Absolut vodka is a well-known, pioneering brand all over the world, and recently I’ve been lucky enough to try the original, as well as several of their flavoured options.
But first, how did Absolut come about?
Every drop of Absolut vodka comes from one source – the little-known village of Åhus in southern Sweden. More than 400 years of vodka-making tradition stands behind Absolut. The precursor of today’s Absolut, “Absolut Rent Bränvin” (Absolute Pure Vodka), was introduced in 1879 by the Swedish entrepreneur, Lars Olsson Smith, also known as “The Vodka King” (the medallion on every bottle bears his portrait). Both Absolut and the Absolut flavours are distilled hundreds of times with the process of continuous distillation, introduced in Sweden by L O Smith and perfected through today. The Absolut flavors are made by blending the vodka with only natural flavors. – no sugar is added.
Every day about 600 tons of winter wheat arrive at the Nöbbelöv Distillery. The wheat is grown in Skåne in southern Sweden and comprises about 20 percent of the total harvest of wheat in this province. Absolut makes the same high demands on its wheat as the food industry, and the suppliers must follow specific demands for minimizing the negative effects of cultivation on the environment. Absolut is Sweden’s largest food and beverage export with 125,000 tons of winter wheat harvested every year. Farmers in southern Sweden combine age-old tradition with the latest in agricultural technology to produce some of the finest winter wheat in the world. Sweden has one of the oldest vodka traditions in the world and in southern Sweden, the climate is ideal for growing winter wheat. The several hundred farmers in southern Sweden contracted by Absolut plant their wheat in September and October. The wheat germinates and grows five to ten centimeters during the mild months of fall. When the frost sets in, the wheat stops growing and lies dormant all winter. In the spring, when the sun and warmth return, the wheat continues to grow – but now at an accelerated pace. The winter wheat being planted this fall will be harvested in August next year and used to produce next year’s supply of Absolut. The wheat is transported from the nearby wheat fields to The Absolut distillery in Nöbbelöv near Åhus, where it is first grinded, then combined with water from the company’s own well.
Water to blend Absolut comes from a well in Åhus. The water from this artesian spring dates back as far as the Stone Age. The clean rains that fell over Åhus long before pollution many thousands of years ago, slowly trickled down through layer after layer of moraines and limestone. It was enriched on its way with healthy minerals and salts and eventually formed this artesian spring of perfectly clear water 200 meters below the ground.
The 600 tons of winter wheat that arrive at the Nöbbelöv Distillery every day is cleaned and milled in hammer mills that can process up to 18 tons of wheat per hour. The milled wheat is mixed with the pure spring water to form a mash. An enzyme is also added (a biocatalyst), which helps the starch in the wheat to break down into sugar. For three hours the mash is heated to a maximum of 90° Celsius. The heat releases the starch from the wheat and speeds up the breakdown of starch into sugar. The heat and the long “cooking time” also helps kill any bacteria. Before the fermentation process begins, the mash is chilled and poured into enormous vessels called fermenters, which have a capacity of around 600,000 liters. Yeast is added at the same time. The yeast transforms the freed sugar into ethanol (alcohol). The mash ferments for two days; by then the sugar has been used up and the alcoholic content in the mash is 10%. The fermented mash is pumped into the raw spirit distillation process. The alcohol that forms is distilled off and concentrated to 87% abv, so-called raw spirit. On average the distillery at Nöbbelöv produces 150,000 liters of raw spirit every day, all year round.
The raw spirit is further distilled in order to achieve the correct purity. The method used is called continuous distillation; this implies that the spirit is distilled more than a hundred times in order to achieve the highest possible quality. This revolutionary method was introduced in Sweden by “the King of Vodka” Lars Olsson Smith in 1879. The last remnants of the fusel oil and other impurities disappear at this point, and after distillation the spirit is 96%, now called fine spirit. The entire process takes a little longer than three days.
