I tried Exclusiv Vodka last night. It’s a
inexpensive cheap vodka from Moldova, just ten bucks for a 750 ml bottle. I wish I didn’t know it was that cheap before I tasted it, but since I did, I might as well judge it both on its innate quality (as I perceive it) as well as on more superficial factors, like how cool it seems. To start with the latter, it’s a handsome bottle (pictured, lying on a satin sheet, waiting to be ravished), with a silver, blue, and black color scheme and relatively straightforward labeling, including a stylized x in the name and a small engraved, oddly-shaped polar bear. It’s not handsome like a bottle of Grey Goose, but has the right silhouette. When I cracked it open for the first time I was suprised at how flimsy the cap felt in my hand. They clearly picked the cheapest cap in the cap catalog. All the more money to put into the liquid.
I drank it in the form of a vodka martini, which, in my case, just means drinking super-cold vodka in a chilled martini glass. It’s very easy to drink, with none of the harsh astringency I associate with cheap vodka. The first couple of sips have a defined sweet edge. As for tasting notes? Well, there are none. It’s vodka. It tastes like the philosophical definition of nothing, which is one more reason it succeeds. It’s what vodka should be, a crisp breeze that enlivens the senses, conjuring a variety of flavors in the mind if not on the palate, then disappears without a trace. For a brief moment there’s pear, melon, grape, a touch of honey. Then, nothing. Outer space. It’s a fine vodka, and I enjoyed it very much. But is it too cheap to succeed?
Among all spirits, pricing for vodka is the most out of whack, and blind taste tests can yield any number of results. Yet, living in the world we do, where the actual goodness of a thing is just one part of the total value proposition (please punch me for saying that), it raises a more difficult question. Suppose Exclusiv is among the best quality vodkas on the market? Would it follow that, at $10 a bottle, it will soon be the number 1 vodka in America? Good stuff + low price = win. Right?
After all, it has the vodka bona fides. It’s from Moldova, which gives it the authenticity of being from the Russian Empire but also a soupçon of exoticism, since nobody’s ever had Moldovan vodka over here before. It’s made from "winter wheat" which is the first harvest of the year, where the grain has a natural sweetness that has developed under the cover of snow. And the water used in it is really clean, something about being filtered through limestone mountains. It’s won a couple of awards, including Double Gold in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which sounds like a big deal.
And it tastes good. It passes the martini test, and would cruise along just fine as a vodka in any cocktail recipe. And the bottle looks cool enough. You probably wouldn’t see this in a bottle service setup at No. 8, but if you present it nicely enough in your home bar, people will be impressed. Bust it out at midnight when the party’s in full swing and nobody’s looking at labels and you’re a hero. It would make a nice enough rail vodka at a bar, too, and probably deserves better. But the rail’s a lucrative space.
But will people trust a $10 vodka to be good, even with people like me saying it is? Well, maybe. Two-buck Chuck wine was a huge hit, and I had some that was awful. Exclusiv is far better. When I’m at a bar and order a vodka martini, I tend to lean toward Stoli, but I think all the premium brands – Ketel One, Belvedere, Grey Goose – are nice. Yet, if I knew I could get an Exclusiv martini for five bucks less than a name-brand martini, I’d probably go for it. They all look the same in the glass, so nobody but me and the bartender would know.
So, Exclusiv Vodka is a bargain at $10 a bottle. The name might be a bit of a misnomer, but I’ll take it all the same. Will you?