Pleurat Shabani, the creator of Konik’s Tail vodka, tells Douglas Blyde how he brought rare premium vodka from Poland’s primeval forests to London’s best bars…
I’ve worked as vodka agent, importer, consultant and judge. One thing those jobs taught me is that it’s a drink which is too often excused for being a tasteless mixer. I wanted to make something with flavour and depth. Konik’s Tail is the product of a 15-year-long obsession with the spirit.
It takes the name of the small, shy silvery pony hiding in Europe’s largest primeval forest, Bialowieza in northeast Poland. Every bottle bears the saying: ‘The primeval Konik is the elusive spirit of the forest. To catch a glimpse is said to ensure a good harvest for the making of great vodka.’ I ventured into the forest with a wise 85 year-old farmer who showed me where to glimpse the graceful beast. It proved fortuitous.
My father, Musta taught me to stay innovative and vital. Konik’s Tail’s more than a labour of love: it’s a quest for perfection. To find the finest distillery I tasted relentlessly, eventually selecting Polmos Bialystok in Poland. While other countries in the vodka belt can smooth edges with syrup and honey, Poland rightly earns its reputation for purity. I also liked the idea of a spirit suggesting a woman’s touch, and only one man works in that distillery.
The recipe’s taken three years to perfect. I’ve taken 150 easyJet flights to oversee 700 distillations and meet every farmer who grows my spelt, rye and wheat. Although this can surprise mixologists, it seems essential attention to detail to me.
Konik’s Tail’s best savoured as a martini with a twist or with a drop of water to nudge its delicate aromas – a trick I learnt as a judge. The bottle’s embossed with three galloping Konik ponies, each representing an individually distilled component. 100 per cent spelt didn’t yield enough complexity or crispiness. Rye’s oily with a buttery quality, while early winter wheat adds sweetness, spice and even aniseed. Combined, they’re harmonious. Using spring water, Konik’s Tail is unhurriedly distilled over local silver birch charcoal – a 14th century process – then filtered through the charcoal and stoppered with cork from the bark.
Financially it’s been excruciating. Although I tried almost every bank it was my family and friends who had the confidence to finance this. Because quality takes time (4,000 bottles take six weeks to craft), it’s probably not going to make me a millionaire. But I’m in this for the long term. In fact I declined a supermarket because they threatened to discount it. Regardless, it’s won over critics including the editor of a drinks magazine who asked me to sign a bottle for her six year-old to open on their 21st birthday.
I’m proud that Konik’s Tail is stocked by the capital’s classiest bars including Claridge’s, The Connaught, Duke’s, Pollen Street Social and the Mandarin Oriental. It’s also available at Fortnum & Mason, Gerry’s and Selfridge’s.
Konik’s Tail was several years in the planning but ultimately it’s my desire to leave the legacy of a beautiful spirit produced by genuine people...
Konik’s Tail retails from £29 a bottle, Konikstail.com