February 7, 2009

Belvedere IX

Belvedere Vodka is not one of the pack that comes up with new products seemingly every few months. But when it does add to its portfolio, it does so with a flourish.

• Belvedere IX

Two years ago, in a private tasting lunch in New York with Plymouth Gin master distiller Sean Harrison, we were discussing the popularity of vodka compared to gin. He admitted there were some very good vodkas on the market that presented huge hurdles for gin to clear in its attempt at a comeback. However, he noted of the continual tinkering with vodka recipes, "If they keep on going, pretty soon they'll invent gin."

Well, they have. At least Belvedere, the Polish distiller, has, even though it is calling its new creation vodka.

Vodka and gin both begin as neutral spirits, but gin departs from that by the addition of various botanicals, predominantly juniper berries which provide its major taste component. Vodka often is changed by flavor infusions such as fruits, but not usually by any complicated botanical recipe.

Belvedere IX (pronounced "one X") has nine flavor additions to its base -- guarana, ginger, ginseng, acai, eucalyptus, cinnamon leaf, almond, jasmine and black cherry. Belvedere can call it a vodka all it wants, but to me it's a gin. And a damned tasty one.

Cold from several hours in the freezer, IX is an absolute delight sipped straight. The menthol-like coolness of the eucalyptus comes through immediately, with the zip of the ginger evident on tongue and palate. A vague hint of black cherry comes in on the finish. A lot of very distinct flavors somehow fusing into one pleasing one.

This is a very special "vodka" I'd recommend drinking very cold, as I did, and without fussing with it. It's meant to be part of a cocktail recipe, say its makers, but I don't know that I'd go that route immediately. The proprietary recipe, and the base vodka made from the signature Dankowskie Gold rye of Poland, has resulted in a fine product all on its own merits.

The company, named for the country's presidential palace, just this week launched Belvedere IX in club circles in conjunction with Parisian graffiti artist Andre Saraiva who designed the label -- a "tagged" glossy black bottle with electric pink graffiti, reinventing the trademark palace and trees as a nighttime vision.

Suggested retail price: Not yet set. If it's not immediately available in your favorite spirits shop, be patient. It will be by spring.

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