Henry McIntosh discovers how Belvedere is transforming and elevating the perception of vodka during a recent trip to Poland
Gdansk is a beautiful city. Located on Poland’s Baltic coast with the Motlawa river meandering through the centre, it’s a fitting place to begin a journey with Belvedere Vodka. In Poland, they say that ‘water breathes life into vodka’, so there are few better places to appreciate one of the finest incarnations of the spirit than Gdansk.
Stood on the roof of the Hilton, observing the serenity of the Motlawa and the bustle of the Long Market below, it’s easy to note the locations synergy with Belvedere’s own name, too. Coming from the Italian ‘bella vedere’ or the beautiful view, it’s apparent that Gdansk wasn’t chosen by accident.
The intricacy with which the event has been planned is encapsulated by the sumptuous Belvedere cocktails being served as guests enjoy the balmy summer’s eve. Yet vodka hasn’t always enjoyed it this good. The scene in Gdansk is a departure from the traditional view of vodka and just as the Motlawa divides Gdansk, vodka vehemently splits opinion.
This was summarised for me by a top New York bartender who commented that the spirit was the drink of the ‘unsophisticated and uninitiated’.
He wasn’t alone in his assessment either. The New York times reported back in 2014 that vodka was coming in from the cold having been derided as the ‘whipping boy of serious mixologists for years’. Such assertions were only supported by the fact that top bars, such as Death & Company, kept vodka off their menu for the best part of a decade.
Alongside a number of top vodkas, Belvedere has been bucking this trend, by manoeuvring the spirit back into the spotlight. The brand can certainly take a lot of credit for bringing the vodka in from the cold having claimed the coveted gold standard from the ISC Tasting Guide for two years running as well as being rated “outstanding” by the Diffordsguide; a rather strong argument against the notion that vodka is simply a ‘blank palate’.
The cocktails served in Gdansk are the perfect example of this, with fresh, natural flavours championed above all else. This is evident in the Belvedere Citrus Mint Spritz, which was composed of dry vermouth, tonic water, lemon, a sprig of fresh mint and, you guessed it, Belvedere.
Only established in 1993, Belvedere has enjoyed a meteoric rise and their meticulous cultivation of one of the world’s finest spirits is nothing short of remarkable. Nowadays, you will find their spirit in the finest establishments in the world and there’s a good reason for it, too.
Poland in summer is warm and welcoming. Driving out of Gdansk into the picturesque countryside, it’s time to witness the Belvedere process at one of the brand’s agricultural farms where they cultivate the specific strain of rye used to make the vodka. On approach, fields of rye, stretching as far as the eye can see, paint a golden scene.