A Presentation by Chopin Vodka’s Tad Dorda
Chopin Rye; note the clear window/Chopin profile in the design
Unicahome recently attended a tasting of Chopin Vodka presented by owner Tad Dorda. Mr. Dorda, accompanied by his daughter, Stanford Sophomore Alex, spoke at length about vodka. Founded in 1992, Chopin vodka, originally in a potato only version, uses locally sourced single ingredients and is one of the few labels distilling its own vodka. The largest selling spirit in the world, with some 8 million cases sold, vodka is tasteless and odorless. Much of the presentation involved questioning the definition of vodka and the problems involved with multiple distillations of product, resulting in a less flavorful experience.
Frederic Chopin, the composer, is Poland’s best known son. “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” Dorda believes in Chopin’s statement, and Chopin vodka tells a story of vodka as he sees it. Dorda’s Chopin was the first entry into the luxury vodka market. Before communism there was no packaging and branding of vodka, and hence production had no name.
Chopin has a completely vertically integrated company. Local crops are sourced in the Podlasie region, near the eastern Polish town of Krzesk, where the distillery is located, about 60 miles east of Warsaw. The slide show presented bucolic settings of fields and potato plants. The company has been using the same farmers and the same region for all of its product. Organic? Sustainability? Polish vodka production has always been like that. For generations. “We are discovering contact to the Earth. We lost that. We need to go back and get in touch with the Earth.”
Chopin potato vodka uses late harvest potatoes, which contain about 20-22% starch. The crops are washed and cooked the same day to maintain quality. The mash is allowed to ferment for three days, and distilled in a traditional column. About 40 potatoes produce a 750ml bottle of Chopin. Fermented mash is approximately 8% alcohol; the 92% remaining goes back to the farmers, either as animal feed or fertilizer. “We want to have an excellent reputation, not mass market.”
Dorda, like many innovators, is a purist. He believes that vodka is a simple product and that it should stay that way. Chopin has no plans for producing the trendy flavored vodkas. “Natural products change color,” he explains. Maceration of flavoring (such as lemons) therefore would not work to add flavor, so artificial ingredients are used in other vodka brands.
The most interesting part of the presentation was a series of tastings of 1x distilled spirits with single ingredients: Rye, Oat, Wheat, Potato, and Barley. I am not a vodka lover; I simply cannot overcome what I sense is an ‘isopropanol head’ on multiple-distilled product, but 1X distillations were eye opening. This is exactly what Mr. Dorda anticipated from the attendees.
“We are ruining our tradition, we are calling everything vodka. We are stripping ourselves of quality.” The issue at hand is the E.U. definition of vodka which prohibits levels of methanol (for example) that would be present in 1X distilled vodka but are at acceptable levels for other spirits such as cognac and grappa. The subsequent distillations (Chopin is distilled four times) strip vodka of most of its beauty and subtlety. Another issue of primary concern is the E.U.’s loose definition of vodka as spirits of agricultural origin, meaning that any agricultural source of starch/sugar may be used, including sugar beets. The opposing argument is that the high alcohol distillation process results in a completely neutral spirit. Based on our tastings (below) this is clearly not the case.
An additional question may be raised. If vodka can be made from any sugar source, what would be the difference between White Whiskey, Moonshine and Vodka?
- 1X Distilled Vodkas
Single Ingredient, Single Distilled ‘Vodka’ Tasting Notes
All vodkas had incredible legs. What was notable was everything. A completely different experience.
‘Bimber,’ suggests Mr. Dorda. Polish Moonshine. Buttery and Peppery.
Sugary with apricot. Heavier on the palate.
Smells ‘Oaty’. Definitely not a crowd favorite. Oats are difficult to make spirits out of since the fiber in the oats do not disintegrate upon cooking. The column frequently becomes clogged. Very spicy, with acetate and paint thinner qualities.
A beautiful smell. I am biased as a wheat whiskey lover. Bread and butter with sweet caramel tones. One of the attendees noted a bit of cucumber.
A potato in a glass. Earthy with pepper.
The presentation was a glimpse into the passion that drives Chopin. Mr. Dorda has done experimental small batches with 1X distillation with new potatoes, which have a much smaller starch content. “Like wine- I have 100 bottles remaining.” He notes that with single distillation one can taste a difference between potato harvests.
The end of the presentation came with a tasting of Chopin’s current production of rye and potato vodkas. The rye is a new introduction. In late 2010, Mr. Dorda re-purchased Chopin from LVMH. Belvedere, another rye-based vodka, was also distributed by the same company that distributed Chopin, Millenium Import. Upon the re-purchase, Chopin began production of a rye Chopin vodka brand and now controls distribution of the Chopin brand in the United States.
The favorite among the single distillates was split between potato and wheat. Interestingly enough, a Chopin wheat vodka is scheduled for release later in the year.
Harvest and distillation of Chopin is scheduled for September and October. “We want to show you how we make it. Please come.” Okrzyki!
More information on Chopin Vodka is available at their website: http://www.chopinvodka.com/
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