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J. Rieger & Co. Midwestern Dry Gin

J. Rieger & Co.
Midwestern Dry Gin


By Robert Plotkin

Most of us Baby Boomers imagine Siberia to be a grey and forsaken place—lonely, desolate and freezing cold. With the demise of the Soviet Union, we in the West were amazed to discover a Siberia teeming with life and a rich abundance of natural resources. With the thawing of relations, commerce returned to the area and we finally got our first taste of authentic Siberian vodka, and it was great…really great. Black Leopard Vodka is just such spirit.

The vodka is crafted at JSC Ussuriyskiy Balsam, which at more than a century old makes it among the oldest distilleries in the Russian Far East. The distillery is located in the Amur River basin. Adjacent to the Sikhote-Alin Mountains, the Amur River basin is one of the most ecologically pristine areas in the world, this according to the UNESCO World Heritage List. As it turns out, Siberia is an ideal place to produce world-class vodka.

Black Leopard Vodka is made from premium rye and winter wheat. The grain is milled, mixed with water and allowed to slowly ferment. Afterwards, the fermented mash is twice distilled, a technique that best ensures the natural flavor of the rye and wheat remain intact. The vodka is then rigorously filtered to essential purity using quartz sand and 40 feet of Birchwood charcoal. Pure spring water from the nearby Sikhote-Alin Mountains is used to render the vodka to a lip-tingling 50% alcohol (100 proof).

Even the traditional strength of 50% alcohol plays an important role in the vodka's assured success. It is exceptionally flavorful, in part because the final distillate is less diluted than an 80-proof spirit, which contains 60% water. As for the 100-proof bite, there is none. Entry onto the palate immediately warms the throat, but thankfully never gets remotely close to burning the esophagus. The tempered heat is a sure sign of skillful distillation.

Black Leopard is an exquisite vodka, a classy spirit through and through. It has a crystal clear appearance and a velvety textured, medium weight body. The nose is grainy sweet and inherently spicy. There are just enough aromatics to keep things interesting. The vodka really shines once it begins to expand and bathe the palate with the subtle flavors of anise, wheat, cacao and spicy cinnamon. The fade is dry, of medium length and silky smooth. Black Leopard is marvelous sipped neat at room temperature or slightly chilled. It's equally at home in a craft cocktail or mixed drink. The additional blast of flavor is a bona fide treat.

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