Want to discover the history of Belvedere Vodka? Considered one of the first luxury vodkas, here’s the story behind the story:
The facility at Polmos Zyrardów was constructed in 1910 as the ‘Distillery and Rectification of Spirit and Vodka’ set up by Dawid and Mejer Pines, and started production of Belvedere in 1993. At this time, it was run by the state as a partnership with Millennium. The factory was privatized in 2001, with Millennium LLC as the main shareholder along with the state. LVMH bought a 70% stake in Millennium, and this stake was raised to 100% in April of 2005.
Today, it only distills Belvedere, although under communist rule, there were many products produced there, including Wyborowa, Zubrowka, Luksusowa and others. The stills were modernized in 1998, and Belvedere macerated vodkas were developed in 2003.
To produce Belvedere, the rye is harvested and simmered at several agricultural distilleries to form a mash. Enzymes known as amylase and diastase are added to the mash to break the starches down into sugars and speed the fermentation. A special distillers’ yeast is added to the mash, which is then fermented to 6-8% ABV. The first distillation (also known as the agricultural distillation) takes place here, and the resulting spirit is around 93% ABV.
This spirit undergoes organoleptic and chemical analysis to establish quality prior to being diluted to 45% and rectified. The distillate is broken down with artesian well water that is filtered in a two-step process that includes reverse osmosis. This is a water treatment process whereby dissolved salts, such as sodium, chloride, calcium carbonate, and calcium sulphate may be separated from water through forcing the water through a semi-permeable membrane under high pressure. The water diffuses through the membrane and the dissolved salts remain behind on the surface of the membrane.
After this the spirit is softened prior to filtration through a carbon filter to remove odors.
The first column at Polmos Zyrardów is a pre-distillation that removes acids, esters, and aldehydes. The total capacity of this column is 250,000 liters, and the throughput is 23,000 liters/day.
The second column is the rectification column that removes the remaining fusel oils, and the spirit emerges at 96.5% ABV. Finally, and most importantly, the spirit is run through the forth remaining column, known as the purifying column, which is an additional step that removes any remaining off notes or odors from the spirit. It is this step that brings elegance and softness to the vodka.
The pure spirit is stored in tanks for a resting period and then blended with the distillery’s’ artesian water. This marrying process takes place slowly over a few days, and the vodka is broken down to a bottling strength of 40% ABV. After the blending, the vodka is filtered in a two step process that includes a carbon filtration, and then a finer mechanical filtration prior to bottling.
Belvedere macerated flavors are produced by shipping the pure spirit thus produced to France, where dried and frozen citrus peels are macerated for a number of weeks – a different period for each fruit. The maceration is then distilled with these elements at low temperature in a copper pot still in order to maintain the intensity of aroma. These macerate concentrates are then shipped back to Polmos Zyrardów, blended with the distillery’s water to bottling strength and then filtered through a paper filter prior to bottling.
The bottling process is a slow one with many quality control checks – the spirit is almost bottled by hand. All strip and hang tangs are applied by hand as well as each bottle being individually checked by hand for any imperfections. In addition to visual and organoleptic checks, statistical sampling and chemical analysis are also done. Eleven people are employed on the bottling line, and the throughput is 8,000 bottles per shift.
Saverglass and St. Gobelein produce the bottles. A rubber sticker protects a part of the bottle, which is then frosted. A four step printing process is then carried out on the bottle: the text, the tree, the word ‘vodka’ in blue, and then the snow on the tree and the bar code. The bottles are then sterilized in an oven at 700° C.
Thirty-three separate steps are taken in the quality assurance/quality control program, from the raw materials to each of the components and to the final product. Traceability documents are coordinated and HACCP is verified, and an outside lab verifies all lab results.
The genius of vodka is its purity, but the interest lies in the admixture of great intrinsic character. It is for this reason that Belvedere maintains its traditional recipe.