Approximate price: £13 – 16
Review by Craig Heap
Although vodka is produced in almost every country, being the most basic of spirits, the British mind will almost certainly associate the origins with Russia. However, prior to 2007, there wasn’t much in the way of Russian vodka in the UK market. Smirnoff, despite the name, no longer counts as Russian, since they fled the Communists and even marketed it as ‘white whisky’ in the States for a time to fool the red-fearin’ Yankees.
In 2007, then, Russian Standard launched with their stylised, cool-as-ice, marketing which, quite rightly, made a big fuss about their Russianness, tapping into the subconscious British outlook of what constitutes a true vodka. Sure, Stolichnaya had been around for awhile, but they were too quiet for their own good.
A distinct bottle formed part of that powerful Russian Standard surge across the UK. If you’ve not seen it, the frosted glass bottle looks more than handy enough to club a rival to death. While it conjures up an impression of ornate chess pieces or towers of the Kremlin, it was actually based on the Imperial Russian monument, the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.
Almost every brewery and distillery makes some manner of grandiose claim over the water they use, be it the tears of Jesus or the glaciers of Pluto. Russian Standard makes use of the waters of Lake Ladoga, which is supposedly the softest water on earth on account of its unspoilt, isolated purity. There’s also some slow matured, winter wheat from somewhere or other. It really doesn’t matter, it’s pretty much the same story – it’s vodka, the recipe rarely differs, which is perhaps why Russian Standard put extra effort into their filtration.
Russian Standard is filtered four times through charcoal. If you move up to the high end of the chain, Imperia is even filtered twice through crystal quartz. I’m not entirely sure how liquid filters through quartz but by God they found a way.
Russian Standard has a rich, warming smell with a hint of blueberries and fresh cream or meringue. Naturally, there’s an ethanol odour in there (it is vodka, after all), but it’s not the strong solvent kick you pick up from cheap vodkas.
If sipped chilled (which is highly recommended), it smoothly assaults the mouth, the crisp initial bite swelling to a tingling, warm mouth-feel followed by a creamy aftertaste. There’s a lingering sweetness in the finish, with the blueberry hint coming into the taste in the dying notes.
All of this is subtle but it is well worth taking the time to discover. It’s a perfectly functional vodka if mixed but you won’t really perceive the delicate flavours – though you will benefit from the smoothness. Or you could knock it back, but that just hurts.
If sipped neat and chilled as low as your freezer this go, it makes an excellent accompaniment to eating Zakuskis, which is the Russian way of eating several savoury dishes (or a buffet, if you wanted a crude comparison). That said, if you are looking for a sipping vodka, you would do better to move up the scale to either Russian Standard Platinum or Imperia.
Russian Standard’s strength lies in what it lacks. It doesn’t have the liquid sandpaper quality of Vladivar or the paint-stripper taste of Smirnoff. Its all-round smoothness and reasonable price possibly make it the benchmark vodka for anyone’s liquor cabinet.
Interestingly, Russian Standard also operate a chain of banks in Russia. The British banking sector might be regarded more highly if customers received a free bottle of vodka with every account they opened.