The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Vodka
There seems to be a divide among vodka producers. While most producers, particularly in North America and Western Europe continue to value purity above all else, a small but growing movement (which started in Eastern Europe) of allowing the vodka spirit to express a certain level of flavour is gaining momentum. I have always maintained that there are subtle aromas and flavours which can be appreciated when Vodka is sipped or when it is consumed as a shot, and it seems that some of the producers within Eastern Europe have adherents to this philosophy as well. Hopefully this movement will continue to grow.
When I review Vodka on my website, I try very hard to convey my appreciation of those subtle nuances of flavour and pleasure which the spirit can provide.
As for those Vodka Reviews, they continue to be among the most popular upon my website. And I must admit that reviewing vodka the way I do is certainly fun. The process and methodology I utilize where my friends are invited to participate as we sample and share both cocktails and food pairings with the Vodka spirit allows me to incorporate not only my views of taste and quality, but also my friends observations.
As is the case each year, all of my Rum Howler Awards are based upon side by side tastings within each category of spirit. I taste the spirit neat, and I may also mix a few cocktails with each spirit. All spirit samples which I receive to review on my website are automatically considered for my awards. I do my review, and then I set aside the remainder of the spirit for the end of the year judging. I also include those samples which were provided in the previous year so as to have a larger field to judge, and I may receive additional industry samples specifically for these awards.
This year the field of entrants for my Rum Howler 2015 Vodka Awards included, Absolut, Alberta Pure, AnestasiA, Belvedere, Belvedere Unfiltered, East Van, Finlandia, Highwood, Iceberg, Khortytsa Platinum, Opulent, Polar Ice, Potter’s, Skyy, Sobieski, and Soyombo Mongolian Vodka.
Here are my 2015 Rum Howler Award winners for excellence in the production of Vodka:
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Vodka Value
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Sobieski Vodka
I considered two major factors in determining the Best Value Priced Vodka. The first was the Vodka’s mixability in a range of cocktail styles, (this year I mixed three cocktails with each spirit, a Cosmopolitan, a Vodka daiquiri, and a traditional Vodka Martini. I scored my perception of the spirit as a mixer equally against the performance of the Vodka served neat at room temperature. Once I had determined the scores for each Vodka, I weighed these scores against the prices in my locale. Any Vodka which was priced above $30.00 per bottle was excluded from the Value category.
It came down to four spirits in the end, and of the four Highwood Premium Vodka was chosen to be this year’s best Vodka Value. Last year’s winner Sobieski was a close Runner-up, while Finlandia and Alberta Pure were both worthy Honourable Mentions.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for the Best Mixing Vodka
and the winner is:
For this category, I was only concerned with what made the best cocktails. I did not consider price, and I did not consider the performance of any of the spirits as sippers. On the first day, I mixed a standard Cosmopolitan recipe with each spirit and chose the best spirits to move on. Then I duplicated the process on the next day mixing a Vodka Daiquiri with each remaining spirit. Finally, I mixed a Vodka Martini with each to determine the very best. The five best spirits each received an award, however the top mixing spirit was the Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for the year’s Best Sipping Vodka
and the winner is:
This competition was judged solely upon taste. I sampled each spirit chilled, and then at room temperature. I placed a small premium upon the room temperature score.
The clear winner was Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka with its light flavours of milk chocolate and caramelized sugars which reminded me of freshly baked bread crust. When I attended a Martini Seminar hosted in Edmonton by Ali Dedianko, the Belvedere Vodka Global Ambassador, she described the Belvedere Unfiltered spirit as a ‘whisky drinkers vodka’ which was produced to allow the flavour of the grain used to produce the spirit, Dankowski Rye, to shine through. It seems that I find myself in agreement with Ali’s assessment.
All of the sipping Vodkas which won awards were what are termed ‘ultra-premium vodkas’ except for one, Highwood Premium Vodka. This spirit won the value brand category and acquitted itself extremely well against the much more expensive brands.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for the year’s Best Overall Vodka
and the winner is:
Runner-up award to: Soyombo Super Premium Mongolian Vodka
The Nominees for this category were judged in four specific areas. How the Vodka performed as a sipping spirit; how the vodka performed when served ‘shot style’ ; how well the Vodka paired with various foods; and how the vodka performed in the cocktails I had prepared.
It was no real surprise (based upon winning the Best Mixing Vodka, and the Best Sipping Vodka categories) that the winner was Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka. Although all four of the finalists were (in my opinion) superior Vodka spirits, the Belvedere Unfiltered separated itself from the pack and is my Rum Howler Vodka of the Year.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Highwood Premium Vodka
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Mixing Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Sipping Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner – Up Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Sobieski Vodka
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Overall Vodka: Soyombo Super Premium Mongolian Vodka