The wodka of life

Another premium vodka is vying for your attention on the gantries and shelves of the nation’s bars and off- licences. Jonathan Trew pricks up his tastebuds


Vodka will forever be associated with Russia and all the attendant stereotypical images of big hairy- backcd blokes in furry hats throwing back glasses of frrewater in the middle of Arctic whitcout conditions. An entertaining image but one that the Polish would have yotr believe has no grounding in fact. For the Poles are claiming vodka as their own invention.

The story rtrns something along the lines of this: the Latin for vodka is aqua vitae. meaning ‘water of life'. from which the Poles formed the corruption okon'ila. The Polish for vodka is lt'()(//\'(l. a word which is also a Polish diminutive of water. Much confusion and etymological dubiety ensues and the end result. the Poles would suggest. is that vodka is in fact Polish in origin. Using this logic. the Poles could also claim the invention of whisky from the (.iaelic uisge /)/I(’(ll/I(I also meaning ‘water of life‘. A less partisan explanation is that the term ‘water' of life' in any language was used to describe any distilled spirit.

But let's not split hair's. By the 14th century. the term wodka was in widespread usage in Poland for the clear spirit distilled from rye grain. Come the second half of the l6th century the drink had become so ubiquitous that the Polish authorities cottoned on to the. money-making potential of vodka and had begtrrr to levy taxes on vodka producing equipment. distillation and sales; a regrettable. if necessary. evil that continues to the present day.

Skipping nonchalantly over four hundred years of history and the modern day leading brands of Polish vodka are Wodka \N'yborowa. Wodka Krolewska and Zubrowka Bison Grass Wodka. all of which are becoming more widely available in this country. A couple of decades back. Wyborowa. which translates as ‘excellent’. language fans. was a relatively common sight on the nation‘s shelves and it was served on Concorde's earlier flights. a recognition of its line qualities.

At a recent tasting of Wyborowa. a

Polish diplomat defined good vodka as having an almost imperceptible smell and taste with no harsh burning sensations and a negligible hangover the next morning. Wyborowa fits the bill admirably. It‘s certainly smooth with just a hint of sweetness which comes from the rye grain it is distilled from rather than any added sugar. lt‘s lack of a strong flavour makes it ideal as the base for cocktails but it isjtrst as easily drunk neat when chilled until it becomes slightly syrupy.

lf Wyborowa’s delicate flavour makes it a prince among vodkas then Krolewska pulls rank as the king and has the fine adornruents to prove it. This spirit is served in elegantly shaped. frosted bottles with a stained glass effect which depicts scenes from Polish history. Between retailing at about L‘ l 8 a bottle and its beautifully clean taste it would be almost sacrilegious to desecrate the drink by adding any mixers to it. Just as

exquisite malt whiskys are best enjoyed straight or with a little water. Krolewska should be savoured on its own.

The third brand in the stable is a little ruore exotic with a very slight yellowy green tinge to it which is matched by its aronratie flavour. The flavour and colour come from the addition of a blade of dried bison grass to each bottle. The overall effect is intriguingly different but don‘t take my word for it. Here‘s what Somerset Maugham had to say about Zubrowka:

‘It smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers. of thyme and lavender. and it is so soft on the palate and so comfortable. it is like listening to music by moonlight.‘

lt‘s not often that a product gets such a glowing endorsement from a literary writer so you‘d better believe it.

Polish vodka is available in the Apartment. Papingo. VI’UIIf is and Peck/tam & Rye. Glasgow; and in Ryan '3 Bar. Fat Sam '3 Pizza Pie Factory. the Balmoral Hotel. Bar Kohl. Bottle Stop, George Intercontiirerrtal. the Persevere Bar. Café Kudos and Victor Hugo is. Edinburgh.


TITBITS I The Caledonian Brewing Company have been putting on their thinking caps recently and the end result of their labours is Patrick‘s Stout. a dark. ruddy amber beer with an A.B.V. of4.2 per cent. launched a few days before St Patrick‘s Day. Brewed with malted rye crystal. this cask conditioned beer has a rich. creamy head. a full. mellow flavour and a slightly dry finish.

The brew is something of a family affair since it was created by Dougal Sharp. sort of the Caley's managing director. Russell Sharp. It will be on sale in selected bars in Glasgow and Edinburgh throughout March and possibly beyond if demand proves adequate. Best of all. head along to the Caledorrian Sample Room on Angle Park Terrace in Edinburgh where you can treat your tastebuds to the entire range of Caley brews.


I Suruchi l4a Nicolson Street. 556 6583. There is a tendency for Indian restaurants to offer dishes which aren‘t so much Indian as a colonial

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version of the subcontinent's cuisine. The essentials of each dish will be there but the end result is likely to have been modified to suit what is perceived as the market palate.

The Suruclri hopes to gt) some way towards correcting this by concentrating on the food of one region of India at a time and representing an authentic taste of that area. Until April 6. the restaurant is running a Bollywood festival to introduce diners to the delights of Bombay's culinary traditions. Just as the Bombay film industry can claim to be a showcase for popular lrrdian culture (the city produces more films per year than Hollywood dreams are shattered). Bombay is also a melting

pot of regional culinary influences.

The C how'patty area of the city is famous for its street vendors and the huge variety of snacks and simple meals which they sell from their stalls. The Suruchi offers a menu which explores the diversity of the Botnbay street sellers' wares. Chaap curry. consisting of lamb chops cooked with tropical vegetables. competes with dishes such as the fragrant Goan rnurgh shakuti for your tastebuds' attention.

Having tasted Bombay. diners can experience the sights and sounds of the city. and a major part of many of Bollywood's movies. as there will be performances of traditional dances during the festival. (Jonathan Trew)



7 Old fishmarket Close Edinburgh

lunch and dinner Monday to Thursday all day

Friday and Saturday - Sundays dinner only

telephone 0131 225 5428


B :ifilu tons Chip


This superb Scottish restaurant has been the recipient of many awards for excellence since being established in 1971. The newest award is a Michelin Red M, an award never before bestowed on a Glasgow restaurant.


Tel 0141-334 5007

The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996 99