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Spirits: See What Spuds Can Do

Vodka with a clean finish and the taste of Maine potatoes. (Cold River Vodka)

Most of the vodka in the world is made from wheat or other grains, and very little of it from potatoes. The reason is pretty straightforward: It costs a lot more money and resources to make vodka from potatoes. If you can make a vodka more cheaply out of wheat (or sorghum or corn or other grains) and then put it in a pretty, frosted bottle and sell it for $40...well, you'll make a lot more money. The thing is, potato vodka just consistently has more flavor -- at least that's what I've found in my latest tastings.

Karlsson's Gold from Sweden, which I focused on in my column this week, is not the only craft-distilled potato vodka with a romantic story on the market. For instance, Chopin, from Poland, has been a premium staple of liquor stores for more than a decade, usually selling for around $40. But potatoes grow in more places than Europe, and a number of good potato vodkas have popped up in the United States, such as Blue Ice Vodka from Idaho (made from Russet Burbank potatoes) and Cold River Vodka from Maine. 

Cold River, like Karlsson's Gold, has become one of my favorite vodkas. Like Karlsson's, Cold River was started in part to help keep farmers on the land in the traditional potato-growing area in Aroostook County, Maine — where the industry has long been in decline — by brothers Donnie and Lee Thibodeau, whose family had deep roots in the potato business.

Unlike Karlsson's, Cold River is batch-distilled in a copper pot still. In the glass, it's got a little sweeter taste than Karlsson's, but it has an equally clean finish. Tasting Karlsson's and Cold River side by side, you can understand that the idea of a potato vodka having "terroir" is actually not that far-fetched. In the right hands, a potato grown in northernmost Maine is going to make a different vodka from one grown on the southeastern coast of Sweden.

-- Jason Wilson

By The Food Section  |  June 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, vodka  
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There's also Cirrus potato vodka made right here in VA, but haven't tried Cold River to know how it might compare. (More of a gin fan, anyway.)

Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | June 24, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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