You Say Potato, I Say Vodka

Potato vodka is LiV from Long Island

 


I must be a humble man. I’ve always had a thing for potatoes. Those that have worked with me can vouch for this -- about my waxing poetically about the rare, perfect boiled potato. Fortunately for me, I sample enough of them to find those elusive magic moments.

Now, here’s the not-too-surprising segue: my love of the humble potato extends towards those rare potato-based beverages, oh, like, vodka. I have always had a thing for potato vodka, which is strange since vodka is essentially water and alcohol, but potato vodka always had something extra, delivering more than those simple grain-based bottles could ever hope for.

I never realized why, assuming it had been my rather odd sentimental attachment to potatoes, but after spending just a while with the makers of Long Island Spirits’ LiV Vodka I think I’ve found out why.
Cocktail
LiV (pronounced to rhyme with “five” and shorthand for “Long Island Vodka”) is the product of Richard Stabile, a one-time biz-dev exec turned local boy brewer. Richard has a family history with artisanally produced wine, and even a little booze. A second-generation American of Italian descent, Richard was schooled in the art of home winemaking and distilling way before he ever sat down to begin his Engineering degree. So, it should have come as no surprise that, when the biz-dev world lost its luster, Richard turned toward something that had been imprinted on his psyche at such a young and fundamental age.

Before the burnout though, Richard travelled the world, spending time in places such as Japan and Lexington, Kentucky. Places where distilling is an art, and one that became increasingly attractive. The more he learned, the hungrier he became for more. By the late 1990s, Richard had a full-time obsession with distilling.

It took some time to turn that obsession into a business plan, but by 2004 he was studying distilling for real, taking courses at Cornell University and workshops back down in Kentucky. Having spent time among the then-flourishing potato fields of Long Island, it became obvious to Richard what he had to do. Take potatoes and make vodka. Every boy’s dream, right?

OK, maybe not, but in Richard’s case it is a dream fulfilled. He founded Long Island Spirits in 2006, setting up an old barn, with 80 acres of potato fields in the back, as the base of operations. The plan was to produce vodka from those potatoes as well as all the White and Marcy Russets three other family farmers could produce. It was a bold plan, but it all came to fruition with the release of LiV Vodka.

Now, many of you out there will be thinking to yourselves that vodka is vodka, right? Well, yes and no. If the vodka is distilled over and over again, removing impurities while stripping the vodka of any character, well, then yes. One of the features that sets potato-based vodkas apart from grain-based vodkas is the fact that when potato mash is distilled, less methanol is produced.

It’s the purity of potato vodka that sets it apart, allowing it to be simply distilled so that it reaches the consumer not as some neutral blend of alcohol and water, but rather as a finely textured beverage with fresh, subtle aromatics. That purity also serves as a perfect base for Richard’s line of fruit-infused vodkas that he has branded as Sorbetta. Each flavor is derived entirely from fresh fruit: lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries, and raspberries.

Each sorbetta is flavored only with whole berries or zest, in the case of the citrus fruits, macerating for a month. The sorbetta is thus imbued with the clear flavor of each fruit, making it an excellent ingredient for your bar, and even better finish to your next dinner party.

Of course, the obvious question is: With the only distillery on Long Island since the 1880s opening smack in the middle of Long Island’s wine country, where is the grappa? Sono Rinata, an unaged brandy produced in partnership with Peconic Bay Winery, has been available for sale since earlier this year and, in the short time since my visit to Long Island Spirits, some six barrels of Chardonnay have been distilled for a second project. And that’s not including the secret experiment already in barrel!

Judging from the early results, Long Island Spirits is really on to something and we all wish Richard and his crew the best of luck!

Tasting notes:

LiV Vodka
Smooth and crisp with a soft texture, this is superbly balanced and holds its alcohol very well, finishing with good length and firm, steely character.

