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You can probably imagine that my final night in Azerbaijan was fun. I mean, I didn’t drink a lot, or at least I wasn’t planning on it. And yet I had to try every one of the brands I had bought. This one, called Korona vodka, was the third and final one.

How can Korona vodka be so hot and so sweet at the same time?

The shop owner looked at me funny when I got my three bottles and walked out. I had asked him to recommend three brands, and I had added that they didn’t have to be all top-shelf. I wanted something good, something mediocre, and something less good. Right after I had walked out of the shop I couldn’t remember which was which. A good thing? Probably.

This bottle of Korona vodka cost me 7 manat for 500ml. So it was about 5,5€/700ml. A solid 10/10, just like all the others in Azerbaijan.

The design of the bottle, well, it was a bit like that of Russian Garant – another ugly brother of Czar’s Gold. I didn’t care for the Trumpian „gold-gold-gold-crown-crown-crown“ shtick. Also, the bottle had a cork cap. This seemed to be à la mode in Azerbaijan. So anyway, this one was a 4/10, not quite a 5.

sugar and chili

When I poured this, there was a faint smell of apple that I liked very much. Of course these vodka smells can be simple phantoms or olfactory associations that our brains make for us, but still they can be pretty awesome.

The taste was a surprise as well. The 40% vodka was very hot and very sweet at the same time. Yes, hot and sweet. Sort of like I would imagine mixing sugar and chili. I liked it a lot: 8/10.

The aftertaste was great, too. It was hot, and it weighed down in the mouth and the throat, but there was something like a caramel aroma to it. A 7/10.

Overall, Korona vodka is one of the better vodkas that comes in an ugly-ass bottle. A 7.25.

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This one is also from my final vodka night in Azerbaijan. It was called Eskadra vodka, and the owner of the shop where I bought it told me it was supposed to be one of the better ones.

Can Eskadra vodka convince simply because of its bottle design?

This one was a bit less expensive than Belly Parus. It cost 9 manat for 0,7L, which meant that it was about 4,7€/700ml. This meant of course that it was well within the margins of a 10/10 scoring when it came to the price. Caucasian magic.

The design was great. I mean, it wasn’t the best I’d ever seen (that honor belonged to the likes of Kalinovaya and Elixir. But it was straight-forward, simple, and tasteful. Also, it said KEEPING INGREDIENT NATURAL on the label. The only downside was the cork cap, but still I’d give it a 8/10 for the overall design.

sweetness here and there

Again, this one had a superb pouring sound (owing to the bottle neck design). There was a faint smell of sugar, which seemed promising, but the taste was hot, and I mean hot! This 40% vodka went down like fire, and there was a strange bitterness to it that was very strong at first and then faded away. I’d give this a 5/10.

The aftertaste was better. It was still hot, but not as hot as the taste had been. There was something heavy to it, and a weird note of fig (which might have been the aroma that the smell had been alluding to). A 7/10.

Overall, Eskadra vodka is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s certainly not as great as you would think from the look of the bottle, which is a bit of a bummer. A 7.5.

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On October 8th 2018, I left Azerbaijan. Or rather, I was getting ready to leave. This was when I realized that I wanted to try more vodka brands from this country. So I went to a store and bought a few bottles. They were cheap so it didn’t really matter. This one was called Belly Parus vodka, and I poured some of it into my belly.

Why does Belly Parus fail on so many levels?

When I asked the vendor where this vodka was from, he told me that it was from Akhsu, just like all the other vodka brands from Azerbaijan. I never went to Akshu, but I almost did, back when I decided to take the northern route along the mountains near Shamakhi.

Weird to think that this one was almost twice as expensive as Napoléon, Samovar, and Stolichniy, which I had bought a while earlier in Sheki. Belly Parus cost 8 manat for 500ml, which means it’s about 6€/700ml. Still it’s a 10/10.

The label design looked like someone who was new to Photoshop had made it and printed it out on a late-90s inkjet printer. I didn’t like it. I liked the general shape of the bottle, but it had a cork cap, so there was that. A 4/10 leaning towards a 3.

Fire in the bottleneck

The pouring sound was awesome (which is no surprise given the shape of the bottleneck). There was almost no smell, which seemed like a good thing. The taste of this 40% vodka was weird, though. It was very very fiery, and there was a note of bitterness to it. I didn’t like it. 4/10.

The aftertaste was spicy as well, but there was a faint aroma that kind of made up for it a little bit. I’ll give it a 6/10.

Overall, Belly Parus vodka just isn’t that good, and it’s certainly not as good as some of the other vodka brands that I have tried, and which were also supposedly from Akhsu in Azerbaijan. A 6.0.

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This one is the fourth and final contender of the 2018 Sheki vodka experiment. It was called Stolichniy vodka, and if that name reminds you of the formidable Stolichnaya, then you’re probably already a bit worried that this one might turn out to be a disappointment.

Should Stolichniy vodka get a new name and a designer?

