Swedish spirits company Karlsson's has released a new vodka, Karlsson's Batch 2008, a small-batch potato vodka from Börje Karlsson (he of Absolut notoriety), which promises to deliver the terroir subtleties and single-vintage potato notoriety of a top wine. The buzz -- literally -- here is in a single potato with celebrity tuber status: The company's first vodka release, Karlsson's Gold, is made from seven varieties of potatoes; the Karlsson's Batch 2008 from just one, the Gamel Svensk Röd. (It even sounds like the next hot movie star's name.)
And yeah, at $80 (!), the Batch 2008 is substantially more expensive than its everyday $30 blended wine-like counterpart -- and most vodka on the market.
As the name implies, the Batch 2008 also has all of the premium wine bells and whistles, with straight-up, cracked-pepper sorts of flavor subtleties: Fewer than 2,000 bottles were made with limited distribution to San Francisco, New York and L.A. The potatoes used for distillation were harvested in 2008 (specifically, July) from a single farm (Slättaröd Farm in Cape Bjäre, should you keep a log of these sorts of things in your liquor cabinet). The Gamel Svensk Röd is a variety with a history dating to the 1700s that, we are told in a press release, is "mellow with sweet undertones, reminiscent of the Jerusalem artichoke." (it is also one of the seven potatoes used in Karlsson's Gold.) Apparently, like wine grapes, potatoes with a cultlike status can be aloof at times; the press release dubs these tubers "one of the world's most exclusive potatoes." Now you know.
As promised by the distiller, the Batch 2008 has a noticeably distinct flavor compared with the less expensive, multi-potato Karlsson's Gold. The latter was deemed "mineral-y and earthy... like dirt... but in a good way" when we took a sample to local potato farmer Alex Weiser and friends for a farmer and chef tasting when it was released a few years ago. ("Hmmm... I don't know if you can really taste potatoes, but there's something there," Weiser said of the $30 vodka.)
Our tasters had a more pronounced potato reaction to the Batch 2008: "This tastes like potatoes -- wet potatoes -- is it supposed to?," asked one taster who had not heard the single-varietal, minimally distilled flavor spiel (blind tastings are still a good thing). Another taster deemed it "interesting... hard to figure out, but for some reason I can't stop tasting it. I think that's a good thing."
So, is Karlsson's Batch 2008 worth the premium potato price? That depends on how you feel about vodka. And raw potatoes. And hangovers.
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Karlsson's Batch 2008 is available at Wally's Wine, Bar Keeper, K&L Wine Merchants; restaurants and bars stocking the vodka include the Bazaar, Bouchon, Comme Ca, Sunset Marquis, SoHo House and The Varnish.
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