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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After You. Oh No, I insist, You Go First, Says Vodka to Caviar

To the gastronomic purist of 'caviar', for lack of a better word, it is not French champagne, but Russian vodka that is considered the quintessential beverage for washing down 'caviar' and its shimmering kin, and compliments such as saumon fumee, foie gras or truffles. Who really can argue of what magnificent ambiance is achieved in a setting where chilled sturgeon roe on ice can be readily chased by a your favorite martini - shaken not stirred, and please hold the gin...
'Vodka and caviar are the perfect complements for each other,' said Carolyn Panzer of Smirnoff UDV. 'Food mavens agree that the cool fresh taste of vodka cuts the salt of the caviar and cleanses the palate'.

For such a hard hitter Vodka has a rather gentle history

Let's first clarify that the distillation of spirits is a French invention - the process being developed around the 14th century. Historical accounts state that in year 1334, Vilnev bottled the first official wine. A century or two later spirit enthusiasts in England, Scotland and Germany developed production methods for whiskey, gin, and brantwien (mead?) from various grains and other organic materials, each using the principles introduced by the French.

The first versions of today's Vodka were initially referred to as 'drink', (bread) wine, korchma or korchma wine, 'distilled' wine, 'burning' or 'burnt' wine and bitter wine among others. It is thought that the drink itself, or rather its ancestor, a strong drink called aqua vitae (Latin for 'water of life'), was first brought to Russia by Genoese merchants on their way to Lithuania. This makes sense as 'acqua vita' is still readily available in any Italian house hold to this day.

In the 15th century Russian monasteries took advantage of the countries abundance of grain and started to produce it. Soon enough 'burnt' wine would prove a global sensation never to wain. At this time the Grand Prince of Moscow and the Tsar of all Russia, Ivan the Third, himself having a shrewd mind for business introduced a state monopoly on the production and selling of vodka, as well as on all other alcoholic drinks.

Throughout the history of the spirit in Russia, the methods of distilling and distributing the product has undergone numerous transitions. 'The system of 'wine lease' or the right to produce and sell vodka for a payment of a small percentage of income to the state, which made the leaseholders fabulously rich, was constantly being introduced and withdrawn', for example.

Russian vodka enjoyed its highest degree of status in the 1950s when flagship product, Stolichnaya was awarded the Gold Medal, 'from the Moscow Special' in Switzerland. In the 1990s, Russian president, Yelsin instituted the Decree on the Abolition of the State Monopoly on Vodka. This resulted in a market saturation of low grade and even fake vodka ['distilleries'], and massive profit losses. Thankfully, the next year a new decree called on the Reestablishment of the State Monopoly on Production, Storage, Wholesale and Retail of Alcoholic Products. Just between me and you, I wouldn't mind seeing a similar statute applied back to 'Ma Bell'.

On that note, we'll end the discuss but begin the happy hour with an example of the best of both worlds, the martini 'Lady of the Evening' - actually an Imperia martini with a dollop of caviar resting on a thin slice of cucumber. It'll only set you back $25.00 at New Yorks Cellar Bar. Really only a dollar or two than a cocktail at most any downtown bar. Shall we?

For more information on Vodka visit these sites:

Keep an open mind,

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