On average 600,000 bottles of Absolut are produced every day in Åhus. Most Absolut bottles are made in Limmared not far from Åhus, but production also takes place in France. All bottles are manually checked and then rinsed with Absolut. After washing, the bottle is filled with the scheduled variety of Absolut. The same bottling machine is used for all flavours and is washed automatically between flavours. The bottling machines can fill up to 240 bottles per minute. After capping, the bottle is sealed, the modern seal replacing the seals of former times. The seal is now made of plastic, which is heated and “shrunk” on to the bottle and the cap. The most intricate part of the whole bottling process is fixing the medallion showing “the King of Vodka” L.O. Smith on to the bottle. This must not vary by more than 0.5 mm. The bottle is positioned correctly with the aid of marks on the glass, and then the medallion is attached. Apart from the medallion, there is also a back label and in certain cases an importer’s label on the bottle.
So has the ‘vodka king’ done his country proud? Well below I give to you my tasting notes on each –
Absolut Blue – 40%
Clean on the nose with a slight hint of wheat. Smooth as it hits the palate, with tons of liquorice on a short offering.
Absolut Peach – 40%
Very strong peach aromas on the nose results in a harsh hit on the palate that mellows out. A little dry on the end.
Absolut Kurant – 40%
Fresh dark berries mix well on the nose with a good, long finish that combines subtle currant flavours.
Absolut Vanilla – 40%
Soft vanilla nose that’s inviting for a long, rich finish on the palate.
Absolut Pear – 40%
On the nose it’s very fresh and sweet. with the freshness carrying on to the palate with light tones of pear creating a long finish.
Absolut Mandarin – 40%
Lots of fresh mandarin aromas on the nose, although quickly disappears on the palate. Very short.
Absolut Raspberri – 40%
Strong, overpowering aromas of raspberry hits the nose and palate, but mellows out quickly with a burst at the end.
Absolut Ruby Red – 40%
No immediate aroma on the nose with very little happening until it hits your palate. Mouth watering slow bursts of grapefruit creates a long finish.
Absolut Citron – 40%
Subtle, smooth citrus flavours on the nose, with an almost creamy offering on the palate. Likened to a lemon meringue.
Absolut Pepper – 40%
On the nose, a smooth dance of spice, hots up on the palate but mellows quickly resulting in a long, long after-taste.
Absolut Berri Acai – 40%
An instant hit of blueberry that moves quickly into the aromas of the pomegranate and acai. On the palate, the acai hits first, with the blueberry following in a big burst and then finishing with a warm feeling of pomegranate.
There’s been a new variation that has shaken the Swedish vodka tree with the introduction of Absolut Elyx in 2010. The combination of using manual processes, craftmanship and attention to detail by human instead of machine through every aspect of its production. The single estate wheat from Råbelof castle in Sweden is distilled by hand in a 1921 copper still. Every part of the production, from the planting of the first seed, all the way through distillation and bottling, is performed within a 25 km radius in the Åhus region of Southern Sweden. The water comes from the natural underground spring, upon which the copper distillery rests. Filtered through the limestone bedrock, the water is exceptionally pure, low in minerals and incredibly soft.
Absolut Elyx – 40%
Clean on the nose with a distinct flavour of the wheat coming through. Very clean on the palate, with a growing flavour of fresh wheat, smooth water and a mouth-watering finish. Lingers with hints of dryness.
Recommended to be drunk neat with a huge block of ice, or with one of these –
Absolut Elyx Vesper
30 ml Absolut Elyx
30 ml Lillet Blanc
30 ml Beefeater 24
Measure Absolut Elyx, Lillet Blanc and Beefeater 24 into a mixing tin. Fill three-quarters full with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupette glass. Press oil from the lemon twist over the drink and serve.
Absolut Blackberry Attraction
30 ml Absolut Blue
60 ml Cranberry Juice
5 Whole blackberries
1 Twist of lime
Fill a rocks glass with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Garnish with lime.
A cracking range of vodka, especially the Elyx. Worthy of having a couple of the flavours in your drinks cabinet, and they wouldn’t ruin a night-out at your local bar.
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