Aura nightclub in London’s Mayfair has no doubt witnessed all manner of high jinks by the rich and famous over the years, but Friday was probably the first time it’s played host to Ukrainian fiddle music. The venue was chosen for the official launch of Zorokovich 1917, a vodka developed by Dan Edelstyn, a documentary film-maker.
It all started when he visited north-eastern Ukraine to investigate his family’s roots in 2005 and discovered that they once owned a vodka distillery. It was seized from the Zorokovich family in 1917 by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution and fell into decline, becoming a sugar factory before finally closing.
While making the documentary about his family, Dan found information about the vodka in the journal of his grandmother, Maroussia Zorokovich, in the attic and set about re-creating the vodka. It is made from carefully selected Ukrainian winter wheat at the original distillery, which is now free of the Soviet shackles after the country declared independence from the former USSR in 1991.
The first batch based on the family recipe was a little too harsh so it went through extra distillation to remove impurities, Dan says. “We wanted to have something where you could taste the wheat, for it to be a characterful, soulful liquid,” he explains. It comes in a bottle featuring images of black swallows which, Dan explains, represents the migration of his family from Ukraine into Europe, where they ended up in Northern Ireland. The name is pronounced “Zo-rock-o-vitch”, with the emphasis on “rock”.
With advice from vodka experts such as Ian Wisniewski, Dan and his team – including his wife Hilary Powell – have come up with a smooth vodka with notes of aniseed plus a delicious spicy finish. At Friday’s launch, they served it up in a cocktail inspired by Ukraine: the Spiced Beetroot Cocktail:
50ml Zorokovich vodka
10ml Bottlegreen Spiced Berry Cordial
10ml Unpickled beetroot juice
15ml Lemon juice
Dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters
Method: Shake and serve in a Martini glass or champagne flute, adding berries to the liquid for garnish.
Dan said that the relaunch of Zorokovich vodka is also a “social enterprise”, bringing new jobs to the village of Douboviazovka. “It’s about connecting a forgotten village in north-eastern Ukraine to a potential international vodka market to hopefully produce more jobs, schools, healthcare and housing.” He says that they have defied those who warned him off. “We were told we would need at least £500,000 to launch a vodka but we’ve done it with more like £300,” he says.
To build distribution in the UK, he is working with Hi-Spirits, the company behind leading brands such as Antica sambucas, Buffalo Trace bourbon and No 209 Gin. It is already gaining listings in bars, including London’s Drake & Morgan chain made up of The Refinery, The Anthologist, The Parlour and The Folly, and it is being taken on by retailers such as Selfridges.
Friday’s launch event will also form the closing scene of the film that Dan has been making about Zorokovich. It is called How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire and will be shown on More4 and in selected cinemas next year.