Unless you’re from the country of Moldova (or know someone from there), chances are you don’t know exactly where it is on a map. This Eastern European nation lies tucked between Romania and Ukraine, where its picturesque countryside attracts visitors who come for its bucolic vibe — those who actually know its geographic location, that is. While many may know Moldova for its wine, this former Soviet republic also produces vodka, a remnant of being under Russian rule for almost two centuries. And Moldovan vodka (or “vodca,” as they spell it) is ready to introduce its creators’ country to America, one cocktail at a time.
Exclusiv Vodka is proudly produced in Moldova and is distilled from wheat, which doesn’t sound like a big distinction from other brands until your realize that many of the mass-market vodka giants are merely distilled from “grain,” a broader, more generic term for the overall stock they may use. Distilling from wheat specifically does makes a winning difference — Exclusiv Vodka won a Double Gold Medal at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, after all — and it’s most obvious before you even taste it. One whiff from the bottle and it’s evident that this is a much cleaner spirit when compared to bigger brands; it’s almost odorless.
As for the taste: “It’s one of the best I’ve had,” says Jarrod Spillers, friend and spirits enthusiast who tried the Moldovan vodka with me and a few other friends during an impromptu vodka-tasting soirée I hosted to sample Exclusiv’s line for this review. I agreed with him; Exclusiv’s unflavored vodka has a clean, smooth taste from start to finish, with no overpowering aftertaste when having it on the rocks — our control cocktail for tasting the vodka for what it is, without any extraneous flavors or mixers.
Speaking of extra flavors, the Moldovan Exclusiv Vodka company is stepping up their game in America with the introduction of three new flavored vodkas this summer: berry, coconut and peach. One whiff from each of those bottles is quite a different story from the unflavored.
Each of the scents — berry, coconut and peach — is so strong when it escapes the bottle, that it’s like smelling those flavor-scented magic markers you had as a kid, where the purple had such a deliberate “grape” aroma that you just wanted to lick the marker. (I did, anyway.) With that said, these flavors seemed unnaturally forced, although the bottle claims they use a “natural basis and unique technological production process [to] secure the transparency, specific aroma and perfectly soft taste” of each flavor.
“This tastes like Kool-Aid,” said Jarrod, who wasn’t a fan. I concurred.
“I would drink this with some soda water,” chimed in Lana Price, giving a female perspective on the flavored vodka, without any other flavors mixed in. We added soda water, which diluted the overpowering flavor to a palatable level.
Final Verdict: 5 (out of 5) stars, unflavored; 3, flavored.
Unanimously, Exclusiv’s regular vodka was definitely praise-worthy — and at $9.99 a bottle, quite a bargain. That same low price point is driving the company’s push for the new flavored vodkas, which is a good thing since, in the opinion of a small group of people, they might be too sweet for some tastes. However, you could always mix the flavored vodkas with juices and soda — and most people will, I assume — for there are countless ways to have a vodka cocktail. I assume the coconut vodka would blend well with a piña colada, and the berry into a Cosmo. When the strong forced flavor is forced to play with others, that’s when things get interesting.
In the end, preference and taste for a specific vodka is up to the individual, and you should repeatedly try it until you find out what you like. Just remember that you shouldn’t get too drunk if you have to write a review about it in the morning (oops). If not, continue to raise your glasses and say “cheers” as they do in Moldova: “Noroc!”
Erik Trinidad is the author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog, fancyfastfood.com.