Imagine how boring it would be if there were just a dozen or so wine producers in all of France and worse, that all the wines they produced tasted much the same.
That's the way it has become with vodka in Poland and Russia, the two countries with a claim to having produced the very first vodka (which comes from the Slavic name for water, 'woda' in Polish and 'voda' in Russian).
Since vodka, like whisky, is a very easily collectible source of tax revenue, the 18th and 19th centuries saw governments encourage the development of big distilleries where taxmen could keep their eyes on just how much was being produced. The Communists further consolidated production to the extent that in Poland, one state-owned company ran all the country's distilleries. They produced lots of mediocre vodka and sold it cheaply; better that unhappy souls in the workers' paradise were drunk than on strike and manning the barricades.
Since the collapse of Communism, the distilleries have been privatised but almost all vodka produced in Poland is still of a commercial nature; bland, neutered and really rather boring if you drink moderately for sensual pleasure rather than immoderately to anaesthetise your capacity for rational thought.
The European Union's bureaucrats in Brussels have also done their bit to ensure that vodka with taste, character and that elusive spirit of place is never produced. In 2008 they defined vodka, amongst other things, as a spirit drink containing no more than 10 grams per hectoliter of methanol, a natural product of distillation. This absurdly low methanol content has nothing to do with protecting your health; cognac producers are allowed 200 grams per hectoliter and grappa producers 1,000 grams per hectoliter. If you produce a raisin or fruit-based spirit the sky's the limit when it comes to methanol.
The way to reduce the methanol content is to rectify the alcohol; essentially re-distill it two, three or four times. The problem is that if you do that you remove almost all of the natural flavours, producing a product so different from what vodka was originally supposed to be, as to be unrecognizable.
That's why we chose to name our company after Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the Hearth and Purity. Unlike commercial producers and the European Union, we don't see purity as squeezing the life out of grain or potatoes. To us, purity is keeping things as natural as possible right from the beginning. Purity in the old-fashioned sense.
Just as top class wine is a product of a vineyard, quality vodka starts in the field. For instance, like grapes, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of potatoes. Each has its own characteristics. So we can tell you which variety we used and why. If we blend, as we occasionally do, it's for the same reason winemakers in Bordeaux blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce some of the world's greatest wines - the sum is greater than the parts.
We can also tell you what the growing conditions were like; sandy or loamy soil, wet or dry weather, too much or too little warm weather, an early or late harvest. All will affect the quality and taste of the potatoes. Making two identical products in different years is almost impossible; the differences in taste and texture may be subtle, as they are in wine, but they are there.
So you'll find us in the fields of Kaszubia and Podlasie talking to farmers and deciding when and what to pick and making sure that it gets to the distillery with the minimum of delay. The fields are where the tastes that distinguish our products are developed; you can't turn inferior potatoes into quality vodka in the distillery.
To make what we do even more authentic, we work wherever possible with farmers with smallholdings who still use horses in their fields, still use natural manure from their barns for fertilizer and who still pick the potatoes by hand.
We produce our regional potato vodkas in batches of no more than 5,000 bottles and encourage you to nose, sip and savour first to appreciate the spectacular flavours we've coaxed from the potatoes.
You'll find a bulbous glass the best for appreciating, amongst others, the apricot, peach, dried tobacco, and herb aromas of Vestal's artisanal products. Serving at around 15C will optimise your pleasure.
If you prefer to mix then use our black level rye vodka or check our recipe page for ideas on just what mixes best with which particular vodka.
Happy sipping and savouring.