Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 25, 2009: Vodka - good news or bad?

With sales up a third in the five years to 2007, vodka has overtaken Scotch whisky as Britain’s favourite spirit. So, is that good news or bad news? It’s certainly awkward for the government - and not just because Scotch whisky is our own industry. Vodka has become the drink of the young - indeed the far too young - of binge drinking and the ladette culture (if ever there was an oxymoron it’s the coupling of those two words). In fact, it’s everything about alcohol that the government is (ineffectively) trying to deal with. Clearly it can’t look on the vodka boom with equanimity. But then again, how far can it afford not to, with duty and vat revenue from sales of 8 million cases?

It’s not even unequivocally good news for producers. Vodka’s main selling-point is that it’s a neutral alcoholic base – the very reason it suits unsophisticated palates intent on getting slaughtered. Producers who want to distance themselves usually try to add quality/value by harping on about purity and smoothness, but after that the ascent up the price ladder is largely about presentation and packaging; style more than substance.

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka, £15.99
Polish vodka with an aromatic herbal note (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose).

Snow Leopard Vodka, £30
Trendy Polish vodka made from spelt. Expensive, but 15% of profits go to conservation charities (Waitrose).

Wyborowa, £14.99-£15.99
Crisp with a hint of sweetness and spice. Ever reliable Polish rye vodka (Oddbins and supermarkets).