Review: Pristina Vodka (92/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted June 2011 (Republished-September 2013)
Pristina Vodka is a quadruple distilled wheat Vodka produced in High River, Alberta in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just south of Calgary. I have been a fan of Highwood Distillers for a while now; but I was not prepared for what greeted me when I opened a sample bottle Highwood’s Pristina Vodka. Maybe it was the uninspiring bottle and label, or maybe it is just a case of us Canadians being a little too self-conscious to believe we can be as good as everyone else in the world. Whatever the reason, when I put the Pristina in a flight of Vodka samples at a tasting where it was up against an Authentic Russian Vodka called Black Stallion, a real Polish Vodka called Alchemia Czysta, and a Vodka made in France called Grey Goose, I was not expecting what happened.
What happened was that every person at my tasting chose the same Vodka as their favourite, and every person said it wasn’t even close. That favourite, the clear head and shoulders winner without reservation in everybody’s opinion, was of course the Pristina Vodka from Highwood Distillers.
The First Impression 8/10
The Pristina Vodka arrives in the tall slender bottle pictured to the right. It is crowned with a high density cork closure. The presentation is not terrible; but, there is really nothing about this presentation that ‘pops’ out at you when you are looking at the bottle amongst a group of other bottles on the liquor shelf. Maybe frosting the bottle would help some. However, the real problem is the front label. It just looks amateurish, and it gives no indication at all that something special might be inside the bottle. It has no mention of the crystal clear water source used to produce the Vodka, no mention of the quadruple filtering, and no mention of the best quality Canadian grown prairie wheat used as the source for the distillation. Although this information is contained on the back label, the front label gives the consumer no reason pick up the bottle in the first place. It is a real shame that the presentation is so uninspiring, because it turns out that what is inside the bottle is really something special.
The First Sip 18.5/20
As is my way with Vodka, I chilled the sample bottle to a temperature just above zero degrees prior to each tasting session. The Pristina Vodka is very creamy at this temperature and carries very faint aromas of grain, starch, light candy and very faint citrus fruit. These scents are very difficult to pick up but after several sessions with the Pristina Vodka I was confident that they were all in the air above my glass. On the tongue the first impression is a very light spicy grain which gently heats the mouth and then reveals hints of sweet candy, a very light mint, and a mild impression of fresh wheat bread. Again it was only after several tasting sessions that I was able to place these impression into any context of flavour, as everything is very, very mild and hard to quantify. As I swallowed this first sip, I noted absolutely no burn at all, and no aftertaste. This is clean and smooth like a really great Vodka is supposed to be.
Taking a Shot 18.5/20
My good feelings towards the Vodka continued as I took my first large swallow (shot). I was happy to taste no vegetal tones and to feel no burn at all in my throat. The swallow was clean and completely smooth. The back of my mouth received a mildly spicy warmth; but my throat felt no heat, even with a substantial swallow of the Pristina Vodka. This reaction was consistent amongst those who tasted the Vodka with me. There is a warming of the throat that occurs; but it is a sort of spreading warmth that feels good, not a burn that climbs down the throat. As well, there was not any sort of cloying metallic aftertaste.
I repeated this ‘shot’ style experience a few more times on a few different days, and I began to notice a light bread dough-like flavour that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Some very light citrus flavours seemed to take shape as well.
Out for Dinner (18.5/20)
The Pristina Vodka tasted great when served with food. Even better, was that the food tasted better when served with the Pristina Vodka. At my first tasting, I had some platters of cheese, some cauliflower and broccoli spears, a tray of fresh buns, and some spicy and mild sausages. I have learned from my previous tastings that it seems to be the bread which somehow tastes fresher when paired with good vodka, and this was indeed the case as the fresh buns we had brought tasted particularly good in fact one of my guests commented that the bread tasted ‘nice and sweet and fresh and yeasty’. The spicy pepperoni sausage also seemed to be ideally suited for the Vodka as the spices really ‘popped’ in the mouth.
At this tasting we were sampling a number of Vodkas consecutively, and none of the others had this dramatic of an impact on the food we were sampling.
It is hard to describe why I like a cocktail with one Vodka more than another. Suffice it to say that my friends and I tried various cocktails side by side with four different Vodkas. These were (in case you did not read the front intro), Grey Goose, Black Stallion, Pristina Vodka, and Alchemia Czysta. It was clear that the cocktails made with Pristina Vodka tasted better. We tried a Cosmopolitan, a Pink Pussy Cat and a Vodka Darby, side by side. I guess that while all of the cocktails were really good, there was some quality about the cocktails made with the Pristina which set them apart. They had a nice zip that the others didn’t. I know that this is not a lot to go on, but it was the difference. Next, I tried the Pristina cocktails side by side with Wyborowa Exquisite Vodka which to this point has been my favourite Polish Vodka. I recall my friend Dennis saying when I asked him to compare, “These are so close, it really hard to pick one!” And he was right, it was really close. To be fair two of my friends thought the Wyborowa cocktail was a hair better, but I ended up choosing the Pristina cocktail. But it really was too close to call.
The Pristina is a fantastic cocktail Vodka!
I was so impressed with the Pristina that I did a few more head to head tastings in private with a few of my favourite vodkas (the Wyborowa Exquisite, the Nemiroff Lex and the Russian Standard). My final score reflects how I feel the Pristina Vodka stacked up. If you look closely at the scores you will see that if not for the lower score on the presentation portion of the review, the Pristina Vodka stacked up with the very best.
Final Score 92/100
Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Great Cocktails
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.
I absolutely recommend Pristina Vodka as sipping vodka or in shots. But I thought I should introduce another Vodka cocktail at this time which is absolutely great with the Pristina. The Vodka Tonic is a nice and refreshing cocktail for hot lazy afternoons. The taste is very clean, and almost flavorless except for the lime. I will caution that a mediocre vodka will ruin the drink as the metallic aftertaste and grainy finish will dominate. But with a really good Vodka the drink becomes sublime.
Pristina Vodka Tonic
1 3/4 oz well chilled Pristina Vodka
1 3/4 Oz well chilled Tonic Water
a slice of lime
Add the well chilled Vodka and Tonic into your glass
(If you must use ice please use ice-cubes that have not clouded as impurities can ruin the cocktail.)
Twist the lime over the glass and stir
You may garnish with an extra slice of Lime.
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.
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)