vodka, this starts out from a crop of 100% potato that is cooked and then fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. Working with potatoes is interesting for a distilled spirit, since the starch is stored in a living cell that needs to be cooked to release it, and there needs to be some external source of enzymes to break it down into sugar. With something like barley, you can just soak it in water and the seed will naturally start converting its own starch into sugar, but that’s not the case here.
That newly created soupy alcoholic mess is then distilled three times to concentrate the alcohol sufficiently to make it a vodka — a minimum of 96% ABV for EU-based distillers. Even though Ukraine isn’t in the EU (a touchy subject at the moment), they are probably following that same pattern to be able to sell their product in the EU market.
Once distilled, the spirit is filtered seven times to remove as many impurities and nasty compounds as possible before being proofed down with locally sourced water, bottled, and then shipped.
Generally speaking, this is a pretty standard bottle… but it does manage to strike a couple pet peeves.
Overall, there’s a good shape here. I appreciate that this is more than a standard wine-bottle-shaped capsule, instead going for a nicely squared off shoulder and more of a cylindrical feel for the body. It’s not straying too far from the beaten path of bottle design but it’s just interesting enough to work.
What I am a little annoyed about is the label. The first thing you notice is the 1790 date, but that’s misleading. Normally, you’d expect that to be the date the distillery opened, but in this case the subtly disguised “s” on the end is referencing the era when potato based vodka started to become popular in Poland. It’s a statement about the style, not the provenance of the distillery. Which is a bit confusing and might lead people to believe that the bottle has more of a history to it than it really does.
Another pet peeve — but one I can forgive — is the size of the label. There’s a lot of real estate being taken up by this label, and not much of it is being put to good use. There are some sketchy drawings of a field and a pot still and the generic seal of some notional king, but it all feels like a hastily thrown together collage of components instead of a coherent label. I’d honestly prefer more of the bottle devoted to showcasing the crystal clear contents.
There isn’t much coming off the glass, but I do get a hint of an aroma. There’s some star anise in there, and a touch of lemon citrus which isn’t something I usually see outside of a tequila.
Taking a sip, the flavor here is surprisingly rich and earthy with an almost smoky characteristic. There’s the star anise in there, but the biggest thing I’m actually getting is sarsaparilla — like a flat root beer. That root flavor makes sense, though, given the subterranean nature of the raw material here. On the finish, there’s just a hint of smoke before a nice, crisp, clean, neutral finish.
Note that none of these flavors are “large and in charge” — if I wasn’t literally sitting here and contemplating this glass as intensely as a wizard ponders his orb, I’m not sure I’d see them myself. But the flavors still add a noticeable richness to the mouthfeel of the spirit and provide for a nice and smooth drinking experience.
Usually, with a little ice, lighter and more delicate flavors drop out of contention in a spirit and that continues to be the case with Krol.
That nice sarsaparilla component that I found when taken neat seems to have almost disappeared, leaving behind only the star anise and a touch of lemon-y citrus to keep the glass company. I still get a richer and more mouth filling impression from the experience, but there isn’t quite as much character in the glass to back up that impression.
Still, smooth and delicious as far as a vodka goes.
Cocktail (Vodka Martini)
Normally, I praise a vodka for staying out of the way and letting the other ingredients duke it out to create a great cocktail. But in this case, I think the vodka actually does bring something to the party and it works well.
There’s an earthiness to this martini that I don’t usually see. Normally, this cocktail is more bright and cheerful, a bit cleaner and crisper than something made with a bourbon. But in this specific case, there’s an earthy and smoky characteristic contributed by the vodka, and it adds a whole new twist on the classic that makes a bourbon drinker like myself actually contemplate pouring himself a second glass.
This has some character. Which is unexpected for a vodka.
I normally don’t expect much from a vodka. It’s a solid base alcohol for a cocktail, and one that doesn’t impose on or overshadow the other ingredients. Except in this instance, what we have is a vodka that actually has some character to it and I think it’s a winning combination.
Taken neat or on the rocks, there’s no unpleasantness to it and just enough of a hint of flavor to keep things interesting. And that hint of flavor is strong enough to show up even in a cocktail, elevating that combination as well.
I have some pet peeves about the labeling, but otherwise this is a great vodka.
|Krol Premium Potato Vodka|
Produced By: KrolProduction Location: Ukraine
Owned By: Global Spirits
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $12.59 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
An earthy, mouthfilling potato vodka that adds some surprising character to a cocktail.