by Darcy O'Neil on February 2011
When it comes to vodka I’m not a big fan, or should I say I’m not a blind follower of the vodka phenomenon. Vodka has its place and for some people an ice cold vodka martini, after a long day, is a pleasant way to reward oneself. I make a lot of vodka martini’s for people but I can’t remember the last time I had one myself. I do occasionally drink vodka straight from the freezer, I find the coldness of the vodka very refreshing, especially on a very hot day. As for what brand of vodka I drink, I usually drink anything between $20 - $25CDN ($17 -$21US), so I’ve never owned a premium bottle of vodka, until a package with a bottle of Reyka vodka ($35CDN / $30US) arrived on my doorstep. So this is a good opportunity to see if this premium vodka will change my mind.
Reyka vodka is made in Iceland from glacial waters filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field. In analytical tests the water had an extremely low in mineral content, so it doesn’t need to be treated prior to blending. This is similar to Iceberg vodka’s claim that the water from icebergs is very pure, which it probably is in both cases. Reyka uses a Carter-Head still, more commonly used to make gin, to make the vodka. The still is heated using geothermal steam, which is environmentally friendly. As the fermented mash enters the still it is filtered through pillow lava and when it comes off the other end, it is passed through a basket of porous basalt lava, which acts as a final filter.
After reading all of the marketing material the only reference to the starting product for fermentation was the word “grain”, so I can’t really tell you whether it is corn, wheat, rye or other, but I suspect it maybe whatever is available since they would likely have to import their grain.
When I sampled the Reyka vodka, I compared it against some Banff Ice vodka that has been waiting to be used to make bitters, but I seem to be busy, so it is going to have to wait a bit longer. Anyway, it provided a good product to compare since it runs about $22 per bottle. Here is how the marketing material describes Reyka vodka:
Reyka Vodka Review
Nose: fresh, very clean with a delicate creamy vanilla and underlying natural sweetness
Palate: Soft, delicate texture that becomes fuller bodies and lightly creamy with elegant, rounded aniseed and vanilla, a sweet-dry balance and luscious light spiciness.
Finish: Clean, lingering and subtly spiced.
Here is how I describe Reyka compared to Banff Ice:
Banff Ice Vodka
Nose: Both smell of ethanol, there is no perceptible difference to me.
Palate: Again, both have strong ethanol. The Banff Ice is “cleaner” or has less of a characteristic flavour. The Ryka has some flavour towards the end, but not in the first, overpowering rush of ethanol.
Finish: Banff Ice has a clean finish with a very mild after taste, nothing that I can put my tongue on. The Reyka has a spicy finish, not hot, but you can actually taste something. If I were to describe it would be like licking a lava rock, it has a very subtle sulphur characteristic. It is kind of a pleasant finish.
I find some of the Reyka marketing material interesting. If you notice the way they describe the finish it says: clean, lingering, spicy. Now if a vodka has a clean finish there should be no aftertaste, but if it has a lingering finish then it would mean some flavour is hanging around. Which one is it? The Reyka tasting notes also read like a fine wine, not a vodka. I didn’t detect much in the way of soft, rounded or delicate flavours. I suspect that some of the marketing people were a little overzealous with their thesaurus and did what they do best, marketing.
The Reyka vodka is a decent vodka, and it is smooth with no harsh flavours. The thing I liked the most is the finish. Basically, it has some character, not much, but some. To test whether the vodka does have enough character to discern from other vodkas, I asked my wife to pour a random sample into a glass and see if I could pick the brand. After tasting, I picked the Reyka, which was correct. Again, the only way I could tell was based on the finish. I had a 50/50 chance, I know, but the finish is different.
If you like vodka, and this is in your price range, you might want to give Reyka a try. Or if you are environmentally friendly this may pass, but the fuel consumption used for transportation to and from Iceland, of grain and bottles, probably nullifies any environmental benefit. The one thing about vodka that irks me is that for the price of an unaged spirit you could pick up some really good whisky, like Wiser's Very Old (18 Year) of Gibson's Finest 18 Year. But if vodka is your thing, this might be for you.