The results of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition have just been posted, and the winner of best vodka, double gold, is Absolut Elyx. Absolut what? Yes, it’s true that when Absolut first came to the United States in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was the very definition of luxury vodka, way above the rest. But then the superpremiums arrived in the mid to late ’90s, including Belvedere and Grey Goose. They cost more, came in fancy bottles, and took luxury vodka to the next level. Absolut (and SKYY) got pushed, as one ad executive recently told me, into that unenviable middle. Squeezed, really. And now you won’t find Absolut on any top shelf. And while Absolut is still America’s top-selling imported vodka and cranks out 10 to 11 million cases worldwide, the image is not the same as P. Diddy’s Ciroc or Chopin or that king of bottle service, Grey Goose. Thus, Elyx was born—a product using hand-selected estate wheat, naturally filtered, and distilled in strictly copper column stills. And, no surprise, it costs more—around $40, whereas regular Absolut runs about $21. But if it didn’t cost double, would consumers not think of it as superpremium? I could go on, and I will—in the book.
In the meantime, hats off to the judges of the competition, including friends Derek Brown and Francesco Lafranconi, who had to slog through hundreds of liquors of every shape, size, and texture. I asked Francesco, the executive director of mixology and spirits education at Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, if he expectorated. He said in an email, “You must! I had more than 200 myself,” although he sampled a mere 14 to 16 vodkas at his table.
Why does this matter? Because the winner can now print on the bottle “DOUBLE GOLD” and “JUDGED BEST VODKA.” It certainly helped Grey Goose as well as Tito’s and Crystal Head. Just think of when you browse the vodka aisle of your liquor store. So many brands to choose from. Wait, that one says DOUBLE GOLD! (Or depending on your circumstance, you might say, “Wait! This one’s $7.95 and is so light because it comes in a plastic jug!”)
The above photo is not from the competition but rather from the Petrossian Bar in New York City, where I sampled Russian Standard Platinum on the rocks.