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.
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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