This one cost 5 manat for 500ml, so again it was a 4€/700ml deal, which was a solid 10/10. It is affordable to get wasted in the Caucasian Mountains.

The bottle design looked old in a bad way. And I don’t mean old-old, but rather old in the sense that the designers had wanted it too seem old maybe a decade or two ago. It looked clumsy. Also, it was another bottle with a cork cap. The whole thing had an air of something that you would drink in order to get drunk. A 4/10.

the softness

There was a strong smell when I opened the bottle, something like industrial alcohol that was rather off putting. I hesitated to take a sip, but when I did, the taste was cold and soft, and the vodka went down easily. It was much better than I had expected. A 7/10.

The aftertaste on the other hand was weak and boring. There wasn’t any significant warming sensation, and just a faint aroma of metal. I’ll give this one a 5/10.

Overall, Stolichniy vodka was better than the bottle design suggested and worse than the name promised. A 6.5 that fails to reflect the softness of its taste.

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Number three of the 2018 Sheki vodka experiment, this one was called Sostav vodka, and I didn’t expect anything from it.

Do people drink Sostav vodka at four twenty?

Initially, there were two things that seemed to be particular about this one. Firstly, it cost a tad more than Napoléon or Samovar, as it wasn’t 5 but 6 (!) manat for 500ml. That put it in the 4,5€/700ml range, which was still a 10/10, though.

Secondly, the bottle looked weird. I mean, it looked like a bong. Or maybe not exactly like a bong, but sort of like one. Anyway, I figured that this was probably not intended (though many young people in Baku smoked weed), but that the whole thing had simply been an attempt to create a bottle that looked original. Which it kinda did. I’ll give it a 7/10.

bad butter aroma

Again I have assigned a design score before opening the bottle, only to then realize that there was a safety seal on the cap, and that it had a little inbuilt pourer that was slightly too large. I don’t think this would have changed the score, though.

The vodka itself didn’t seem to have much of a smell. This made me optimistic at first, but then tt tasted cold, but it burned on the way down. That was all. There didn’t seem to be anything special to it. A 6/10.

The aftertaste wasn’t that good, either. There was a taste that took me a while to identify. It was that of rancid butter. Very faint, but still there. A 5/10.

Overall, Sostav vodka had an interesting bottle design, and that was all. A 7.0 that is mainly due to its cheap price.

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Voici, the second instalment of my 2018 Sheki vodka experiment. This one was called Samovar vodka, a name that made me happy because I love samovars, I really do.

Can Samovar vodka live up to its name?

First things first, this one also cost 5 manat for 0,5L (4€/700ml = 10/10). I wasn’t surprised anymore.

But when I examined the bottle, I felt worried. I liked the bottle design: the ornaments on the glass itself, the simple label design, the seal at the cap, the little piece of twine around the top of the bottle. It was a nice-looking bottle (8/10) with an awesome name. I didn’t want it to suck.

cold cookies

Upon opening the bottle I realized that it, too, had a cork cap. I thought about going back and subtracting one point from the design score (I had cork caps on vodka bottles), but then I forgot about it.

There was a faint smell, something subtle that seemed to announce that the distillation process had been rather clean and professional.

The taste was very cold at first, and it had something flowery and sweet to it. It burned a little on the way down, though not much. (8/10).

The aftertaste was strange. It was also cold, not warm, but somehow there seemed to be a note of cookies in it. I tried this several times just to be sure. There was a faint taste of cookies (7/10).

Overall, Samovar vodka was good. It didn’t blow me away, but it didn’t disappoint me, either: A solid 8.25.

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This one was part of my vodka experiment when I was in the old town of Sheki in Azerbaijan in the summer of 2018. I went to a little shop, bought a few bottles, also bought some food to go along with them, and then I had a good time. This particular brand was called Napoléon vodka, which sounded like it was going to be either very good or very bad.

Where is Napoleon vodka really from?

One initial problem I had with this vodka was that it had a French name while saying GENUINE RUSSIAN VODKA on the label and also claiming to be FROM AZERBAIJAN. I figured this could only mean that it had been produced in Azerbaijan according to Russian production standards, and that the name was kind of random.

the fire when it goes down

The price I paid was 5 manat for 0,5L, which put it somewhere at the unbelievable 4€/700ml mark. Apparently Caucasian vodka prices were down there with Central Asian ones. A 10/10.

The bottle design didn’t do anything for me. It looked cheap. The usage of Napoléon’s name and image seemed random. Also, it was hard to open the bottle, and it had a cork-like cap that was difficult to reseal. The pouring sound was good, though, so I’m going to give it a 4/10.

I’m still not sure about the taste. The smell had something slightly sweet to it (promising good things) but the vodka burned the mouth, and it burned the throat. I’ll give it a 5/10.

The aftertaste was better, though. It was almost flowery. A 7 leaning towards an 8.

Overall, Napoléon vodka should thoroughly redo the whole bottle design and work on the fieriness of the initial taste. It could be an solid vodka. This way it’s a meh 6.5.

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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.

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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).

metallic chocolate

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.

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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.

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