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A conversation with Tim Vos, master distiller at Van Gogh Vodka
The last time we spoke, you had just released PB & J. Was it successful? I notice it’s not part of your lineup now.
It was very successful on introduction, but then sales slowed down. PB & J was really restricted to the U.S. market---it just wasn’t something that resonated in Europe or other parts of the world.
How do you define success in terms of sales?
Our total production is around 120,000 nine-liter cases, so somewhere between five and eight thousand is a respectable showing. We currently have 15 flavors, and it’s a big portfolio to carry. If turnover slows down too much, it becomes difficult for me to get fresh ingredients.
When you experiment with a new flavor, where does the idea come from? Does inspiration strike you, or does the impetus come from the marketing side?
It’s a collaborative process. Chocolate was my idea, while Cool Peach came from one of our distributors. Sometimes it’s accidental. Our Double Espresso, for example, was basically a mistake. We were trying to make Espresso Vodka, and it wasn’t working---I could get a nice flavor, but the color wasn’t right. Finally we darkened the color by adding caramel, and released both of them. Double Espresso turned out to be far more popular.
Do you have anything in the works now that you can tell me about?
We’re working on several things. I had the idea a few years ago to use rose petals or other flower products, but the market wasn’t ready for it. Lavender was one of Vincent van Gogh’s favorite flowers, and it turns up in many of his paintings. We’ll probably do something with it next year. My problem is that I can make some great flavors and combinations, but sometimes they’re not commercially viable.
What’s the ratio of your flavored to unflavored vodka?
It’s hard to say exactly, but probably in the range of 60% flavored.
I’ve noticed that you’ve gone down from 22 to 15 flavors, and you seem to be putting more emphasis on your unflavored vodka. Is that because it’s more mixable in a greater range of cocktails?
Certainly. There’s a lot of craziness in flavors out there at the moment, and consumers are going back to basics. We also think we’re unique in using three different types of wheat, from the Netherlands Germany and France, in our unflavored vodka that used to be called Triple Wheat.
I’ve heard the unflavored described as a terroir-driven item, but that’s more of a wine term. Isn’t it really a blend?
It’s a blend, of course. Everyone is looking for a terroir-driven product, but it’s almost impossible with alcohol. You can do it with a flavored vodka because you can source the ingredients from one place, but otherwise it’s very difficult.
How often do you come to the U.S., and how important are those trips for you?
I go two or three times each year, and want to do more, because it’s important to understand the differences between American and European consumers. In the U.S. you drink martinis or cocktails, whereas in Europe we tend to drink our spirits neat or with a single ice cube. The raw materials are also very different. When I was working on our Orange Vodka, for example, I sent 30 or 40 samples to the States that were all rejected. I finally asked for a bottle of American orange juice, and realized that the Spanish oranges I was working with were very fragrant but far more bitter and sour than what you grow in the U.S.
Any final thoughts?
Well, you didn’t ask me about cannabis, which is becoming a big thing at the moment. We’ve done some samples in the lab, but that’s about it. It’s basically the same craziness as making a whipped cream vodka, which we also wouldn’t do. It’s also toxic and dangerous. It’s an interesting taste---something you might try out of curiosity, but not a spirit you’d want to drink a whole glass of with your friends.
A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read them all)
Luxury Champagne is expensive, and many consumers wonder if the reward is worth the expense. It’s a difficult question, because a bottle of wine is ultimately “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it. Still, there’s no doubt that drinking tête de cuvee Champagne is an exhilarating experience. These bottles get the best of everything: the finest grapes, a maximum of cellar age, and the combined skill of an experienced winemaking team.
Located in the heart of Jacksonville’s Sports District, Manifest Distilling is an enlightened offshoot of this country’s local craft distilling movement. Launched last year by David Cohen, Scott Kennelly, Trey Mills and Tom Johnson, the partners are committed to nothing less than “the resurgence of independent American craftsmanship.” They are accomplishing this by the use of non-GMO and organic ingredients, informed and precise distillation techniques, and an unwavering search for quality.
In 1772, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron established a Champagne house in Reims. His son François inherited the business, married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1778, and died suddenly in 1805. She took over the enterprise and became known as the veuve, or widow, Clicquot. She managed the operation until her death in 1866, and today the house is known as Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.
By Ken Schechet
Our roving correspondent looks at a culinary trend going mainstream
Did you know that olive oil can reduce the risk of many types of cancers? It can make you less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. It can slow the aging of your heart, lower your bad cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke and of getting Alzheimer’s. Such are the claims made by the Olive Oil Times, (yes, there is such a publication), as well as many, many other sources. There is a lot of evidence that the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can have a very real and positive effect on your well-being.
Fusion cuisine and molecular gastronomy are relatively new, but the steakhouse has been with us forever. Chop houses were ubiquitous in both Colonial America and Elizabethan England, and slabs of roasted meat have been the centerpiece of communal meals since families dwelt in caves.
By Ken Schechet
This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia
I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States,
France, and several Asian countries. I
recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and
quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what
Vietnamese food was all about.
By Ken Schechet
Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.
Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction. I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago. So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.
Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been. It is a constant topic of conversation. Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten. It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food” (I didn’t make that up. It was on a billboard.) Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.
If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly. Of course, you need to try them both. Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.