Wow, this one is from more than a year ago, back from when I was in Taiwan for a book tour in November 2017. I bought it, drank it, jotted down some notes, took it home, snapped a picture, drank a bit more, jotted down some more notes, and then I found myself without much time to update this site.
So here it is, finally – Spring Vodka from Taiwan!
Is Spring Vodka really just vodka, though?
Taiwanese vodka? The truth is: nowadays most countries have their own brands. Russia, Ukraine, and Poland are responsible for the lion’s share – if not in gross volume then at least in their respective amounts of brands. But most other countries that might not have a comparably strong vodka culture eventually end up with one ore more domestic vodka brands as well.
So I wasn’t very surprised to find out that Taiwan had one, too.
hipster bunny in a bottle
I got this bottle from a hypermarket in Taipeh. There didn’t seem to be any other domestic brands for sale, only this one. It set me back about 450 New Taiwan Dollars (about 13 euros for a 700ml bottle), which put it in the 8/10 neighborhood, leaning closely toward a nine. Still, it’s an 8/10.
The bottle design seemed to be a bit upscale for this price level. It reminded me less of Russian Standard and more of a hipsterified version of Belvedere or The Goose, with the ground glass body and the Hefner-evoking bunny on the label. I’d give it an 8/10.
But it’s the taste that really counts, and this is where Spring Vodka gets interesting.
when vodka and Chinese liquor have a beautiful baby
You can tell right away that something is a bit off – the smell gives it away. It has a strangely sweet and aromatic note to it, something that doesn’t belong to the realm of vodka but to that of the world of Chinese liquor. Don’t be afraid, though – neither the smell nor the taste of Spring Vodka is anything like Maotai, the over-priced abomination that Chinese officials use to drink each other under the table. No, there is just a faint scent of something decidedly non-vodka in here.
And the taste is interesting as well. It’s sweet. It’s balmy. But it doesn’t quite taste like pure vodka. It’s more as if an upscale vodka and a brand of super-soft Chinese liquor had decided to have a baby. Spring Vodka is very interesting, very smooth, and I loved its taste. I’ll give it a 10/10, but be warned: your favorite cocktail recipes will probably end up tasting a bit funny if you use this stuff to mix them with.
So how about the aftertaste? Well, it’s a bit similar. When you breathe out through your nose after having Spring Vodka, there is something deeply aromatic filling your head, something that you wouldn’t expect in a vodka. Of course it doesn’t quite taste like Chinese liquor, either. Instead it’s more of a very balmy mix. I found it awesome (10/10).
Overall, Spring Vodka is definitely worth a try if you want something that is: new, interesting, sophisticated, tasty. A 9.0.
I got this in the summer of 2018, when I was in Aktau in Western Kazakhstan, where I had to spend a few days waiting for a visa for Azerbaijan. There wasn’t much to do, and I ended up going to the mall sometimes. On one of these occasions I brought home a bottle called Zerno vodka.
Zerno vodka might need a bit of tweaking
I told the store clerk that I wanted something local, but he shook his head and mumbled something that sounded like there wasn’t any. Then he handed me this bottle. When I went to the cash register, the lady there told me that I was too late. They weren’t going to sell any alcohol after a certain time, it was the law. Then she took another look at me, paused, and decided to sell me the bottle.
It was half a liter, and it cost 1500 Tenge. This meant a fantastic price of only slightly more than 5 Euros for 700ml (10/10). To be fair, though, Central Asian vodka prices were generally very low.
The bottle design was nice and simple, at the same time conveying a certain retro-charm and a polished sophistication. I liked it (7/10).
There was a tractor on the label, and the word Zerno meant „corn“ as in „grain“. I took from this that Zerno vodka was made from wheat. It was 40% alcohol, and when I opened the bottle, there was a faint smell that seemed to hint at good things.
The taste of Zerno vodka was warm and full at first, and I was happy with it. But then it became spicy (or rather fiery), and it burned on its way down the throat. I decided to give it a 7 out of 10, but it could have been an 8 for the initial taste alone. Just the burning was a bit too much.
The aftertaste was a mixed bag as well. At first there was something chocolaty to it, and I figured I quite liked it. But then the aroma turned from chocolate to metal, and it became dryish. It was a 6/10 at best.
Overall, Zerno vodka still needs a bit of work. If you don’t mind your vodka to be a bit feisty, though, then you might want to give this one a try. A 7.5.
I got this bottle of Our/Berlin vodka in a gift wrapper. I said thank you and put it in my book shelf. It wasn’t until some time later that I opened it, and the person who gave it to me and I drank it together.
Our/Berlin, the teeny tiny vodka
The first thing I noticed about this vodka is that the bottle was REALLY small. It’s 350ml, making it about half the size of a usual vodka bottle (700ml). It actually felt a little bit like one of those nostalgic mineral water bottles.
Did I like the design? Well, yes and no.
the problem with caps
I think the size of a bottle doesn’t matter that much as long as it has a screw cap: you could drink any amount, then screw the cap back on and come back for the rest later. The problem with Our/Berlin vodka is that it comes with a crown cap. And since liquor generally doesn’t like to be stored in an open container, you theoretically have to finish it once it’s open.
I’m saying „theoretically“ because the crown cap in this case is actually resealable. But I didn’t know that until I had opened it for the first time. This meant that as much as I wanted to just give it a try, I found myself waiting for an occasion where a friend and I would finish it in one evening.
Maybe I just didn’t read the instructions.
The bottle itself and the label were pretty standard. They basically looked like someone was going for a low-key nostalgic look. I thought it was overall okay, but the crown cap was a bit of a turn off. A 6/10 in the design department.
Now for the price: I looked this up and you would have to pay about 16 Euros for one bottle of Our/Berlin vodka. That puts it in the 32€/700ml range, which is among the most expensive vodkas you can find in an average supermarket. It’s a 4/10.
mild and spicy fruits
Now that we’ve talked at length about bottles and caps and prices, let’s talk about taste and aftertaste. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Our/Berlin vodka had only a very faint smell – you would expect nothing else for this amount of money. And the taste is great, too. It is super mild (this is literally how I wrote it down in my notes: „super mild“), there is something sweet and slightly spicy in there, and it goes down easily (9/10).
The aftertaste is consistently aromatic, smooth, and fruity. It tastes like a good high-class vodka. (8/10).
I liked this Our/Berlin vodka itself, just not the price and the bottle design. A 6.75.
Going to Turkmenistan isn’t easy. So when I finally got to go there in September 2017, I wanted to make sure that I bought some local vodka, if only for testing purposes.
Sadly I was on a tight walking schedule (500+ kilometers in 15 days), so I did not have much time to enjoy the finer things in life, aka the testing of the V. But this one I did test, along with two others, on my last night in the country, right before I was about to enter Iran.
This one was called Arassa, and it was from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
Why is Arassa allowed to taste like metal, and not in a good way?
I got this one in a licensed liquor store near the bazaar of Turkmenabat. The selection of vodka brands was small, and everything seemed to be produced in Turkmenistan, so I pointed around and asked for a few brands that were supposed to be „good“.
One of them was Arassa.
The price (as always in Central Asia) was just great. I got this 0,5 liter bottle for 20 Manat, which translates into about 5 Euros (depending on your exchange rate). So it was a super affordable 8€/700ml and therefore a 10/10 on the pricing scale.
The bottle design was okay. I liked the shape of the glass, and it had a built-in dispenser, but the label design seemed a bit sloppy. I’d give it a 5/10.
And now on to the most important part – the taste and the aftertaste. Upon opening there was a strong smell of alcoholic spirits. It smelled like something you would kill germs with. The taste itself had a violent burning sensation, and it didn’t seem very refined (5/10).
The aftertaste was particularly interesting, as it continued to burn in the throat and in the stomach, actually hurting a little. There was even a strange note of metal in the aftertaste that was rather unpleasant (3/10).
Overall, this was a bad vodka that had only been saved by its low price (which was more due to the general pricing environment than anything else). A not very recommendable 5.75
As you can see from the background, I got Isfjord vodka in the same place I had tried Mansfeld: Luxembourg. And I ran into some problems as towards the nationality of this brand. It says Greenland on the label. Arctic water from Greenland. So was I supposed to make an individual category for it, and if I did, would it be part of The Americas or Europe?
In the end I looked up Isfjord vodka online and found out that the company headquarters were in Denmark. So I decided to simply list it as a Danish vodka.
Is this Isfjord vodka from Greenland as icy as it sounds?
This is one of those bottles that has a great pouring sound, especially when it’s almost full. The way it goes „glug-glug-glug-glug“ is nothing short of delightful. The bottle itself is slick and shiny, and the glass feels pretty massive. The only thing I didn’t like was the amount of text on the label. A 7/10.
The price. Well… A steep 38€ for 700ml put it in the 2/10 section, even below Mansfeld. But what can you do. It’s supposed to be made with arctic water from Greenland. It couldn’t possibly be affordable.
So. Does the water make a difference?
First, there is a surprisingly strong alcoholic smell. The taste is slightly sweet (especially if you close your eyes and imagine the arctic water from Greenland which you have paid for by purchasing this drink). But it’s also a teeny tiny bit stronger than it should be. It even burns a little bit on the way down. 8/10.
The aftertaste is a bit dryish. But it’s aromatic, and it stays around for quite some time, so it goes well with your pickled vegetables or a slice of jamon. 8/10.
I got this bottle of Mansfeld vodka when I was hanging out in Luxembourg in February 2018. I don’t know why exactly, but I remember being surprised that Luxembourg had its own brand of vodka. Maybe it was because the country seemed so small?
Anyway, Mansfeld is from there. It was apparently named after a 16th century governor of Luxembourg. And why not.
Mansfeld vodka, the coldness that lacks something
The country of Luxembourg isn’t only small, it’s also ridiculously rich. So it came as no surprise that this one was an top shelf vodka. Its price tag was 34€ for a 0,7l bottle, which made it a 3/10.
The bottle design seemed straight forward: smoked glass, dark cap, almost simplistic in a way. I liked it. 7/10.
Now on to the most important part: Mansfeld vodka had a very average smell that was almost a bit disappointing for a vodka of this price level. But the taste! It was a bit sweet, almost cold in the mouth, and it went down easy like water. A 10/10 in the taste department.
The aftertaste wasn’t so good, though. It burned a little in the stomach, which I like. But there wasn’t anything memorable about the aftertaste, no special aroma. A 6/10.
Goddamnit, I have no clue how to write the name of this vodka. 40 0,5? Сорок Ноль? Forty Zero? I think the name comes from the vodka being eighty-proof (40% alcohol) and coming in a 0,5 liter bottle. But I am still confused.
Yet here I am, listening to a Chinese song called „Zebra, Zebra“ (斑马，斑马) by Song Dongye (宋冬野). It’s absolutely beautiful, and what’s even better: there is a cover version by The Landlord’s Cat (房东的猫), which could maybe, maybe be even better. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe Song Dongye’s version is still the best. I am torn.
Anyway, let’s talk about this unutterable vodka.
I am still not sure what this 40 0,5 vodka is called
I got this in a liquor store in Tashkent, and it wasn’t exactly cheap for Uzbek standards, but it was still very affordable overall. About 5 euros for 500ml, putting it in the 10/10 department. In hindsight I should have asked the clerks what this tuff was actually called.
The bottle looks nice. It reminds me of Absolut, Mama, or Rutte – a clean design that focuses heavily on a large font. I quite like the big red 40 0,5 label, so I’d give it a 7/10.
There was a slightly sweet smell. The taste was pleasant, also slightly sweet just like the smell, and like any good vodka it went down easily. Vodka means „little water“, so it shouldn’t burn excessively when you drink it. This stuff was good, a 7/10.
It had a mild aftertaste, not overly aromatic, but not bad either. And it made for a nice warm feeling. Another 7/10.
Overall, this 40 0,5 vodka (whose name I do not know) is a 7.75
So here’s the second vodka brand I tried when I was in Navoiy. I drank it with some friends I had made there. We all got a bit drunk. Not too much, but a bit.
I’m listening to „Damaged“ by Black Flag, which is still one of the strongest hc/punk albums of all time. Incidentally, it was also one of the first CDs I’ve ever owned, along with MC Hammer’s „Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ’Em“, the „Last Action Hero“ soundtrack and „Set It Off“ by Madball. Anyway, I’ve always thought it strange how Henry Rollins joined Black Flag in 1981 to record the immaculate „Damaged“ album with them (apparently without really having anything to do with the songwriting), and then went ahead and flung Black Flag into post-hc Rollins Band boredom for the next dozen or so albums. A tragedy in itself.
Anyway, we were going to talk about… vodka? This one is called Navoiyskoe Zoloto (Навоийское Золото), which means „Gold from Navoiy“. Because this the some local stuff.
Navoiyskoe Zoloto could have the best price-taste ratio ever
So you thought Tanho was cheap? Well, this here Navoiyskoe Zoloto cost me 7.500 som for 450ml, putting it at about 2 euros for 700ml. Damn. This could be the most „affordable“ vodka I’ve ever tried. A 10/10 if there ever was one.
The bottle design is basically non-existent. It’s a regular-ass bottle with a regular-ass label that looks like it could have been from the Soviet Union. It reminded me of the brand Tajikistan, but at least it had a screw cap, so I’ll give it a 4/10.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s rather strong, as you would expect from a vodka that is so affordable it should be called cheap. Stuff to get drunk on, simple as that. But what about the taste? Well, I was surprised. It was actually quite gentle, sort of medium sweet, and it went down more easily than expected. A 6/10.
The aftertaste was even more surprising: it was very aromatic and pleasant. A notion of wheat or bread was in there, something fulfilling and nice. A 8/10.
This is an overall 7.0, but I’d like to add that the vodka itself is actually quite good.
I was at home trying to get my foot and my back in order, doing yoga and yoga and more yoga, when I received an email from a gentleman who had something I liked: vodka. He said it was a young brand from France, and that its name was Sobolinaya. Would I like to give it a try?
Sure, I said, of course I would!
I eventually received a bottle a few days before my departure to Iran, which was a very good thing, because 1) Iran didn’t allow any alcohol, so it was important for me to do all my drinking before, and 2) free vodka, man!
Sobolinaya, the French sable
So I got this one as a gift, which meant that I felt sympathetic towards it, which in turn meant that I would have to remind myself to stay neutral and give it the non-partisan treatment it deserved. It also meant that I had no idea what it cost.
I looked it up online and I found one vendor in Britain who sold 500ml for 20 pounds sterling (about 32€/700ml). Another vendor I found was in Russia, and the price was 3700 roubles for a standard 700ml bottle (52€/700ml). I figured I would just assume that the actual price was somewhere in the middle, at around 40€/700ml. A 2/10.
The bottle design: Sobolinaya was being marketed as an upscale brand, and as such it would have been understandable had it gone with the Belvedere/Goose ground glass finish that seemed to be so typical in this segment. But no, it was clear glass, but with something added to it that gave it a rainbow-like, pearlescent effect. I liked it. However, what I didn’t really like were the fonts and the colors used in the logo. They had a clumsy feel and reminded me of the 1980s.
Then there was the sable. I could only assume that the animal in the logo was a sable (соболь or sobol was the Russian word for sable, which Sobolinaya must have gotten its name from), but it looked a bit chubby, like it could have also been a seal.
Overall, I’ll give the bottle design a 7/10, mostly because I like the rainbow effect of the glass.
So here’s the important part: the taste and the aftertaste. Most vodkas vary in two aspects: filtration and quality of water. You don’t want it to burn when you drink it. And you want a pleasant sensation afterwards.
Sobolinaya had a faint, sweetish smell that was very promising, and it didn’t disappoint. The immediate sensation was a little bit spicy, but this turned into a mellow, sweet taste that was very agreeable. It made me think of pine trees, actually. And when it went down, it did so without a fight, almost like water. Like any good vodka should. (10/10).
The aftertaste was great as well. There was a fullness and sweetness to it, something that happened when you breathed out through your nose and your head filled with aroma. I liked it very much, it could have been even fuller to be perfect, but it was close (9/10).
Overall, this Sobolinaya vodka was one of more memorable ones. A strong 7.0.
Wow, this one was such a long time ago… Remember when I was hanging out in the Uzbek town of Navoiy? I had bought two bottles of vodka there, tried them and taken my notes, but I had never gotten around to properly write them up.
So here I am, with my notes, listening to some more Joyner Lucas. I like him much better than Kendrick Lamar. Lucas is more straight forward and less bloated, and he doesn’t give into the temptation of making his stuff seem „deep“ by adding some half-assed poetry verses.
But, again, let’s talk about vodka. This one is called Tanho (танхо), and it’s apparently from the city of Tashkent.
Tanho tries to appear upscale, but…
Uzbek prices can be a bit difficult, because the inflation is just crazy. When I first came to the country the black market rate was about 4.500 Uzbek Som to 1 US Dollar. When I left several months later, it had climbed to almost 8.000 som to the dollar. I got this bottle of Tanho for 22.000 som. So either way the price is somewhere between 3 and 5 euros for 700ml. Can’t get much cheaper than that, eh? Well, wait for the next brand… Anyway, this one is a 10/10.
The bottle design is okay at best. I really don’t like the glass block design that we’ve seen in Three Sixty, Vox, or Ozon before. And the golden-brown applications look cheap. On the other hand, the bottle has a dispenser, so I’ll give it an overall 6/10.
Tanho doesn’t have much of a smell. The taste is a bit sweet at first, but then it turns out to be pretty spicy. Definitely not a vodka that kind of just slips down your throat, no. Tanho puts up a bit of a fight. Not too much, but a little. A 7/10.
There is an aftertaste, but it’s a bit dryish. It’s as if the aroma vanishes and your mouth feels dehydrated, like you need to drink water, or better yet, some fruit juice. Not sure what to make of this. A 6/10.
This vodka is an overall 7.25, but it’s mostly due to the insanely cheap price.