Karlsson’s Sly New Marketing Scheme: “Vintage” Vodka

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With wine the word “vintage” is typically associated with a season’s yield of wine from a vineyard, where weather and growing conditions affect wine from a particular harvest.

But the war over vodka sales has prompted Karlsson’s, a boutique vodka company in Sweden, to unleash a sly new marketing scheme in which they tout “vintage” vodkas.

The company claims each vintage vodka they produce is distilled from a single potato variety, grown on a particular farm during a single season.

So, for instance, Karlsson’s 2008 vintage, released this year, supposedly used a “hearty russet-skinned tuber known as Old Swedish Red,” which Peter Ekelund, who founded Karlsson’s in 2007, said was popular in Sweden a century ago.

The 2009 vintage, to be released in November, was made with the Solist potato, a small, round, yellow specimen. And both types are used in the seven-potato blend that constitutes the company’s standard vodka, Karlsson’s Gold.

“The 2008 is earthy and robust, while the 2009 has a softer, more mellow flavor.”

“The idea behind the company from the very beginning was to see if we can say something about what’s inside the bottle rather than what’s outside the bottle,” said Ekelund.

“Will a vodka taste different if you pick different types of potatoes in different places?”

Ekelund said the company has built up a “library” of distillates, each derived from different potatoes reaped from individual harvests.

“We started with 30 different potatoes,” he said. “We found 15 were useless for making vodka.”

Writing for the New York Times, Robert Simonson said the others were tested, experimented upon and cataloged.

“Just as with grapes, the company found that hot or wet weather can create distinct taste characteristics in potatoes.”

Although some insist each brand of vodka has a unique flavor, the white spirit does not improve with age, and the vast majority of vodka is rarely consumed straight, except in a vodka martini, and even then it’s mixed with a dash of vermouth.

So any variation in taste between Karlsson’s much vaunted vodka vintages would vanish when mixed with orange juice, tonic or Bloody Mary mix.

In other words, unless you are among those rare vodka connoisseurs who drink vodka straight to “capture the nuances of each vodka’s terroir,” buying so-called vintage vodka is a waste of time and money.

Karlsson’s 2009 vodka will be released in an edition of about 1,980 bottles, and it’s not cheap. The 2009 is priced at $80, which is $45 more than Karlsson’s Gold.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper