Bottom Line Right at the Top: Xellent Swiss Vodka is an excellent spirits choice if, in the words of a friend and fellow taste tester, “You have an open wound or a snake bite.” Perhaps that should say former friend. After all, friends don’t let friends drink defective vodka. And, unfortunately for us, I believe we received a defective bottle to review. A very stylish bottle, admittedly, but with defective contents. I am of the school that believes great vodka should not be neutral (many of you may disagree), but it is improbable that the distillers meant for their premium vodka to taste like rubbing alcohol. Unfortunately, we were not able to procure another bottle of Xellent Swiss Vodka for comparison purposes prior to publishing this review. Below is a summary of our tasting experience, but I encourage you to keep an open mind. If you have had a different experience with Xellent, we would love to hear about it. [Editor's note: it's important to acknowledge the critical distinctions awarded this vodka from several years ago in stark contrast to our own assessment, including several publications awarding a "top 10 vodka" award to go with its double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition... palates and experiences will differ!]
Xellent Swiss Vodka is the world’s only Swiss vodka. The distillers, DIWISA, take pride in quality – from the base ingredients (rye of bread-making quality, glacier water) to a modern distilling process (thrice distilled to a crystal clear purity in copper alembic stills with a 96% vol. prior to dilution).
I had great hopes for Xellent Swiss Vodka. A country that produces such exquisite chocolate, watches, banking laws, and tennis players (you know the one I’m talking about – he with the gorgeous locks and the velvety eyebrows), would surely create masterful vodka. The Xellent bottle certainly makes a powerful statement, particularly in contrast to the brands we used for comparison. But how would the taste stack up?
Perhaps I should have thrown in a less familiar premium brand or included a choice for the budget-conscious consumer. But there was something about the Xellent brand name (can’t you just imagine the cocksure millennial persona that the branding agency created?) and the product packaging (a vibrant Swiss-red glass bottle shaped like a squat cocktail shaker with a chunky silver plastic top) that gave the impression that the target market was status-driven male consumers in a club, preferably one with bottle service and lithe dancers on banquettes. The bottle reminds me of the expensive cologne that my Eastern European boyfriend doused himself in for most of the early 2000’s. Masculine, flashy, and more than a little in-your-face – and oh so attractive. In contrast to the packaging swagger, the Xellent website content detailed the careful rye selection and meticulous distilling process, which seemed geared to a more sophisticated vodka consumer. To span both demographics—status-driven club-goers and vodka aficionados—Belvedere and Chopin Rye seemed likely contenders.
Xellent Vodka vs Poland—Neat and Up (Chilled):
The first thing I do when opening a liquor bottle or before taking a sip of a cocktail is to take a deep sniff of the contents. Xellent hit back immediately with an olfactory punch that smelled harsh and antiseptic. My first thought was, “If this burns my eyes with one whiff, this is going to burn like hell on the way down.” Still, I kept my thoughts to myself and encouraged the tasters to partake. If they thought my watery eyes were tears of anticipation, how quickly they were enlightened. We tried the Xellent neat and then chilled and up. After a couple reluctant sips, we all resulted to shooting the Xellent. I was right about the burn. I would like to be able to share something insightful about “notes of blah-blah-blah…”, but it was impossible for us to articulate much beyond the eloquent, “Holy f#ck, that was foul!” Note: a more sophisticated palate has since tasted the Xellent, and told me it had “aldehyde in the finish”. Since I’m no Walter White, I’ll take his word for it.
After a brief break to cleanse the palate and our deflated spirits (no pun intended), we resumed our tasting with the Belvedere Vodka. Faith renewed! The Belvedere was fairly neutral when served neat, and became more interesting when chilled and the soft, silky and slightly lemon flavor was amplified.
