Handle The Proof: Karlsson's Gold Vodka

You'd think the world needs another vodka like it needs to see Karl Rove and Dick Cheney reprising the famous Britney-Madonna kiss on national TV.

Already at the premium level we have Grey Goose (distilled multiple times and cut with limestone filtered water), Effen (distilled five times and filtered through peat), Belvedere (four distillations) 42 Below (thrice distilled, cut with volcanic spring water, distilled again and run through more than 30 filters), XO (nine distillations and some micro-oxygenation)...and dozens of other brands.

Karlsson's Gold reads like the others, being distilled from seven varieties of Swedish new potatoes, including Solist, Gammel Svensk Rod, Sankta Thora...and so on--not that if you mixed Russets and Idaho Golds together the mashed potatoes would be much better.

But Karlsson's Gold is very different--and arguably much, much better than the rest.

The product is distilled only once, or so they claim. They also report 95 percent alcohol before cutting. Yet the stillmaster has managed to create a vodka with a unrefined consistency of single distillation--slightly oily and somewhat heavy, keeping all the raw flavor intact.

So from the glass you catch the aroma of uncooked potatoes--a little sweet, a little sour--a wooden spice note, the less tangible scent of a field neither blooming nor fallow, and (of course) a strong rubbing alcohol sting. Nothing very forthcoming on the nose.

It's only when you taste that this vodka reveals the extent of its character. At room temperature, the flavor doesn't so much cling to the narrow bounds of potato (although it is constantly present). Instead, there's a peppery bite surrounded by bitterness that slides around the edge of your tongue. But also hints of caramel and milkweed--and a long bucolic finish hiding a taste akin to fennel and mulch.

Maybe they didn't clean the potatoes well enough.

Pour it over ice, and this profile relaxes. The bitter edge smooths into licorice and that odd milkweed note transforms into a dense malted chocolate-poppy seed impression. It's a spectacular vodka when cooled with two or three ice cubes.

It's also surprisingly smooth for a single distillation. The alcohol is always present, but hardly interferes with the character as it plays out on your palate. Yet there are enough impurities present that it can't be slammed down all night like Grey Goose.

This is a vodka for those who care more about flavor than the blankness of brands distilled and filtered into alcoholic water and packaged in a pretty bottle--and who prefer drinks neat or over the rocks.

And for those who don't plan to drain the entire bottle in one sitting.

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