Lake Khera from Noble Estates discovers a Polish vodka made from rye.

Rye in the fieldThere has been a lot of buzz about rye lately in the the spirits world. First came the realization that much of the rye whisky we had been drinking was not, in fact, made of rye at all. Then came whisky critic Jim Murray’s lauding of Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye, crowning it the 2016 World Whisky of the Year, and the signs erratically posted on the doors of liquor stores across the country, telling us they had sold out before we even could walk in the door.

It somehow ignited a sort of national pride amongst us – a feeling that rye whiskey was something distinctly Canadian, something to be proud of.

Zytnia bottleBut we’re not the only ones proud of our rye. Anyone who’s been to Poland has seen how ubiquitous rye bread is – dense and somewhat tangy loaves, sprinkled with caraway seeds. And vodka, that’s also everywhere. And lots of it.

But how many of us know that the most favoured Polish vodkas are not, in fact, made with potatoes or wheat? Rather, they are made with rye, much like (some of) our beloved Canadian whiskey.

Rye is especially suited to cold climates because the plant itself has certain antifreeze properties, allowing it to survive frosts that many other crops would not.

A while back, Saveur did a comparative tasting of Polish rye and potato vodkas (here). “Good rye-based vodka, with its clean, light mouth-feel and short, hot finish, is well suited to the foods that Poles love,” they wrote, adding that what they found so attractive about rye-based vodkas was it’s “smooth, clean drinkability and its subtle and brief peppery burn.”  

Many of these vodkas are not the sort of high-fashion tipples that come in skin frosted bottles and pride themselves on going down the gullet entirely unnoticed by the palate. These are vodkas of character, often with some some spicy, peppery notes and hints of citrus.

Zytnia Vodka (pronounced zhit-NYA) is a traditional rye-based vodka from Poland that has been brought to select LCBO stores through Vintages. It is an honest vodka, not showy – the packaging isn’t retro, it’s unchanged – and sets itself apart from any other in this price range on flavour alone ($25.35 / 700ml / click here for the LCBO product page). It is an excellent option for those who like their vodka straight, but it adds certain complexity to cocktails that you won’t find in those made with it’s chic and more pricey cousins.

It’s not about who does rye better. They make vodka, we make whiskey. We already appreciate this great northern grain – why just enjoy it as whisky?

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