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21/03/2014

Konik’s Tail – Reassuringly Bonkers and Utterly Awesome

by Oliver Boom (Guest Blogger)

Pleurat ShabaniAt BI there are a lot of products that get put across our desks that make you think ‘God, that sounds cool!’ One of the new additions that caused the biggest buzz in the office this month was Pleurat Shabani’s ‘Konik’s Tail’ vodka. Being in Hong Kong at the time, I was gutted to miss the introduction and tasting given by Pleurat at the beginning of the month in our UK office. We heard such resounding praise for both the product and the man that I was determined to meet him in the week I was back in the UK. There are few presentations that my father Gary Boom describes as ‘clinically insane and utterly awesome’ but this fit the bill, and I was elated when he agreed to come in for a second tasting!

Coming from a background of over 18 years in the vodka industry, 8 of which was as a judge in various vodka competitions, he is immensely passionate about the product. Quickly you are able to see he is a charismatic, approachable man who takes pleasure in educating others. The first thing he addressed was his ethos in producing Konik’s Tail, which were an uncompromising, personal pursuit of what he believes the perfect vodka should be. He split the most important factors in determining the character of the vodka into the soil, the climate, the grains and the water. He wants to avoid bottle variation, which he believes can only be guaranteed by his small production of only a few thousand bottles a year.

The Water – The devil very much is in the detail when it comes to Konik’s Tail. Blind tasting different waters might seem like an unusual challenge but as around 60% of a bottle of vodka is water Pleurat insisted that it was an essential stage in developing his vodka. He took samples of the waters from over 50 Polish sources and also bought every different variety of water in a UK supermarket, both to determine their characteristics and also to see what the Western European palate was being exposed to! He eventually settled on a natural Polish spring, but it was only from the top of the spring on a certain bank that water could be drawn, as one side of the spring was chalk bed and the other was rocky (and this affects the flavour and texture of the water at different points in the stream).

The Grains – Pleurat wanted to create a vodka with layers of complexity and the base of the vodka is essential to this. In order to create a multi-dimensional vodka he believes that there has to be more than one base. It was this belief which led him to studying the different grains and bases to see what traits they could give to a blend. Between Pleurat and the farmers, after trying 350 different blends, from potatoes, barley and beyond, he eventually landed at a blend of ancient spelt, an unusual golden rye and an early winter wheat. Each of these gives something unique and hits the palate at different points. Pleurat is very proud of these grains and the first thing he did was to pour a mix of grain into a wine glass to smell their nuances in its rawest form. He talks about the grains with intimate knowledge; casting off barley for being a bore but hailing the nuttiness of spelt etc.

The Soil and Climate - He believes that, for both political and agricultural reasons, Poland is the best country in the world for producing premium vodka. He recognized the skills and knowledge to be gained from the Polish farmers and endeavoured to learn all he can from them. In order to understand how the grains and soil behave he lived in a tent in various fields of different grains changing variety every month. This period of ‘befriending the grains’ took a total of 18 months! This really solidified his belief that the concept of terroir was one that applied to vodka, and it is this which is at the heart of Konik’s Tail. In these fields he was conceptualising his product, ‘what would happen if I harvested the Rye two weeks earlier’ or ‘how would overly ripe spelt affect the texture’. This and his relationship with the farmers allowed him to understand the minutiae of detail and control that can be established before production even begins! Tiny details and the things that are passed over by large production vodkas, such as the nature of yeast used, are Pleurat’s domain.

In an age of big launch parties and veneers of glamour and exclusivity, Pleurat held to the old fashioned view that if you focus completely on making a great product that people will buy it. You won’t see Konik’s Tail billboards, or television advertisements; in fact the Konik’s Tail marketing budget is 0% of the total coffers. Pleurat’s only focus groups were the bartenders, mixologists and customers; when originally tinkering with the recipe he would offer samples to random customers in bars and drinks shops and then take notes on their opinion.

The final result is a dense, rich vodka riddled with subtleties. It has a creamy, viscous texture about which is muddled the butterscotch and vanilla notes. At the back of the palate, given by the rye, is white pepper and spice and the finish is of dry fruits and bitter dark chocolate. There are earthy characteristics married with nutty, smoky tones which complete this sumptuous spirit.

How to serve – To best appreciate the nuances, drink either straight or in a vodka martini. Should always be mixed by stirring and avoid freezing the vodka. Pleurat is happy with a Vesper, but must be reversed to 3 vodka to 1 gin. As for a vodka coke, well, you can find the Smirnoff in aisle 3. 

[Read more about Konik's Tail Vodka now]