by ELISABETTA LUGLI
After starting the journey to discover vodka accompanied by Julian Biondi, we are ready to delve deeper into the topic by relying on the experience of Elena Airaghi, a thirty-eight-year-old barlady who - having returned to Italy after years of experience abroad - currently divides her time between work of Brand Ambassador for Belvedere Vodka and that for Raise The Bar, a bar catering company that manages exclusive lounge bars.
Elena is part of the Belved'air crew: the Ambassador team made up of three people who travel around Italy with Belvedere Vodka.
We asked her a few questions, here's what she told us:
Elena, let's start with a bit of history. We know that there is a dispute between Russia and Poland over the birth of vodka, what do you think?
The controversy exists, but if we look at what we have in hand on a historical level, it must be said that the first document in which the word vodka appears is a Polish court document dating back to 1405. However, beyond the controversy, vodka Polish is a guarantee, because it must be produced on Polish soil from A to Z.
Tasteless, colorless, odorless. What do you think of these adjectives referring to vodka?
I do not agree. Once upon a time we focused on these characteristics, it's true. There were years, especially the '90s, in which vodka was the distillate par excellence for those who wanted to drink without people around them noticing! Instead, if we talk about quality there can be, and indeed nowadays there is, also a concept of terroir in the world of vodka. I think it would be nice if we started tasting vodka just like we do wine.
From what you are telling me, I sense that there is an evolution in the world of vodka, is that correct?
Yes, and keep one thing in mind: during the entire prohibition era, vodka could not be found in the United States. So all the cocktail recipes born in that era, which are the great classics, include other spirits. Even today, venues that refer to the speakeasy concept are looking for other types of products. So vodka has a gap compared to other spirits, a history to recover. The product evolves and the way in which the public approaches vodka must also evolve, it must be made aware of the culture of this distillate: something that is particularly difficult in Italy.
Unavailable during Prohibition: When was the vodka boom?
As I mentioned before, in the 90s. Vodka became famous with the birth of Cosmopolitan, to the point that the barman who created it (Toby Cecchini, in New York in 1988, ed.) at a certain point got tired of having this label on him! The Cosmopolitan was prepared with citron vodka, a product that brought Absolut success. Then, do you know how much Cosmopolitan has increased its fame thanks to the series “Sex and the City”?
Let's go back to the concept of terroir that you mentioned before. Can you explain something more to us?
I'll give you an example based on Belvedere Vodka. To begin with, it is a Polish vodka, therefore entirely produced there. It is produced with rye, which is a very tenacious, very strong cereal. This alone makes it different from other vodkas that start from different bases. There are three types which, thanks to their terroir, are different from each other. There is Belvedere Pure, for which rye from 7 different estates in Poland is used, and which is then distilled near Warsaw. Of the three, Pure is the most versatile. Then we have the Belvedere Smogory Forest: for its production we use a rye coming from the western area of Poland, on the border with Germany, a forest area, where the rye remains protected and the summer is long and quite hot. This terroir gives a particular flavor giving life to a bold, spicy vodka, with hints of salted caramel and white pepper. It is a product suitable for twists that contain rye whisky, for example. Finally there is Belvedere Lake Bartezek, which uses rye from the north-eastern area of Poland, which remains stressed by the climate, covered by snow almost 80 days a year. The stress of the snow gives the rye particular characteristics and the resulting vodka is fresh, almost mentholated, perfumed, with notes of almonds, it almost smells like freshly cut grass. A vodka suitable for delicate cocktails, with Jasmine Tea for example, or Matcha. Well, these are differences due to the terroir!
Fascinating: the differences in terroir can therefore also influence the choice of cocktails to prepare, depending on the vodka you have available. In this regard, what do you think are the absolute best cocktails to prepare with vodka?
When it comes to cocktails, the first thing I tell you is that “simple is better”. I don't like overly complicated drinks. I find that the presence of fresh products is important: for example, among the great classics, a Screwdriver prepared with fresh orange juice is the best. If you then add some Galliano to it, it becomes a Harvey Wallbanger, just as good! Or a Lemon Drop Martini, prepared with fresh lemon and triple sec: it was invented in San Francisco at Henry's Africa Bar in 1970, and is inspired by the famous lemon wedge-shaped candies. Or the cocktail invented by Salvatore Calabrese "The Maestro", the Breakfast Martini, prepared with gin, triple sec, lemon and orange marmalade: if you think from a Twist on Classic perspective, instead of gin, put a scented vodka. And I'll add: Espresso martini, or Bloody Mary, especially if the tomato juice is obtained with an extractor, using Tomato Cherry or Pachino. A good barman is capable of making a good drink without any special tools, however. Skill lies in the ability to unite and balance, and even before that, in the ability to serve the customer, satisfying his desires.
Elena, I ask you one last thing: can you leave us some of your vodka-based cocktail recipes?
Gladly, I'll leave you three! The first was created for the launch of the Limited Edition Janelle Monáe of Belvedere, A Beautiful Future: a cocktail that evokes a necessary space to express positive thoughts, hopes and desires, diversity, freedom of expression, inclusion and emancipation.
A drink created for women, here it is:
The Pink Talk
45 ml Belvedere Vodka Pure
15ml Simple Syrup
15 ml rose liqueur
15 ml cranberry juice
50 ml fresh pink grapefruit
Top of tonic water
Garnish rose petals
Belvedere Goblet Glass
The second is a rather robust drink:
Into the Rye
45 ml Belvedere Smogòry Forest
15ml Rye Whiskey
10 ml Eccentrico (tonka bean liqueur)
15 ml homemade syrup with white pepper, honey and ginger
Velvet tea leaves.
Rye toast crumble
Shake and double strain on the rocks
Fill with velvet tea leaves
(Velvet created with homemade tea leaf syrup, lime and
egg white: beat using a milk frother or in dry shake)
To finish, a delicate drink:
45 ml Belvedere Lake Bartezęk
22.5ml Matcha Tea
15 ml fresh lemon juice
15 ml homemade Jasmine syrup
Shake and double strain
Delicate drink to best bring out the characteristics
softer and more fragrant than Belvedere Lake Bartezęk rye.