Though we'd never say all vodkas taste the same, there's no denying that the spirit is indistinct by design. To legally call a spirit vodka, you have to distill it to 190 proof—95 percent alcohol—before watering it back down to bottle strength. The process strips away many tastes and smells, and in fact the U.S. Government's definition of vodka says it should be "without distinctive character."
That's why Chopin's Single series bottlings aren't vodka. They are, the company is saying, what vodka would be if it weren't so heavily processed. The name refers to the fact that these spirits are distilled just once (as opposed to three times or more for vodka), and are made with a single ingredient—wheat, potato or rye (which are typical components of vodka). The potato bottlings even come from a specific field in Poland, and the bottles are vintage-dated.
Chopin is taking a page from the wine playbook—arguing that clear liquor can have terroir. We were skeptical. Do potato crops vary so much from year to year that the differences would show through to the glass? In the case of Chopin's young potato Single (for which the potatoes are harvested in June of their growing year), the surprising answer is yes. The 2011 spirit is packed with tropical fruits like papaya, and the 2012 is spicy and herbaceous. The production process was identical for both, says Chopin owner Tad Dorda. The only difference was the potatoes, which, thanks to single distillation, you can taste.
The next vintage of Single will be available this June. Look for it sneakily tucked into the vodka section of your liquor store.