THOMAS KUUTTANEN REVISITS HISTORY WITH PURITY VODKA
With all the designer bottles, celebrity endorsements and increasingly exotic flavors in the vodka category, how does a new brand stand out in the crowd? Purity Vodka’s approach is surprisingly simple: Craft the best possible spirit, and let the toughest critics have a taste.
Thomas Kuuttanen, Purity’s founder and Master Blender, spent 20 years developing dark spirits such as cognac, calvados and single malts, but was eventually enticed by vodka’s history to create one of his own.
“For more than 800 years, vodka was a part of our daily lives in Sweden, but the development of the column still changed everything,” Kuuttanen says. “Prior to that, vodka was distilled like whisky—and it tasted very different from today’s vodka. I wanted to regain that character, to explore that heritage and create something different from the modern, industrial vodka that lacks complexity and body.”
So he set about creating (or rather, recreating) a traditional Swedish vodka, along the way commissioning a custom-built still, blending the spirit and even tweaking the water that goes into the final product. Kuuttanen says he wanted to combine the clean qualities of vodka with the attributes of aged spirit, including texture and body. It took a decade to do it, but with a lot of hard work, ceaseless experimentation and hands-on expertise, Purity was born.
created by Marshall Altier and Jason Littrell of Genuine Leather Hospitality for Jbird Lounge, NYC
◗ 2½ oz. Purity Vodka
◗ ½ oz. dry vermouth
◗ Mist of celery bitters
◗ Garnish with dry vermouth-cured cocktail onion.
Purity Hits the Streets
Kuuttanen says his goal with Purity was to create a vodka he’d want to drink himself. He describes Purity’s finished flavor profile as “complex, full-bodied and loaded with minerals that are complemented with hints of white chocolate, nougat, malt, rosebuds, licorice and lime.”
The finished product also pleases the experts: Purity has had a consistent run of wins in awards over the years. In 2011 alone, Purity took home several first place wins in tasting competitions, including seven out of seven awards at the Vodka Masters and Travel Retail Masters competition in Cannes (and the only perfect 100 point score by any spirit in the history of the competition), and a Gold Medal at the MicroLiquor awards.
But some of the toughest judges to impress are the bartenders who will decide whether to carry Purity and introduce it to their customers. Kuuttanen, along with Purity Vodka Brand Ambassador John Pomeroy, is confident he can win them over once he gets them to learn about and try the product. As some of the best and most effective educators in the spirits industry, bartenders are key to the success of introducing Purity to the right consumers, who will appreciate the changes Kuuttanen has brought to ultra-premium vodka. “During the economic downturn, consumers have become more aware than before, thinking through their choices before buying,” he notes. “And they want value for their money. They will see through the bluff of ‘luxury’ brands and look for artisanal vodka brands with character that actually bring added value to cocktails.”
created by Rich Rich Stradtman at Baraonda in Atlanta, GA
◗ ¾ oz. Purity Vodka
◗ ¾ oz. Mirto Myrtle Berry Liqueur
◗ ¾ oz. lychee juice
◗ ½ oz. sage simple syrup
◗ Shake and strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a sage leaf.
The Purity Process
The Purity Vodka distillery is located in a tiny stable house built in 1732, just across the moat from Ellinge Castle in southern Sweden. The castle has always had a distillery on the property to make use of the grains from the surrounding farmlands, but the gleaming, custom-built, computer-monitored, gold and copper still that produces Purity is something new entirely.
Into that still goes a mash blend of winter wheat and barley that has been fermented at a nearby organic-certified brewery. The liquid then passes through the pot still and its two attached towers twice, and the resultant heart of the liquid—a mere ten percent of the starting volume—is ready to be blended. Unlike most vodkas, there is no need to filter this spirit, as it comes off the still exactly as intended.
Purity’s custom-designed still consists of a pot with a mushroom-shaped top and two towers each of which holds eight plates. Each plate acts as an additional distillation. Spirit runs through the pot and the 16 plates twice, resulting in 34 distillations.
This spirit heart of Purity gives the finished vodka its unique character, and is amazingly flavorful on its own despite being 96 percent pure alcohol. To prepare the vodka for bottling, the heart is blended with neutral, organic column-distilled wheat spirit, along with water.