Sorbetta range
Lemon -- Sweet lemon notes greet the nose and the palate, though with less overt sweetness in the mouth. This is very clear and fresh with a nice finish that develops a fine tension between the lemon oil and pith flavors and the modest sweetness.

Lime -- Almost floral on the nose, with a huge lime oil note that obscures the sweetness of the nose. This is spicy up front with an almost cinnamon tone that leads to a very gently sweet mid-palate, with bright lime notes that yield to a more spicy finish.

Orange -- Subtle on the nose with light orange notes but in a rather sweet and heavy register. On the palate this is simpler and a bit sweeter than the lime or lemon sorbetta, with a light jammy edge to the flavors.

Strawberry -- Intense on the nose with lightly toasty and almost jammy strawberry aromas. The aromas lead to a rather intensely flavored palate with much the same profile, lightly jammy, and yet here on the palate there is a nice contrasting note of seed bitterness adding real, lasting complexity.

Raspberry -- Delicate on the nose with a floral top note and faint, soft raspberry tones. Delicate and light in the mouth with fine, transparent fruit that is nicely balanced, gaining more perfume on the backend and finishing with good length to the raspberry and floral tones.

Sono Rinato Brandy
Raw on the nose with the smell of crude eau de vie, with a touch of caramel and spice on the finish.

-- Gregory Dal Piaz

Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Idaho's Koenig Vineyards distills a potato Vodka. They also flavor it with Peach or Huckleberry. Try an Idaho iced huckleberry vodka lemonade. Yum!

    Nov 09, 2010 at 3:57 PM


  • Snooth User: jenniferr
    159284 32

    PEI, on Canada's east coast, famous for it's red soil, Anne of Green Gables, and of course Potatoes! They also have a Distillery, making World class Potato Vodka. It's the Prince Edward Distillery near Hermanville. Medium bodied, aromas of dirt, soil....beautiful, nice mouth, the alcohol has a little bite, but there is no shiver down your back bone on the finish! Very smooth. Worth exploring if you find yourself on PEI. (they also make a gin, that has a lingering flavour of orange peel on the finish)
    I did buy the T-Shirt too......."I like my potatoes smashed, distilled and on the rocks!"

    Nov 10, 2010 at 7:39 AM


  • Are there any international brands of vodka made from potatoes?

    Nov 10, 2010 at 7:57 AM


  • Snooth User: denisstad
    437389 7

    I, too, am a potato vodka fan and one of the best, in my view, is Chopin Vodka from Poland. It's made from Stobrawa potatoes grown in the Mazovia region of Poland. It has a very delicate apple nose and an incredibly smooth finish. What better base for a Warsaw Martini (1-1/2 oz of Chopin vodka, 1/2 oz of Chambord black raspberry liquer, 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/4 oz lemon juice)

    Nov 10, 2010 at 9:36 AM


  • Snooth User: Aimee
    636609 1

    LiV is the real deal. I’m a vodka lover and was able to visit their distillery over the summer for a tasting. By the end of the tasting, I was converted. I left with half a case of LiV and wish I had bought more.

    Nov 10, 2010 at 9:37 AM


  • Snooth User: SYR1956
    594251 3

    The use of potato vodka has an additional benefit for those people who celebrate the traditional Passover holiday. The use of potatoes rather than grain to produce this vodka eliminates the Passover restriction about the use of grain relating to fermentation. Potato vodka makes a great martini before the start of the Passover Seder.

    Nov 10, 2010 at 2:24 PM


  • Richard, try the Karlsson's GOld Vodka. Made from Virgin new potatos from Cape Bjäre which is in the south part of Sweden. Only distilled once and no filtration at all which gives it a really great flavour. They named it Karlsson's after the master blender; Börje Karlsson AKA the father of Absolut..

    try Karlsson's Gold on the rocks with some black pepper. it's just great

    Nov 10, 2010 at 4:38 PM


  • Cold river Vodka from Maine, very nice with a potato chip aroma.
    Straight up at room temp for me.

    Nov 14, 2010 at 3:35 PM


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