Traditional vodka with a twist

An espresso martini made with Kavka. Image: supplied.

Kavka Vodka is a new Polish label that has found its way to top shelves in Australian liquor stores. The Sentinel spoke with its creator about purity of spirit in the vodka business. 

Jan Woroniecki has vodka in his blood. The renowned restauranteur has spent 30 years presenting haute Eastern European cuisine in high end establishments in London, tasting a wide and varied range of vodkas along the way. With his palate unsatisfied, Woroniecki invoked his Polish ancestry in search of the perfect recipe to distil his own.

“Polish vodka has obviously a very long heritage of production,” says Woroniecki, speaking from his home in the UK. “What differentiates Polish vodka especially is its long heritage, and so, production techniques, production methods and quality have always been high and have risen. But also the Polish governments have instituted a very strict set of rules that you have to adhere to if you want to call yourself Polish vodka.

“In Poland, you can only use grain or potato spirits to make your spirit. There’s no additives whatsoever, no sugar, no glycerine – none of the tricks that other producers make. So the purity is guaranteed.”  

There is a long standing argument among certain European countries about who actually invented vodka, with the strongest contention being between Poland and Russia. In the interest of avoiding a diplomatic incident, let’s just say that a refined white spirit was spontaneously and simultaneously created by several Northern and Eastern European countries around the Middle Ages. 

Kavka Martini with a twist. Image: supplied.

While this spirit came to universally be called ‘vodka’, production methods, ingredients – and ultimately quality and taste – varied slightly among regions. 

The onset of communism in Russia saw generic production of a nondescript white spirit and up until this year, the legal definition of vodka in the United States described a flavourless, colourless, odourless, characterless spirit. 

This led to a long-standing myth that all vodka is the same. But Woroniecki discovered otherwise.

“After doing some research I realised that in the 19th century many producers in Poland would actually make vodkas with a real point of difference to accentuate the flavour so that people would, you know, be loyal to a brand,” he says.

Woroniecki engaged the skills of master distiller, Urszula Wojcik, set up a small distillery in the west of Poland and adapted 19th century methodology which used a rye and wheat spirit base, balanced with very small quantities of pot-stilled fruit spirit. 

“These fruit spirits make up one per cent in volume but they give an enormous depth and smoothness and complexity to the vodka that you don’t normally find,” he explains. 

Kavka Vodka made its debut in 2019 to resounding reviews. The name ‘kavka’ literally means ‘jackdaw’, hence the image of the bird on the label. Kavka Vodka has already made inroads in UK and the European market, and the first batch arrived in Australia in July this year. Woroniecki says he wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the order and is pleased with the way it’s been received so far. 

So what actually distinguishes a good vodka from rubbing alcohol? 

“If you’re drinking it warm you shouldn’t get that alcohol burn, it shouldn’t smell of petrol, it shouldn’t sear the throat. It should actually slip down quite well,” says Woroniecki. “A good vodka is actually a very smooth product. The great thing about vodka is its versatility and its adaptability. So Kavka – you drink warm, you drink as a shot out of the deep freeze, you drink with a mixer.”

There is some dispute among experts over whether to keep vodka in the freezer; Woroniecki definitely errs on the side of frigid vodka. His favourite cocktail is the basic, simple, classic Martini with a twist.

“Frozen glass, slash of vermouth, top up with very very cold vodka, twist of lemon squeezed over the top,” Woroniecki says Kavka works particularly well in a martini. 

“Because the flavour profile changes as the spirit warms. To begin with you have the more crisp apple notes and then towards the end the sweeter plum comes through.” 

Kavka and soda. Image: supplied.

With responsible consumption, Woroniecki believes vodka is the ultimate elixir. 

“I mean vodka as a shot with some snacks is fantastic, it just gives you a hit. This is the great thing about vodka, as opposed to other drinks, it is an uplifting drink … you know, you take a shot of vodka, you feel better. It gives you a lift. It’s clean, it’s embracing, it’s a party drink. It doesn’t have the impurities of other spirits, you know, you’re not going to feel you’re head’s going to fall off the next day like if you drink tequila or rum.”

Kavka Vodka is available to purchase at Dan Murphy’s and BWS nationally. For more information, visit www.kavkavodka.com.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.