This water, too, is a special blend, comprised of mineral-rich natural water from a protected source that is mixed with some de-ionized water to prevent it from clouding in the bottle. This water helps lends Purity its strong mineral character.
The Best Vodka for the Drink
New York speakeasy-style bar Jbird Lounge carries a single vodka. Bartender Jason Littrell, along with his partner in Genuine Leather Hospitality, Marshall Altier, chose Purity for that vodka based on the drink they wanted to put on the menu: a vodka-heavy variation of the Gibson.
“Because of the nature of the cocktail that it’s in, we had to use something that’s a great representation of the category. Purity Vodka is exceptionally clean,” says Littrell. “We tried it with a couple of different brands, but Purity was the best. We felt that this was a great representation of the vodka—and the vermouth and the bitters,” he says.
Jason Littrell makes his ICBM, a modern
take on the Gibson, at Jbird Lounge.
Michael Neff pours his Grace Kelly cocktail at Ward III in Tribeca, NY.
Passing the Test Michael Neff of Ward III in Tribeca first tried Purity on the recommendation of brand mixologist John Pomeroy. “It’s never hard to convince me to try anything, but it’s really hard to convince me to buy another vodka,” says Neff. “But I assumed it had to be something worth looking at.”
His conclusion: “I think that it is great.” So buy it he did, and Purity is now offered as an option on the bar’s Bespoke Cocktail program, in which patrons chose spirits, flavors and textures, and bartenders create cocktails to order.
Neff’s tasting notes on the vodka were confirmed as part of a recent blind 40-vodka tasting among bartenders. Purity was among the top-rated brands from the group. Neff says, “On its own, it’s very hard to judge it as anything but a quality distillate; but when you do a side-by-side tasting, the weaknesses of weak vodkas stand out and the strengths of well-made vodkas really stand out.”
Rich Rich Stradtman of Baraonda won second place in Purity’s Facebook-driven Red Carpet Cocktail Challenge with his cocktail, Pure Bliss.
Rich Stradtman of Baraonda in Atlanta takes the opposite approach, building cocktails around the brand’s character rather than choosing the brand to fit the drink.
“People are striving to take all of the flavor out of vodka, but Purity still maintains some of its natural essence. And any time you have flavor undertones that you can work with and build from, then potentially those flavors make for a better cocktail,” he says.
Purity Vodka is currently featured in two drinks on Baraonda’s cocktail menu, but Stradtman also recommends it to adventurous customers. He says, “The majority of vodka drinkers know what they want to drink already, but for the ones open to something new, I’ll introduce it to them. It’s something they can taste on its own, not just a vodka that makes you say, ‘Oh it’s good because I can’t taste anything.’”
◗ 1½ oz. Purity Vodka
◗ ½ oz. Nikolaihof Elderflower Liqueur
◗ ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
◗ 2/3 oz. cardamom simple syrup
◗ 1/3 oz. rosemary-infused water
◗ Shake and strain into a chilled coupe; garnish with fresh rosemary sprig.
Jonathan Baird of Hatfield’s in Los Angeles.
“When I first heard about the 34 distillations, I thought it was just more marketing; but when I tasted it, I said, ‘Oh, I get it!’ It’s something that actually benefits from the process that it goes through,” says Jonathan Baird, Beverage Director and Sommelier at Hatfield’s restaurant in Los Angeles.
“I find that it’s a very assertive vodka, but it’s very polished. It has this nice presence and it doesn’t get washed over by the other ingredients you put in with it,” he says. “One of my bartenders put it in a drink that’s like a fizz with egg whites, and you can still taste it. I’ve even had a Gin Fizz where the gin gets lost, but Purity holds its own and maintains its grip.”
Baird continues, “We’ve incorporated it into a lot of our cocktails. It’s great by itself, it’s great with minimal manipulation and it maintains its presence no matter how much stuff you throw at it.”
Three Secrets of Purity
While Kuuttanen is forthcoming about most of the process to make Purity,
he does keep a few secrets:
◗ The ratio of winter wheat to barley in the heart distillate.
◗ The ratio of house-distilled heart spirit to neutral column-distilled spirit.
◗ The ratio of natural mineral water to de-ionized water.