You can make vodka from a number of things, from grains and grapes to rice and potatoes. Belvedere crafts its vodka from rye—Dankowskie rye grown on central Poland’s Mazovian Plains. In fact, rye and water—and character, the company says—are the only ingredients in Belvedere. As the rye harvest was starting in July, the luxury vodka brand hosted a group of international journalists in Poland.
Launched in 1993 and introduced to U.S. in 1996, Belvedere is named after the Royal Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, which is the structure depicted on the vodka’s bottle label. The brand, which was awarded 42 medals and trophies in 2015, is owned by LVMH.
Naturalness is a big platform for Belvedere, says Ali Dedianko, the vodka’s global director of education. It’s also a hot-button topic, as there’s a perception that naturalness “is somehow linked to a statement of health,” she notes. But alcohol is not healthy, so those that indulge should seek a pure spirit, one without additives, Dedianko says.
How does Belvedere ensure that its vodka is pure and natural? The brand has a partnership with 10 farmers to grow the rye. “We have good relations with the farmers—we know who they are and how they cultivate the grain,” says Wieslaw Pilat, general manager of Polmos Zyrardów, Belvedere’s distillery.
The rye is harvested from July through September (pictured atop), and the first distillation takes place at the agricultural facility to ensure there’s no contamination, he said.
Belvedere purchases the raw spirit after that first distillation and transports it to the 100-year-old Polmos distillery for rectification. The raw spirit is distilled three more times and blended with artesian water with 11 steps of purification.
The company uses a maceration process for its flavored expressions, and adds no sugar. For its lemon vodka, for instance, Belvedere uses only the peels of spring lemons from Spain to flavor the vodka.
The pink grapefruit flavor is macerated using whole slices of grapefruit with peels, plus a drop each of distillates of lemon and ginger.
Why ginger? It acts as a flavor enhancer. The pink grapefruit expression is labeled “S27,” as that batch was deemed the best expression after tests of multiple recipes.
While consumers are trying to be more healthy and are concerned about that they’re eating, that has not translated to cocktails, says Alice Farquha, Belvedere’s global education and training manager. Belvedere aims to “help bartenders understand the importance of real, natural ingredients,” and also encourage them to sweeten drinks responsibly.
For instance, even with natural sweeteners such as agave and fructose, when combined with alcohol, “that’s a lot of pressure on the liver,” Dedianko explained. Part of Belvedere’s goal is to teach the trade and consumers how to drink better and make smarter choices when they go to a bar.
What’s more, overpowering cocktails with juices and sugars masks the purity of the vodka, said Marc Goudemont, Belvedere’s international business development director. He pointed to the brand’s collection of Spritzes that are part of Belvedere’s “Be Natural” manifesto unveiled this year.
The manifesto details the brand’s commitment to being all natural, from the fresh, local ingredients it selects, to the agriculture partners it supports, to the environmental impact Belvedere aims to reduce.
The Spritzes follow a simple recipe that’s similar to the vodka itself. They include the classic Belvedere Spritz, made with vodka, Lillet Blanc, tonic, sparking water, grapefruit and thyme; the Cucumber Spritz, with vodka, dry vermouth, tonic, sparking water and cucumber ribbons; and the Citrus Mint Spritz, with vodka, dry vermouth, tonic, sparking water and a sprig of fresh mint.
“The Spritz has the same elegance and refinement as the Martini,” plus it’s easy to replicate at home, Goudemont says. “We want to get American consumers into the Spritz.”
Melissa Dowling is the editor of Cheers magazine.