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Chopin Vodka Distillery in Krzesk, Poland
It is well known that fine spirits and wine are regional in nature, reflecting indigenous fruits and plants, and crafted using time-honored and region-specific techniques. This is certainly the case with Polish vodkas.
From the village of Krzesk in Siedlice County in central Poland's Mazovia region, comes one of the most iconic of Polish vodkas -- Chopin Potato Vodka. The Chopin Vodka distillery, which dates to 1896 and has been producing vodkas since then, is owned by Tad J. Dorda, who has converted a restored 1766 country house into a hospitality center for visitors who can watch the distilling process from a series of catwalks constructed on the exterior of the distillery.
I had the pleasure of touring the Chopin Vodka distillery with Poland Culinary Vacations and saw for myself how Chopin Vodka is crafted by a small team on 17 acres dotted with ponds, roses, herbs, a 19th-century windmill, and a helicopter pad used by Dorda to travel more easily between Warsaw (52 miles away) and the Krzesk distillery.Continue to 2 of 13 below.
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How Chopin Vodka Got Its StartFounded by Tad Dorda in 1992, Chopin Vodka was first introduced in Poland in 1993 with Chopin Potato Vodka introduced to the U.S. market in 1997. This lead to a worldwide appreciation of high-end vodkas that had previously only been available in small batches.
Named for Poland's favorite son, composer Frederic Chopin, the potato vodka is crafted from Stobrawa potatoes that are cultivated and harvested by hand using only natural farming practices. Chopin Potato Vodka is distilled four times to yield a 80-proof potato vodka with a taste profile characterized by a hint of apple in the nose, a round, full character and a bold-yet-smooth, clean, classic finish.
Chopin is one of only a few vodka producers to distill its own spirits. Most vodka is acquired from a trading market, with no information on its lineage or ingredients, and then bottled. This is not the case with Chopin Vodka. There are three ingredients in Chopin vodkas -- either naturally grown Stobrawa potatoes or rye or wheat, yeast and purified artesian well water. Only select local farmers who grow their crops naturally are used. The rest of the good news is that Chopin Vodka practices sustainable farming by using the whole potato, peel and all, and returning discarded potato mash to the fields to be used as fertilizer and to the animals as feed.Continue to 3 of 13 below.
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Stobrawa Potatoes Are Used to Make Chopin Potato VodkaStobrawa potatoes, which contain 22% starch compared to regular edible potatoes which contain 12%, are used to make Chopin Potato Vodka. They are grown by local farmers who use natural and organic farming practices on small farms of 250 acres or less. Every 750ml bottle of Chopin Potato Vodka is made with 7 pounds (about 40) Stobrawa potatoes. The potatoes are processed the day they arrive at the distillery.Continue to 4 of 13 below.
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Chopin Vodka Takes Great Pride in the Potatoes Used in Its VodkaLate-harvest potatoes, valued for their high starch content, are used exclusively to craft Chopin's Potato Vodka throughout the fall season. The distillery converts to rye vodka production for the remainder of the year.
While the vodka is distilled at the Krzesk distillery, it is bottled in the nearby town of Siedlce. The previously state-owned plant, although run by Dorda since 1992, wasn't acquired by him and his family until 2003. At the Siedlce plant, 8,000 bottles of Chopin Vodka are produced daily under the watchful eye of master distiller Waldemar Durakiewicz, who pioneered the luxury vodka category in 1993 and gave the Chopin name to the vodka and whose signature is on every bottle.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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Chopin Vodka Uses Time-Honored Techniques to Make Its VodkasWhat visitors to the Krzesk distillery will see is a simple process that has changed little over the centuries, since Poland first adopted vodka as its national spirit. Chopin is one of only a few vodka producers to distill its own spirits, relying on the highest-quality potato, rye or wheat, naturally grown by select local farmers, and using a traditional, copper column still. Chopin Vodka is distilled four times with purified artesian well water. Unlike other vodkas, Chopin contains no additives. Its superiority lies in the quality of its ingredients and the care with which these ingredients are shepherded from farm to bottle.Continue to 6 of 13 below.
