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The Chloé Grandpierre Column no8

Polugar


That is what I like in the wine and spirits ... There is always a discovery to be made! Of new smells, new tastes but also of new stories and sometimes the renaissance of a disappeared product.


This is the case with Polugar. As the sound of the name may suggest this spirit comes from Russia. But I can hear you immediately say that Russia’s national drink is vodka! You are right but Polugar was the country’s ‘vodka’ at the time of Ivan the Terrible or Dostoyevsky!! The method of production is different, the taste also.

Presented for the first time in Europe during a Whisky Exhibition in Paris on the last weekend in September, Polugar is going to be distributed by La Maison du Whisky based in France’s capital city! A little patience is needed though before it is available, in the meantime don your chapkas and look to the Kremlin!

‘Vodka’s father, a brother of whisky’ ... let’s discover what Polugar is through the answers to the following questions ...

What is Polugar?

It's quite simple. Today's Vodka (produced since 1895) is based on rectified pure alcohol which has neither taste nor aroma. The technique of rectification discovered in Russia in 1870 has been recreated in Western Europe by the chemical industry. These vodkas are therefore less aromatic and quite neutral although some can be complex. Polugar is the forefather of Vodka. Before 1895 vodka was a grain alcohol distilled in copper stills just like Single Malt Whisky.

Why did this spirit disappear?
Quite simply it was banned from 1895 onwards with the emergence of a State monopoly in Russia. In fact, the rectified ethyl alcohol principle is continued with the production of vodka using continuous (or column) stills. Today, a Russian law still prohibits the traditional distillation of the grain unless the grain alcohol is ultra-pure (96%). Accordingly, today’s Polugar is produced in Poland.

What does Polugar mean?

In Russian, Polugar literally means ‘half burnt wine of bread’. An intriguing experiment can be conducted as part of the understanding of this literal meaning. Pour a little Polugar in the palm of your hand and rub it vigorously with the other hand until both palms are dry and hot. Then you can smell something that is close to the aroma of freshly-baked bread!



Vodka’s father, a brother of whisky?
Produced using traditional know-how, Polugar spirit is mentioned in classical Russian literature. With an alcohol level of 38.5%, this 'wine of bread' has a predominant aroma of refined and aromatic rye bread. The production process is similar to that of whisky (traditional pot stills, rye or wheat and spring water as well as traditional brewing) but the aging does not happen in barrels. A filtration with egg white is performed which brings softness in the mouth.

The Rodionov family has managed to reintroduce this drink of Kings. Boris Rodionov, the famous Russian vodka historian, rediscovered the recipe in a book of the 18th century. A former distillery has been renovated in order to once again produce Polugar. Located in a dense forest near a palace, the production plant is effectively in the middle of nowhere!

The products

Polugar Single Malt Rye, 38.5%
From a triple distillation of rye or of corn in copper stills manufactured according to 18th century designs, the Polugar then undergoes a filtration with egg whites (a complicated and expensive process which was much appreciated by the rich Russian owners) and a purification using birch charcoal.

The colour is pure, just like that of crystal clear water. The nose is intense and stylish with flavours of brioche and spice. I also note intense honey. The mouth is gentle but powerful with flavours of lime and honey. There is a slight bitterness in the finish, it is lasting and leaves notes of almond and rye bread.

Polugar Classic Rye, 38.5%
This Polugar is the classic one made with crushed malted rye and spring water. It has been distilled three times, always in a copper still. Again it has been filtered with egg white and purified over birch charcoal.

The colour is transparent and the nose seems fresher. Evident are intense flavours of pine, dill, honey and flower. There is a certain softness too.

The palate is delicate rye bread. I remained fixed on the taste of warm thick honey. The whole package is nice with a persistent finish - a a little salty maybe. The very end is dried fruits and nuts (hazelnut or almond).

Polugar Wheat, 38.5%
Produced by a triple distillation of malted wheat grain as well as non-malted in a copper still, this Polugar has also been treated with egg white and birch charcoal.

Although difficult to make a difference between the three Polugars, by contrast the colour of this one is translucent and the nose is smoother due to it being made from wheat.

There are notes of dried herbs, honey and seeds. It is intriguing and complex. The mouth is gentle but quite frank with white bread, fruit and floral notes. It is elegant with a finish slightly bitter on the white bread.

Regarding matching food with Polugar, I can advise you (thanks to the charming Polish gentleman I asked) to try it with soups (pickles, sour cabbage, solyanka, ukha), oily fish, white meats, mashed potato with butter, hummus and black bread. Apparently, in Eastern Europe, Polugar is drunk during the entire meal and sometimes just on its own.

There is also a range of flavoured Polugar: Rye & Wheat, Garlic & Chili, Cumin & Caraway and Honey & Spices. I have not tried these but, in any case (and perhaps not surprisingly) I was not really attracted to the Garlic and Chili one!

Chloé Grandpierre
Professionnel du Vin

Rodionov & Sons Private Distillery    website: www.polugar.com

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