Flash back to the last millennium. (Wow, that makes me feel old). I’m standing on an Atlanta street corner outside the Metroplex, a grimy mosh pit of a music venue that never aspired to a title as noble as “nightclub,” waiting to see a punk band with a rude name that I wouldn’t repeat in polite company…if I ever kept any.
I’m drinking clear rot-gut fluid—ostensibly vodka, which tastes as though it was brewed in the bathtub of a flophouse—out of a Coca-Cola can. Why? Well, I’m technically a wee bit underage to be seen drinking alcohol, and hiding the contraband liquor in a soda can seems somehow classier than slurping out of a bottle in a paper sack. Not that anyone else cuing at the Metroplex is terribly bothered about keeping up appearances. They’re more concerned about keeping up their spiky, gravity-defying mohawks in the Southern humidity.
Fast forward to last Friday. Now I’m sitting beside a marble fireplace in the Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. This Rocco Forte property is a paean of wood-paneled elegance, lit by flickering candles and bright laughter.
Once again, I’m drinking vodka—but this time, it’s served in a respectable shot glass emblazoned with a sturgeon, and the fluid is so smooth, it slips past my lips and glides over my tongue like a warm, breathy whisper.
While the stuff I guzzled outside the Metroplex may well have been poured from a gasoline can, this nectar comes in a limited edition bottle with an embossed silver and gold label.
It’s sealed with wax and opened with a tiny, Barbie-sized hammer and brush, for heaven’s sake.
This, my friends, is Beluga Gold Line Vodka.
It’s made by the Mariinsk Distillery in Siberia, and it’s not even the same species as any vodka I’ve tasted before. It is, quite simply, dangerously delicious stuff.
“Last night, I saw two people finish off an entire bottle themselves,” confides Riccardo Vecchio, the young Italian head bartender in charge of wetting well-refined whistles. My eyes grow wide. “Yes,” I say, “but has anyone seen them today?”
Had that couple polished off any other bottle, I could easily picture them groaning in their bed, curtains shut tightly against the waning light, wishing for a quick death.
But reading a description of how Beluga Gold is made, well, it sounds almost medicinal. (Not that I’d recommend drinking an entire bottle at once, any more than I’d suggest downing a week’s worth of penicillin in one sitting).
First, Beluga Gold is filtered five times. Then the makers add milk sugars, rice infusion and rhodiola rose extract, a natural herb meant to soften the flavour and abate “negative after-effects”—otherwise known as a hangover, y’all. It’s left to rest in steel barrels for three months before being bottled, served, and sipped, preferably with pinky extended.
At £25 a tipple, Beluga Gold doesn’t come cheaply—and whatever healthy herbs it might possess, these shots are not covered by a prescription. But you don’t need a gold card to enjoy Beluga’s vodkas, which range from £11 per serving for Beluga Noble (enriched with honey, infusion of oats, and extracts of vanilla and Sylibum marianum—also known as milk thistle) to £15 per shot for Beluga Transatlantic (with extract of wild strawberry) and Beluga Allure (with maple syrup and infusion of figs).
Alternatively, plump for a £16 cocktail made with Beluga Noble vodka. “The Siberian” is a decidedly masculine drink, combining Beluga Noble, aperol, sweet vermouth and Creole bitters.
“The Long Mariinsky” is a refreshing, citrusy blend of Beluga Noble, lemon juice, Elderflower syrup, and grapefruit bitters, topped with soda water and garnished with mint leaves.
My favourite is “From Russia with Love,” a mix of Beluga Noble, freshly squeezed lemon juice and rose syrup, topped up with Ruinart Brut NV Champagne and sprinkled with rose petals. I don’t know whether to drink it or dab it behind my ears—so I do both. The delicate aroma is a far cry from the hedonistic sweat that “perfumed” the Metroplex. My, how times have changed.