Review: Zirkova Vodka (91.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on March 25, 2012
Zirkova Vodka is a relatively new Vodka brought to the market here in Canada by Multiculture Bevco owners of the Slava Ultra Premium Vodka and Zirkova Vodka brands. Although this company is based in Oakville, Ontario, the Zirkova is an authentic Ukrainian Vodka produced in the Cherkassy region of Ukraine at the Zlatogor Distillery from rye and wheat grain. This Premium Vodka is four times distilled with only the ‘center cut’ of each distillation brought forward to the final spirit.
I spent a little time with John Vellinga at the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival this past fall. He is the founder of both the Zirkova and Slava Vodka brands, and the CEO of Multiculture Bevco. I found that Mr Vellinga is passionate about his Vodka, and this passion was evident in our discussions as he went to great lengths not only in educating me about his Vodka production, but he also poured me several shots and cocktails to demonstrate the character of both of his Vodka brands in the glass.
I was given a bottle of Zirkova Vodka by the local distributor, River Valley Beverage Group for the purpose of a review here on my website. When I sampled Zirkova for the first time, I had several friends over, and we tasted the Vodka as part of a private tasting event which included 4 other Vodkas. Each of the spirits was chilled to 1 degree Celsius and we tasted them in a blind format one at a time putting each brand through the paces of my Vodka Review Methodology.
The First Impression 8/10
The Zirkova Vodka is presented in the clear glass bottle pictured to the left. I am a little disappointed in the metallic screw-cap closure, my feeling is that a product which is often tossed into a freezer overnight should not have a metal topper which will expand and contract at a different rate than its bottle. The plastic closure would be better.
There is very little information about the vodka on the label. We are told that the Zirkova is a quadruple distilled product of the Ukraine and is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume. A reference to the year 1896 is embossed into the glass bottle above the label but this reference lacks proper context and to me is misleading. It implies that the Zirkova brand has been produced since 1896 but my research indicates the brand is less than 3 years old. Probably the 1896 reference is to the Zlatogor Distillery, but as I said this is not the impression one gets from the bottle.
The First Sip 19/20
Any misgivings I had towards Zirkova and the embossed 1896 on the bottle were immediately dispelled when I brought the first sip up to my mouth and allowed the vodka to spread over my tongue. The vodka displays a very light ‘rye spice’ aroma in the glass with ever so light scents of citrus zest. On the palate, the rye spice is more assertive and is combined with a light lemony zest flavour which gives the vodka a lively mouth-feel.
The Zirkova is not as creamy as some of the more recent vodkas my tasting group have tried. It is, however, very clean upon the palate, and as I swallowed this first sip, it was very clean in the throat as well. A mellow rye-spice ‘heat’ is present in my throat after I swallow. I detect no bitterness, only a very light aftertaste of rye and a delicate impression of lemon-lime flavour of citrus zest.
When I examined the scorecards of my guests, I was happy to learn that everyone had a similar experience with their first sips of the Zirkova.
Taking a Shot 18/20
Next, all of us at the tasting session brought the remainder of our glasses up to our mouths and swallowed the remaining vodka ‘shot-style’. Those impressions of a clean spiciness which I noted in my first initial sip were reinforced and verified. The spiciness in particular is assertive giving the mouth-feel a lot of heat. However, the vodka is smooth in the throat. There is heat from the spice in the back of the mouth, but no burn lower in the throat. After the swallow, I noticed a nice gentle creeping warmth that rose from the bottom of my chest upwards through my esophagus to my throat. This sort of warmth moving upwards always feels nice. There were no vegetal flavours left behind, nor was there any sort of cloying metallic aftertaste. This is my style of vodka, and I am very impressed.
I repeated this ‘shot-style’ experience a few more times on a few different days with the Zirkova Vodka served 15 degrees Celsius. I noticed a stronger lemon flavour at this warmer temperature than I had noticed before. The vodka also seemed lightly sweeter as if the wheat in the vodka had more expression at the warmer temperature than at the cooler serving temperature. There was perhaps a very light burn this time, but it certainly did not detract from the experience.
Out for Dinner 18.5/20
The Zirkova Vodka is absolutely delightful when paired with a variety of foods. At the tasting event where I introduced the vodka to my friends I served Pepper Pot soup, fresh bread and spinach dip, smokie sausages, miniature tomatoes and pickles. After the first initial sip and taste, we would each take a small shot of Vodka, and then follow it with a few mouthfuls of food, and then repeat the process. To say the experience was enjoyed by all would be an understatement. The flavours in the food absolutely ‘popped’. Everything tasted cleaner, spicier, yeastier (you get the idea) and of course better. This is what a really good Vodka is supposed to do when you serve it with food. It heightens the sensory perceptions and allows you to enjoy the flavours of each food to its fullest extent.
After trying all of the food pairings my friends and I settled down to end our tasting with a few cocktails. I always make a Cosmopolitan cocktail for comparative purposes, and the Cosmo made with the Zirkova Vodka was stunning. The rye-like spice in the vodka really took shape in the cocktail, and the result was a bar drink we all enjoyed completely. In fact, my friend Lukasz proclaimed this Cosmo to be the best he had ever had, in his words “the perfect Cosmo”.
I made a few other cocktails for myself over the next few weeks, the Vodka Tonic, the Blue Lemon Martini, and some Vodka Daiquires. With each cocktail, I was more than happy with the result. The Zirkova Vodka is idea for mixing a large variety of bar drinks.
Final Score 91.5/100
Ideal for Sipping, for Shots, to serve with Food, and for Cocktails
My only quibble is that based upon the bottle presentation, absolutely no-one who is shopping for Vodka is going to suspect that this is such a world-class spirit!
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.
1 1/2 oz Zirkova Vodka
1 oz Cranberry Juice
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1 Tsp Raspberry Syrup
splash of Soda
a twist of lemon peel
Pour the Vodka the juice and the raspberry syrup into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the outside of the shaker frosts
Strain and pour into a chilled cocktail glass
Add a splash of Soda
Complete by expressing the oils from a slice lemon peel on top of the cocktail
Please Enjoy Responsibly!
As usual you may (loosely) interpret my score as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing Vodka. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are preferable.
85-89 Excellent! Shots or cocktails!
90-94 You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 80 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89 Silver Medal (Recommended for shots and mixing)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Sublime Cocktails)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)