Sunday, April 7, 2013

Absolut Elyx Vodka - Behind the Scenes

Welcome back for our next chapter in the behind the scenes tour of Absolut Vodka!  Today we would like to share with you a preview of their newest release, Absolut Elyx, a premier vodka brand.

You may have already heard of it, it was released in 2011 in select countries in Europe, and it has been doing very well in the Travel Retail market (read, Duty Free).  So for those booze hounds out there, it's a good reason to always pack light and check out Duty Free on your way home - limited edition bottles, preview releases, etc,  many companies use Duty Free as a test market!

So what exactly is Absolut Elyx?  It's a highly refined vodka that is distilled in copper stills, and is made from winter wheat harvested from the Råbelöf Estate, giving it a particular flavor profile (very a similar concept to terroir of wine).  The scale of the production of Elyx is significantly less than Absolut, and it retains a hand crafted ethos from the special estate wheat, to the local water filtered through a limestone bedrock, to the bottle itself.    

We started off the day touring the Råbelöf Estate and seeing the wheat fields.   The estate is dates back to 1408, and all of the wheat used in Absolut Elyx comes from these farms, which is in an optimal location for growing the winter wheat used in vodka.  

Råbelövsjön Lake

Sister Chopper


Fields of Winter Wheat & Wind Turbines

We then stopped into the Hunting Lodge on the Råbelöf Estate for some quick nibbles and a chat about Absolut Elyx.  Why Elyx, you ask?  The name comes from elixir - but legally the name cannot have any medicinal inclinations, so they shortened it to Elyx, which also intimates luxury in Swedish.  Double win.

Post Flight Nibbles - Traditional Swedish Sweets

Absolut Elyx Distillery in Åhus

Then we were off to visit the old distillery in Åhus, where the original Absolut was made in 1979, and where Elyx is made today.  Like we mentioned before, Elyx is made in 100% copper stills, which are wrapped in wood for insulation.  Additionally, the mash for Elyx is passed through a filter of copper rings that absorb unwanted sulphuric compounds.  Absolut original also uses this process, but Elyx is passed through new copper rings, and they are only used once, and then re-used in the production of Absolut.

The raw spirit comes from the facilities in Nöbbelöv at 85% abv.  The spirit is diluted in the extraction column down to about 20% abv, and then sent to the rectification column.  The spirit passes through four different copper stills.  These mighty and gorgeous copper stills are the heart of Absolut Elyx, they give much of the flavor character and identity to the spirit.

Råsprit (Raw Spirit) Starting its Journey to Greatness

Old Copper Stills & New Rectification Stills

New and Old

So what happens as the raw spirit is passed through these four stills, you ask?  The spirit is heated slowly to start to remove the unwanted alcohols and fusel alcohols.  Those familiar with distilling know this as a process of removing the Heads and the Tails, and retaining the Hearts (ethanol).  The Hearts are the desired alcohol that boils at a temperature of 78.4 degrees C, the heads boil first starting at about 70 degrees C, and the tails are what comes out once temperature has raised past 78.4 degrees C.  Master distillers monitor this process, carefully analyzing the smell and taste to identify the Heads and the Tails from the Hearts.

Nosing Glasses and Photos of Master Distillers from Eras Gone By 

Handsome Thermostats
Below is a really fun and gorgeous video by Absolut Canada showing more of the hand crafted process used to make Absolut Elyx:

So what differentiates the varying stages of the distillation process?  It's pretty complicated, to say the least.  Lucky for us, we had a guided fractional nosing with Perr Hermansson of Absolut to help us smell the variations between the different alcohols generated from the process.  Note: alcohols such as methanol is known to cause blindness, so don't go drinking this stuff at home!

Fractional Nosing: Wheat to Vodka

Winter Wheat

Lucky #16 (Butterscotch)

We nosed the range of different steps that the raw spirit goes through on its journey to becoming vodka.  The smells range from fruity, to acetone, to yeast, to butterscotch, and heavy alcohol (fusel alcohols).  Number 16 was the most pleasant, a very strong smell of Butterscotch - a flavor that is found in Absolut Elyx vodka.

And finally, time for lunch:

Kippers famous Mashed Potatoes, Brisket, Prawn Salad, Cod, and Winter Root Vegetables
 And now for a martini tasting?!?!  Don't mind if I do!

Vodka & Martini Tasting of Champions
So, I can tell you're wondering: What does Elyx taste like?  It has similar characteristics to the original Absolut mark, but where the wheat is the dominant flavor profile in the original, Elyx has citrus notes of grapefruit and lime, a silky smooth texture, a hint of spice, and a smooth, clean finish.  It's also got a slight hint of butterscotch, macadamia nut, caramel, and a bit of the low wheat note found in the original.  It's a delicious vodka, so don't go drowning it in mixers.  We recommend sticking to simple cocktails, the classic martini (extra dry) or vodka on the rocks - guaranteed to be delicious tipple.

After a few martinis, we headed back to the hotel for a little downtime.  I was loving the snowy dusting on the landscape, so ventured out for a walk.  The hotel's dog accompanied me on my walk through the winter wonderland, running ahead, and then waiting for me every so often.

Walking Buddy

Signs of Spring Despite the Snow

And then it was time for dinner!  A car ride would be too simple, we were heading back to the Råbelöf Hunting Lodge via horse drawn carriage, with the sweetest horses I've ever seen.  We made friends:

Horse Buddies - Photo by Erika Lam
Arriving at the Råbelöf Hunting Lodge

What an amazing spread was served for dinner: Swedish Crayfish, Eel Tartare, Duck and Boar Charcutarie, incredible Kippers house Pâté, and Elk Bourguignon with those gorgeous mashed potatoes that must be at least 50% butter, 50% potato.  Although I required a lesson in crayfish eating, I'm proud to announce that I'm a complete champ now, and I did some notable damage.

My favorite tipple from the night was the Absolut Elyx Copperface Cocktail.  Behold its beauty:

Want one?
Make one!

Absolut Elyx Copperface Cocktail

1/2 oz Calvados
1/3 oz Apricot brandy
Orange twist

Stir with ice for 45 seconds and serve up in a chilled glass.  Garnish with an orange twist.

After dinner we had a special treat, the first ever public tasting of Absolut Amber - the forthcoming barrel aged expression from Absolut.  The spirit is aged in three different types of barrels; second pour barrels from different distilleries, new American oak, and new Swedish Oak.  We, being a room full of journalists, were very excited about this venture, it's a first for the company and a novelty in the vodka department.  It's an interesting thing, barrel aged vodka, it picks up caramel and vanilla notes from the charred barrels, but has more of a nutty, chestnut taste thanks to the base spirit itself.  Banana bread on the nose, and on the mouth is got a little burn from the alcohol, banana, mint, butter, butterscotch, lime, and a bit of burnt orange.  It's probably a good fit for someone who likes Irish Whiskey - it's not peaty like an Islay Scotch or sweet like a bourbon.  It's got just a little bit more sweetness than a normal vodka, a bit rounder from aging in the barrel.

Tune in next time - more awesome methods of transport, and more vodka.


Want more?

Absolut Vodka Distillery Tour
The Ice Hotel - Dog Sleds, Ice Bars, and Reindeer Fillets
Stockholm - The Art and Design of Absolut Vodka

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