It's a moment to dread: a blind vodka tasting. I'm no novice at tasting vodkas, but always in the comfort of my own home, and knowing what the vodkas are. Some wine writers will not do blind tastings because there are too many variables, but with vodkas there are fewer variables, which makes it even harder. There's no escape, however, as Absolut Elyx has brought myself and other writers to its distillery in Sweden to prove how good Elyx is, in the company of the Master Distiller who makes it, Krister Asplund.
Only one thing is certain. Of the four vodkas we're presented with, one will be Elyx. And it probably won't be the first one we taste, but you never know. All four vodkas are at room temperature and are in the same price range as Elyx.
Starting at top left, the first vodka has a yeasty, lemony nose to it. Others talked of vanilla on the nose, and a bitterness in the taste. I tasted it and it felt burningly unpleasant, not a vodka I would sip on its own. What could it be? Hopefully not the Elyx, which Absolut was so proud of.
The second vodka had a less chemical nose to it. Was this going to be the Elyx? There was a hint of tobacco, and nuttiness. I tasted it. Definitely smoother than the first sample. Someone said it smelt of wet cardboard, one of the ultimate put-downs, more associated with rough moonshine spirits. The distiller's face was passive, giving nothing away. If this had been Elyx, surely he would have winced?
The third glass was smoother yet again. It had a good mouth-feel, a thickness to it that you only usually get when sipping vodka straight from the freezer. There was a hint of vanilla, and a smoother finish than with the first two, warming rather than burning the throat. My favourite so far, one I would sip, and my money was on this being Elyx. Putting it third out of four glasses would be good planning too.
The final vodka was also interesting, with a complex nose to it, with a hint of orange/citrus. The citrus taste was even more noticeable on the palate, and the finish was also smooth. It wasn't unpleasant, it just wasn't what I expected of a neutral grain vodka.
So which was the Elyx? We were going to have to wait, as next we were served four martinis made from the same vodkas, at the same temperatures, and to identical bone-dry recipes of one part vermouth to ten parts vodka.
The first had a strong vermouth taste to it, but in the second the vodka came through more and was a much better martini - to my tastes, that is, as everyone likes a different style of martini. The third was also good, with that thick mouth-feel again being evident. The only real disappointment came with the final martini, where my notes say 'artificial, chemical, unpleasant, sour.' The citrus and vermouth did not get along together. If the ultimate test of a good drink is that you want another one, then the second and third martinis passed the test, with the third being a notch ahead.
It wasn't a surprise to discover that the third vodka and martini we sampled had been the Elyx glasses. What was a surprise was to discover the other vodkas we'd tasted blind. The first was Grey Goose, made from French wheat, and the second was Belvedere made from Polish rye. The fourth was Ciroc, made from French grapes. Elyx is made from Swedish wheat, taken from fields which surround the distillery and distilled in-house, unlike some of the others which bought in their raw spirits from outside suppliers.
The blind tasting wasn't a scientific experiment, but was certainly an intriguing one. Sipping vodkas without knowing the names on the bottles was definitely an education.
Mike Gerrard is an award-winning travel and drinks writer who writes about spirits for Chilled Magazine, where he is an Editorial Staff Writer. He also publishes his own website dedicated to vodka: The Vodka Guy.