Thomas Kuuttanen is the first person to ever be awarded the title “Master Blender of the Year.”
He earned this prestigious designation at last year’s Grand Spirits Masters Competition for his Purity Vodka recipe. Kuuttanen is unique to the vodka industry, having obtained most of his expertise from other spirits including whiskey and gin.
Here’s what Kuuttanen tells Chilled about his multi-award-winning vodka and his unprecedented success in blending spirits.
Congratulations! Tell us about winning the International Master Blender of the Year at the 2016 Grand Spirits Masters Competition.
For me, this award is the ultimate recognition that my work is appreciated by leading drinks experts in the drinks industry. It’s a tremendous honor, which makes me equally proud and humbled, as there are many great blenders, especially within the whisky and bourbon industry, who deserve to be honored for their work creating exceptional spirits.
When did you start entering competitions?
Once the recipe was finalized, I entered Purity Vodka into International Wine and Spirits Competition to find out how it held up against the competition. We started winning more and more gold, and the rest is history. Back then, IWSC was really the only competition including vodka, as there was a general perception that all vodkas tasted the same, or like nothing at all.
Since then, more craft vodka distilleries have started and many more quality vodka brands have been launched. As a result, today vodka is a category which is just as competitive and self-evident in drinks competitions as any other spirit.
You are relatively new to the vodka industry (with most of your expertise derived from whisky, gin, and aquavit) in creating Purity Vodka, which has been awarded over 100 gold medals in blind taste tests. What was your inspiration behind creating Purity Vodka?
Sweden has 700 years tradition of vodka production. Industrial vodka, as it is known today, is completely different in style and quality to vodka made in the old days. My inspiration was to create an old-school vodka to prove that vodka is much more than a colorless, odorless and tasteless spirit.
Many master blenders come from generations of distillers and spirits creators. What is your background/history in spirits making? Is it a family trait?
On the contrary. In the early ‘90s, when I started as a self-taught blender, it was illegal to produce spirits in Sweden unless you worked for the government. Out of passion, I smuggled sacks of botanicals out from Sweden to blend aquavit in Denmark which later was imported back home. After my initial success, I was offered the chance to work in various countries creating whisky, gin, and bitters before I got the chance to build my own distillery and create Purity Vodka.
What would you like bartenders to know about Purity Vodka?
Most important, not all vodkas taste the same.
What makes Purity Vodka stand out from other vodka brands?
We produce a vodka that is completely different from the norm. While most other vodka brands are made from a single ingredient, which is distilled five times at the most, Purity Vodka is a multiple-ingredient vodka made from organic winter wheat and barley, which is distilled 34 times in our small batch still. This makes Purity Vodka unique. Instead of being industrial and mainstream Purity Vodka is full-bodied and loaded with character, which is equally noticeable served neat or in a cocktail.
Modern consumer palates are drawn to complex taste profiles. Do you see consumer demand and expectations for vodka changing? Where in your opinion is it headed? What does the future look like for vodka?
You are right. Modern consumers expect the same qualities in a vodka as in whisky or brandy, although the flavor profiles are significantly different.
In a greater extent, modern consumers chose brands on content. This is proven by the trend toward extremes. The mid-segment decreases while both inexpensive, industrial vodka and more costly, high-quality vodka increase significantly in volume. There will always be a need for cheap booze. What is new is an increased demand for high-quality products in categories where consumers historically have chosen brands depending on image.
What’s next for you?
You can never stand still if you have a creative soul. I’m constantly working on new and exciting projects. And there is one in particular, which I hope I will be able to present in a near future.