|A frosty bottle of Chopin, and what to do with it.|
"What kinds of potato vodkas do you have?" I asked the bartender.
"I'm afraid we only have Chopin," he said in an apologetic tone.
"Afraid?" I responded. "My good man, you have THE perfect potato vodka. Stop apologizing and whip up a martini for me."
That was at Grappa '72 Ristorante in Albany.
I mention this because as I was making a Chopin martini at home on Friday night, it dawned on me how many times I've found Chopin not carried by local establishments of some quality. Why?, for heaven's sake.
Yes, as is the case with any distilled, brewed or fermented beverage, individuals' tastes vary widely. When one person thinks she or he has found the perfect Scotch whisky, someone else will counter with his or her choice. When someone thinks they have found the perfectly balanced martini, someone else will try to overrule them. And, so it goes.
But, luckily for me, this is my blog, so I get to make the pronouncement. In this case, it is that Chopin is without fail the best vodka I have ever tried -- a creamy mouthfeel, soft edges, a slight yet pleasant fragrance (forget that old adage of vodka being tasteless and odorless; it's not accurate), a comforting aftertaste. It came on the market back in 1992, when distillery founder Tadeusz Dorda decided he wanted to create an ultra-luxury vodka niche, contained in a distinctive frosted glass bottle with a clear window in the front that allows a glimpse of a drawing on the back of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), the iconic composer and virtuoso pianist who is among Poland's most revered figures.
I tend to favor Polish vodkas, particularly potato-based ones, perhaps as a slight nod to my Irish heritage. It's not that I don't like grain-based vodkas (in the ultra-luxury category, I like Poland's Belvedere, made from rye, and France's Grey Goose, made from bread-quality soft wheat), but it depends on what I'm going to do with any vodka selection. Yes, I have enjoyed a variety of the flavored vodkas -- there are dozens and dozens of them on the market, so I won't bother beginning to list them -- but, that has been in the course of sampling drinks for writing purposes. For this blog's current "41 Days of Drinks" series, for example.
When it comes to my own at-home cocktails, I prefer Manhattans and Martinis. Basic Jim Beam Bourbon for the Manhattans, Chopin vodka for the Martinis (and, Bombay Sapphire or Plymouth when I want to enjoy a gin martini).
For more complex drinks that lean on sweet or savory components (fruit juices, mint leaves, liqueurs, agave syrups, lemons, limes, dry or sweet vermouths, etc.), I spend less money on the liquor. After all, good as the mixed drinks may taste, they mask at least some nuances of the high-end spirits, so why pay for what you can't discern. A good example of a slightly down-market Polish potato vodka I favor is Luksusowa. The name itself translates to "luxury."
Luksusowa has been around since 1928, making it one of the very oldest Polish brands, but not every liquor store carries it. Seek out one that does, such as All Star Wine and Spirits in Latham or Village Liquor in Wynantskill. It retails for about $17 for a 0.75 liter bottle, about half the price of Chopin. It's not as sophisticated, but at that price it certainly is more than adequate for mixed drinks, and offers some of that creamy mouthfeel of Chopin.