Last up was the Chopin Rye Vodka. I was a bit skeptical, not being a fan of the classic Chopin potato vodka, but was convinced to add it to the test by a friend who proclaimed Chopin Rye to be the best rye vodka. On the nose, Chopin Rye has character, and it doesn’t disappoint on the tongue. I was a bit put off by the showy spice that is immediately apparent at first taste. After a few additional sips, it grew on me and left me wanting more of the peppery yet sweet finish. Not all of my fellow tasters agreed – some people just want neutral, flavorless vodka.
Assessment: I can’t possibly recommend Xellent given the defect. Belvedere with its overall neutrality was the crowd favorite for sipping and shooting, but the Chopin might be appealing for those that prefer a little more zing.
Xellent vs. Belvedere vs. Chopin Rye – French Martini:
Bolstered (i.e. buzzed) by round one, we decided to try Xellent and the contenders in a French martini (2 oz. vodka, 3 oz. fresh pineapple juice, ½ oz. raspberry liqueur). Some argued that why bother using a premium vodka in a mixed drink when you can’t taste the vodka, but one forgets the caché that comes with ordering a prestige brand or the perhaps erroneous belief that premium spirits result in less severe hangovers.
Assessment: Let’s skip right to the assessment since there were virtually no discernable differences in the taste between the three vodkas. Creamy, smooth, sweet and slightly tart – you could probably mix any vodka (or even rubbing alcohol) in this cocktail and it would still taste good. It even managed to hide the defective Xellent. Let’s call this one a draw.
Xellent vs. Belvedere vs. Chopin Rye – Vodka Martini with a Twist:
My first experience with vodka was a Grey Goose martini with a lemon twist, and it remains my favorite to this day. This cocktail will highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly in vodka – there’s no hiding (or so I thought). I am well aware that Grey Goose doesn’t suit most vodka connoisseurs, but I love that slightly sweet flavor that sings when not diluted with anything more than a rinse of vermouth (and sometimes not even that), several vigorous shakes over ice, and finished with a twist of citrus. I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.
There was no way I was going to defile what I think of as MY perfect cocktail with a defective vodka, so Xellent wasn’t initially included in this round. However, the editor of this website convinced (coerced?) me into giving Xellent one more chance. Crazy, I know. Maybe it’s like childbirth or getting remarried after a rancorous divorce – given enough time, you remember only the bliss and not the pain and you give it another go. In my case, I’ll just blame it on a very persuasive editor in chief, and an irrational hope that the Xellent had miraculously transformed in the week between tastings. It’ll be different this time…right?
As I prepared for this final test, I was struck yet again with how the Xellent bottle exudes braggadocio, especially when standing beside the elegant Belvedere and slightly edgier but still refined Chopin Rye. Cocky bastard. [Side note: Does anyone else want to exercise poor judgment and send a Facebook message to his or her ex-boyfriend right now?]
Out came the cocktail shakers, in went the vodka with a splash of vermouth, knives sank into the fleshy rind of fresh lemons. After shaking until ice crystals formed on the exterior of the shaker, we poured into chilled martini glasses, and dropped in the gorgeous lemon twists.
Assessment: For all my earlier disdain, the Xellent was…well, not excellent, but it wasn’t quite an abomination either. The dilution with ice and vermouth combined with the hint of citrus brought out lemony notes I had previously missed in the Xellent. Or maybe that was just one hell of a lemon we used for the twist. Unfortunately, the defect still clung to the tongue on finish, and the martini was undrinkable after it lost its icy chill. The Belvedere performed exceptionally well. No surprise. There is more than a little similarity between Grey Goose (wheat base) and Belvedere (rye base) – including the bottle design, viscosity when served ice cold, and the slightly sweet and lemony finish. The Chopin Rye was interesting, and tasters were mixed in their opinion. Overall opinion was that Belvedere was the winner during this round, and that the spicier Chopin Rye would be better served in a more savory cocktail such as a dirty martini or a vodka Gibson.
by Sandrine M. Aisling
[Disclaimer: we were provided a 750ml bottle Xellent Swiss Vodka for review purposes. All other products mentioned here were acquired on our own.]