Karlsson's Gold Vodka & Summer Cocktail Ideas

June 13 2013 - 9:00 AM

I am a fan of the unusual, but – let’s face it – most vodka is utterly and unflinchingly usual. Distilled to be odorless, colorless and flavorless, the majority of vodkas are interchangeable and therefore boring. I’m not trying to knock the category since sometimes crisp, clean and blank are exactly what I’m looking for… it’s just that vodka rarely gives me pause.

Karlsson's Gold BottleBut the rules always have exceptions, don’t they?

Karlsson’s Gold out of Sweden is, on first taste, strange. I don’t mean unpleasant. No, I mean strange. I mean unexpected. I mean about as far from usual as any vodka could possibly get. It is waxy and viscous. It coats the mouth and has a long, long finish. It is savory. It has whispers of black pepper. It has heat and spice. It is unctuous. It is the exception. It will give you pause. And it will beg for another pour.

The secret to Karlsson’s is two-fold.

First, the vodka is made from small, new virgin potatoes harvested early in the season before they have a chance to develop their skins. Several heritage varieties grow around the distillery in Cape Bjäre, — a seven mile by seven mile peninsula that juts into the North Sea, — and the mild climate, windswept coastline, and sandy, fertile soil lead to a unique terroir and even seasonal variation. The potatoes themselves have developed the nickname of “Farmer’s Gold” and are considered a delicacy, often simply boiled and served with sea salt and dill to let the natural flavor shine through.

Second, Karlsson’s distills each variety of potato individually and only once in order to keep the greatest amount of natural flavor. They do not filter the vodka – a process which would strip the spirit of the complex flavor and oily mouthfeel – and they combine the distinct potato distillates together to get the most pleasant final blend, the product they sell as Karlsson’s Gold. With especially good potato harvests, Karlsson’s can actually produce vintage vodkas. These small-batch releases include only a single variety of potato from a single year and can exhibit wildly different profiles from each other and from the Gold blend.

Karlsson’s themselves suggest serving the vodka neat or over ice with a crack of fresh pepper to bring out the natural spice and to complement its savory nature. That’s a fine way to drink it, but the quirky profile just begs to be used in cocktails as well, so I sat down to come up with a few summery cocktails highlighting the spirit.

Blackberry Bazaar CocktailThe uncharacteristic pepperiness of Karlsson’s made me think of another spiced Scandinavian sprit – aquavit. Paired with a little lemon for brightness, the combination gives a spicy, perplexing foundation that holds up over crushed ice and dovetails nicely with blackberries and mint. Check out my recipe for the Blackberry Bazaar.

Garden & TonicMy second thought was to adapt another recipe I’m fond of, the Garden & Tonic. This drink was originally created by Wayne Collins and Naren Young to be a savory play on a gin and tonic. Its punch comes from a dash of celery bitters and the addition of cucumber wheels, but the whole thing is lightened with a splash of elderflower or maraschino liqueur. I swapped the naturally savory Karlsson’s Gold for the gin and ground some fresh black pepper onto the cucumber.

The Erudite ScholarFinally, I wanted to highlight the vodka in a more spirituous drink, one where none of the subtle complexity would be lost. The Erudite Scholar is a riff on a simple martini, but with flourishes that complement the fulsome Karlsson’s. The spirit is paired with blanco vermouth, Cointreau and a dash of absinthe and undergoes some unholy alchemy uniting the flavors into something greater that the sum of its parts. Enjoy this one aperitif-style before a meal, and find the recipe here.

Karlsson’s Gold just hit Chicago shelves in March and retails for about $30 for a 750 mL bottle.