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Only Three Ingredients Are Used to Make Chopin VodkasThere are only three ingredients in Chopin vodkas -- naturally grown Stobrawa potatoes or naturally grown rye or naturally grown wheat, yeast and purified artesian well water.Continue to 7 of 13 below.
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Potatoes Are Fermented to Make Chopin Potato VodkaPotatoes are processed into a mash which is heated to break down the starches into sugars.Continue to 8 of 13 below.
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Chopin Vodka Uses a Copper Distilling Column to Make Its Potato VodkaThe Chopin distillery relies on a traditional copper distilling column and a simple, centuries-old process. Chopin distills its vodka four times to produce an authentic spirit of superior quality and taste.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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Spyritus or Rectified Spirit Is the Result of Fermentation in Vodka ProductionThe sugars are distilled in the column still by separating the alcohol from the water content of the fermented liquid, producing a high-alcohol neutral spyritus or eau de vie or rectified spirit. Chopin's vodkas go through three more distillations to produce an 80-proof potato vodka.Continue to 10 of 13 below.
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Vodka Tasting at Chopin Vodka Distillery in Krzesk, Poland
Chopin Potato Vodka is made from Stobrawa Polish potatoes, and distilled four times at the Krzesk distillery, which I visited on my Poland Culinary Vacations tour of the Mazovia region. The centuries-old process produces a vodka that has a hint of apple in the nose and a full, round, smooth character with a clean finish. Chopin is made in small batches and it's evident in every sip. This is one vodka you don't want to knock back. It needs to be savored. It even has legs like fine wine!
Of the five vodkas I tasted -- potato (generic potato vodka and Chopin Potato Vodka), oat, barley and rye -- potato vodka was my favorite. It had a kind of viscous, creamy character with a very innocuous finish on my palate. Some say potato vodkas have an oily, overly sweet-yet-harsh profile and that wheat and rye vodkas are lighter, smoother, and cleaner. I found the exact opposite to be true, at least with Chopin brand potato vodka. But, just as symbolism is in the mind of the beholder, taste is in the palate of the savorer!Continue to 11 of 13 below.
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Chopin Potato Vodka Has Won Many AwardsChopin Potato Vodka has been submitted to a number of international spirit ratings for evaluation, including the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Wine Enthusiast, and the Beverage Testing Institute. Outcomes have generally been favorable, particularly in recent years. For instance, between 2006 and 2011, Chopin Potato Vodka earned one double gold, three gold, and two silver medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Chopin Vodkas rank in the top 90th percentile among all rated vodkas.Continue to 12 of 13 below.
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Tad Dorda Continues to Develop the Chopin Vodka BrandChopin Vodka is available in potato, rye and flavored varieties and Tad Dorda continues to push for the highest standards in vodka production in Poland.
"While its composition is simple, vodka is far more nuanced than many people realize," says Dorda, who talks about vodka as a winemaker does about wine.
"The choice of base ingredient, whether potato or rye or another grain, the age and quality of that ingredient, and the region in which it is grown, all of these factors produce differences in taste and quality of the final product."Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Chopin Rye VodkaIn 1997, the introduction of Chopin Potato Vodka to the U.S. market changed the way the world thinks about, and drinks, vodka. In March 2011, the distinctive black-labeled potato spirit was joined by red-labeled Chopin Rye Vodka.
Chopin Vodka, the pioneer in luxury vodkas, is one of only a few vodka producers to distill and bottle its own spirits. As with organically grown local Stobrowa potatoes used to make Chopin Potato Vodka, Chopin Rye Vodka is produced from golden rye naturally grown by organic farmers in the Podlasie countryside of eastern Poland. Chopin Rye Vodka has a silky, rich, balanced finish with a hint of spice. As with its potato cousin, Chopin Rye Vodka is excellent served neat or in cocktails.