Who would knew, that I am reviewing a budget vodka here - on the opinionatedalchemist.com. But this isn't a normal review. I skip the marketing perception and use this product to cut directly to the case:
Vodka is a "rather" neutral, colorless, "rather" flavorless and odorless distilled beverage from any agricultural source - and depending on the country, it has a minimum of 37.5% and 40% abv.
As I said time and time again before: at times it is absolutely nonsense to talk about premium and luxury, when the original product doesn't really "hold this promise". Luxury water can have luxurious marketing, luxurious packaging, can be even rare and slightly more expensive "to produce". However really it is just water. Maybe it has some nuances to normal water - however those nuances (in a blind-test) are pretty small. Vodka is extremely similar - and the chain of evidence (despite a lot of people trying to proof otherwise) makes it really clear - vodka is a neutral spirit - and if you choose a quality product (properly distilled), there are no big differences. Will the different vodkas has different nuances? Yes. Is it a clear quality distinction? No!
One circumstantial evidence are the consistent mediocre and inconclusive results in blind tastings: premium vodkas are usually not doing any better than normal quality vodkas - and even some budget vodkas are doing pretty well.
Enter King Robert II vodka.
First of all I have to admit, that the King Robert II moniker is a bit clunky and just directly convinces you, that this is a budget vodka you might usually find in petrol stations and discounters (e.g. in Europe) as hobo winter warmer. The simple square bottle and the blue label underlines this first impression. Not necessarily the best first impression - it isn't a plastic bottle - and it isn't that bad - but it is far from convincing.
However I guess, this is the last thing, which is questionable. This vodka is made of a reputable Scottish liquor company - Ian MacLeod Distillers, which produces e.g. Tamdhu single malt - but also Grain Whisky and other stuff.
The vodka is also triple distilled (if it makes any sense to say - it is for sure column distilled, hence the numbers of distillation are subjective) and it is charcoal filtered. What I especially like is, that the alcoholic strength of this vodka is 43%. They could easily "saved quite a lot" to offer it at 37.5% or 40% - but they didn't (to be honest - I don't really understand why...).
King Robert Vodka has a real neutral ethanol character. Not a neutral character like some vodkas, which almost taste like water - it obviously taste like a spirit - but not in a bad way. It has also some burn, but not at all an unpleasant one.
I am not drinking or serving any vodka at home - and on work, I am using known quality brands (this is the game). Honestly, those brands are not better than King Robert II vodka - but when people pay some reasonable money for "bar luxury" you simply cannot sell them a product like King Robert II.
However I am using it regularly for infusions - especially my own compound gins. It does wonders in those recipes - the additional alcoholic strength helps also with the infusions and the higher alcohol will also make a better end result - gin should have more than 40%.
It shines even more, if you can increase its ABV - which isn't an easy feat. Hence I am using it successfully for limoncellos, gin, liqueurs and so on.
I would be even happier with the product, if those points would be met:
- MacLeod Distillers really should think about offering another product with a higher alcohol content (or several products?). I am talking about 50%, 65% maybe even 75%.
- The packaging: while the bottle can be "overseen", the label is just too stigmatic. An extremely simple label - maybe in a style of chemistry information (given real information) would be really cool. White label and black print. Nothing fancy - but just extremely pragmatic.
- And that's it.
Folks - vodka doesn't need to fancy - in reality the real differences of all vodkas are 99% marketing and packaging. It is refreshing, to see a product, which dismisses all of this and offers great value for money (probably half of the price of the next decent quality vodka - at least here in the Middle East).
I am not a vodka connoisseur (if there is really something like that) - hence I am not talking about those small nuances (which you probably can influence with very light infusions - which though would take the vodka out of the "classic vodka field" - a route which super-premium vodkas like Beluga or Kauffman anyway do.
You need to look a bit for real bargains in the liquor business. I made the experience that a higher alcohol percentage is one indicator, which shows you, that the producer doesn't cut corners (water is always cheaper than alcohol - a higher alcohol content means, that the producer doesn't value the incremental penny as profit higher than the quality of their product). Packaging and price is definitely not an indication for quality.
If I would drink vodka, I probably would have no issues to drink King Robert II any day (especially with mixers).