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Handle The Proof: Lithuanian Vodka

If ever you get a chance to attend a traditional Lithuanian wedding, make up some excuse and send the couple your apologies.

Not only can they be all day affairs, it is customary for just about everyone present to make a lengthy toast--and considered very rude for guests to eat or drink while these are going on. So you watch helplessly as fat congeals around whatever that is on your plate. And you just wish people would wrap up the speech-making so you could take a swig of vodka.

Of course, when you finally get that chance, things take a turn for the better.

Original Lithuanian Vodka Gold (Originali lietuviska auksine degtine in their language, the degtine being "vodka," if I recall correctly) can be found in some local stores--and it's worth a taste, if only so you can say you bought Lithuania's "product of the year."

Well, that was a 2005 award. The country has moved on since then, I suppose.

But Lithuanians are fiercely proud of their vodka. I once became trapped in an Abbott and Costello-esque discussion of their clear spirit with some kid who argued, in heavily-accented English, that "Lithuanian vodka strongest vodka."

Sure, I replied. It's 40 percent alcohol, just like most others.

"Is strongest vodka," he insisted.

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Yep, 40 percent, same as the Russian stuff. Boy did that set him off.

The Gold label is a grain-based spirit with a kind of sweet background note and faint traces of husk to the flavor. More than anything, however, it tastes of clean ethyl alcohol--robust, but also well rounded. The tell-tale burn envelopes your mouth, cooling nicely by the time it his your throat.

That characteristic makes it fairly easy to drink, though the alcohol's intensity is unlikely to win over fans of Grey Goose or other upscale brands. The Lithuanians put more effort into filtering the water before cutting than they do to multi-multi distillations.

So the kid may have been right. It's strong in its initial, medicinal blast, though not in overall proof.

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