Friday 10 July 2015

Kalak Vodka

Vodka Martini
One part vermouth
Seven parts Kalak vodka
A strip of lemon peel
A stick of cinnamon
A week ago I had yet to taste my first martini. Now I'm ready to elbow James Bond aside at the bar to demand it be made just so.

Until recently I had the usual whiskey drinker's prejudice about vodka: that all the flavour had been intentionally distilled out of it. But the recipe above goes light on the vermouth, leaving Kalak to carry the martini. Which it does, easily. Kalak is a vodka with substance.

The big vodka brands (Grey Goose and Absolut, for example) are typically made from wheat. A couple of weeks ago I was standing in fields of winter wheat just north of Dublin wondering why an Irish vodka would use anything else.

According to Kalak's founder, Patrick Shelley, it's all about the character of the finished product. Malted barley delivers that in spades, wheat doesn't. Kalak is made solely from malted barley and water, and is distilled in pot stills. The same jumping off point as single malt whiskey, as it happens.

The kinship with whiskey is apparent on the nose and on the tongue. If you have tried new make whiskey, straight from the still, you will recognise Kalak.

It does not have the rawness of new make whiskey, however, having been distilled to a purity of 96%. It takes three passes through a pot still to reach that point. A further distillation reduces congeners and improves the flavour. Finally, it is filtered through charcoal and cut with spring water to a bottling strength of 40%.

The process is simple to describe but it has taken Patrick 2½ years to get to the point of launching Kalak. Two years alone was spent perfecting the spirit.

The resulting mouthfeel is remarkable. So soft it's ethereal. Pure flavour wafting over the tastebuds.

Official tasting notes:
Freshly baked brioche, vanilla and fresh fruit. 
A deliciously elegant texture with hints of dark chocolate, cream and candied fruit. 
A soft and glowing lingering complexity.

Kalak is 100% Irish in every respect. It's an Irish brand, made by the fully Irish-owned West Cork Distillers, from 100% Irish malted barley. The name, too, is Irish in disguise, derived from a mythological figure, An Cailleach, whose legendary qualities and accoutrements suffuse the branding.

It goes for about €44 and is so far available in James Fox and the Celtic Whiskey Shop (Dublin city centre), Redmonds (Ranelagh), Jus de Vine (Portmarnock) and Eldon's (Clonmel).

By the glass

It's also pouring in at least one of Dublin's top cocktail bars, Upstairs @ Kinara Kitchen. That's where I encountered the Kalak martini, devised by Kinara's Paul Lambert.

Paul is some kind of hypnotist, apparently, because he turned me into a cocktail drinker. After kicking off the evening with the martini, I had two more insanely tasty concoctions that did not frighten the palate of this die-hard whiskey drinker. I'd gladly have any one of them again, something I have never before said of a cocktail.

I always wondered what 007 was thinking, alternating whiskey and martinis. But he knew what he was doing. Now, where can a guy find a game of Chemin de Fer in this town?