Walk into your local liquor store and head to the vodka section. What do you see? Vodka from Russia, Poland, France, America. Wheat vodka, rye vodka, potato vodka. Vodka filtered through charcoal, silver, diamonds. Organic vodka. Light vodka. Vodka with a programmable LED screen on the bottle. Vodka in a bottle shaped like a skull. Vodka that tastes like marshmallows, whipped cream, birthday cake. It’s overwhelming, and makes me wonder why anybody would launch a new vodka brand amid all that competition. Oh yeah, because it’s the best-selling spirit in the U.S. by a mile, with 10 of the top 24 booze brands being vodka, including numbers one through five. I guess that means there’s still some room for innovation, and, as they say in the marketing business, "product and peripheral differentiation."
And so, in the midst of this crowded, competitive, but still fertile market comes a brand new vodka with its own unique platform. It’s called Golia, and it’s from Mongolia. It piqued my interest because I don’t know of any other vodkas from Mongolia. There are some other differences, such as how it’s distilled through silver and platinum filters at least six times, and how it’s won some awards, but every vodka’s sales pitch includes similar claims. It’s the Mongolianness of Golia that’s unique. In practical terms that means it’s made with high-quality wheat grown in mineral-rich soil and really clean water. (Apparently the water in Mongolia is so clear that lake fish are visible 50 feet below the surface.)
Beyond that, it’s all about what they do with the Mongolian thing in their marketing. Well, how would you market a Mongolian vodka? You’d probably target men, since what Americans know about Mongolia is pretty much limited to Genghis Khan, warriors on horseback, and maybe something about falconry. And that’s exactly what Golia is doing. They’re aiming Golia at tough, rugged, adventurous guys, or guys who think they’re tough, rugged, and adventurous. They’re pricing it as a mid-range vodka, since cheap vodka is, well, cheap vodka, and there’s something effete and ridiculous about spending big bucks for a spirit that is, by definition, odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
The tagline is "Prepare to be conquered," and I suppose that cuts both ways. The vodka will conquer the drinker, and the drinker will conquer the world. He may also wish to conquer the "Golia Girls" who will be part of the marketing campaign. Sadly, no photos of said girls were included on the flash drive. It’s also the official vodka of the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, because they’re both hard-hitting sports teams with grit at their core.
So there’s all that, but how does the stuff taste? I received a flask of it yesterday, and after passing it around the office a couple of times, I barely had any left to drink at home, over ice. But I managed to extract about a shot’s worth, and found it to be a crisp, smooth vodka with a slightly sweet edge and maybe the faintest note of grapes. My notes say that I found it to be the perfect vodka for galloping across the steppe on horseback and siring several thousand children, not that I’ve done that.
So, Golia Vodka. It tastes good. It costs just a little bit more than Ketel One and a little bit less than Grey Goose. And it’s from Mongolia. Will it conquer the U.S.? Will it find a place on the VIP tables of nightclubs like GoldBar in New York? It’s an uphill battle, to be sure, but those Mongolians know how to scrap. I like their chances.