Saturday, October 11, 2014

Absolut Vodka - Ethos & Execution


gastronomista andy warhol absolut vodka
Portrait of a Bottle - Andy Warhol - 1985
In today’s cocktail scene, vodka has a bad rap.  Vodka is often joked about amongst bartenders for “paying the bills”, and is not even served in some cocktail bars.  Despite what the naysayers say, Vodka is the backbone of the spirits industry, dominating over a third of the sales in 2013 (DISCUS).

gastronomista cocktail kingdom vodka pays the bills
Vodka Pays the Bills T Shirt - Cocktail Kingdom
Absolut Vodka is a pioneer brand, one that has help forge vodka’s dominance in bars all over the world.  Absolut was released to the United States in 1979, and erupted on the club and bar scene.  Vodka was the fashionable drink of the 1980s in New York, and Absolut was the gold standard for the artists, fashionistas, and celebrities.

gastronomista studio 54 absolut vodka
Studio 54 - Money in the Walls, Absolut in the Glasses
Absolut was arguably the first lifestyle brand, a brand that people identified with on a deeply fundamental level.  Absolut Vodka’s iconic advertising campaign was born from Andy Warhol’s obsession with the minimalist design of the bottle.  Warhol, who once claimed to use the spirit as a perfume, famously photographed the iconic bottle and later painted his interpretation of it - kicking off a series of artist collaborations with artists such as Keith Harring and Ed Ruscha.  Absolut continues to work with artists to develop installations, art bars, and direct short films.

gastronomista absolut vodka warhol

Today, there are many iterations of Absolut Vodka - from their premium Absolut Elyx, the bartender focused Absolut Craft, countless flavored vodkas, and limited edition bottle releases dedicated to great cities.  Absolut vodka is constantly re-inventing their product through advertising campaigns, limited edition bottlings, interactive installations, and of course, epic parties.

gastronomista absolut vodka britto
Rhinestone Absolut Britto - 2003
Despite the continuous innovation of everything outside of the bottle, the original mark of Absolut  inside the bottle remains the same and it continues to be an extremely high quality product.  When I visited the distillery last year, I was amazed and impressed by the scale of the production (600,000 Liters a day) as well as the level of control that Absolut maintains over each element of the production process.  The company has a mission to maintain sustainability and efficiency to save on unnecessary costs and to reduce the carbon footprint of their products.  They are constantly evaluating, testing, and trying to find more ways to streamline their process and make the production more sustainable.

gastronomista absolut vodka wheat fields
Wheat Fields of Nöbbelöv
Absolut is produced in Nöbbelöv Sweden, a small town in the South West of the country, and everything about Absolut Vodka is local.  The company prides itself on its One Source method - an impressive feat for one of the world’s largest vodka companies.  This is amazing if you think about it - 11 million cases a year produced from completely locally sourced ingredients.  There is a ratio of 1 kilo of wheat used in 1 liter of vodka, so one can imagine the scale of wheat production that the distillery demands.

gastronomista absolut vodka one source
One Source Art Intallation
Absolut vodka is made from winter wheat harvested from the farms that surround the distillery, which was built on top of its primary water source.  The remainder of the water comes from nearby springs.  By-products from the fermentation process are used for livestock feed, and water is re-used to cool the fermentation tanks. 

The wheat is milled on site, which is then converted into the mash.

Enzymes are added to the wheat mash, and begins the fermentation process.  After the mash is cooled to 37 degrees C, the mash is transferred to the massive fermentation tanks, where it has 48 hours to convert all of the sugars into alcohol.  The “beer” is then distilled through a continuous distillation process in a massive Stainless Steel column still, which is the same process that was used in the company’s creation in 1879.  The company has honed the production to an exact science - they know exactly when to make their cuts for the hearts in order to achieve the flavors that Absolut Vodka is famous for.

gastronomista absolut vodka column still
Continuous Column Still at Absolut Vodka
And the flavor?  Absolut is a vodka that has a dominant flavor of wheat, with undertones of lemon, vanilla, and a slight fruity flavor.  Absolut is a perfect vodka for mixing - and performs well with countless other spirits.

On my visit to the distillery I kept seeing signs that said “Onodit Bra”, which means “unnecessarily good”.  When it comes to distilling, the devil is in the details, and one mistake can ruin a whole batch.  Each and every step of the process has to be of the highest quality in order to achieve the vodka that we know and love.

gastronomista absolut vodka Onodit Bra - Unnecessarily Good
Onodit Bra - Unnecessarily Good

One thing that struck me during my visit was the sense of calm order in the distillery.  There was an overwhelming zen-like feeling to it.  Each employee had a unique sense of prideful responsibility - a responsibility to precision, the process, and ultimately, to your vodka. 

Want More?

Absolut Vodka Distillery Tour
Absolut Elyx Distillery Tour
Stockholm & The Absolut Art Museum
Ice Bars with Absolut Vodka Frozen in Them 

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