IN BARS in New York’s Manhattan, among the sea of bottles from all over the world a new one is standing out. This is partly due to its distinctive appearance: made of thick, colourless glass, with unusual geometric lines, and studded with a metal emblem: Slovakia’s state symbol. Double Cross Vodka has been wowing drinks critics in US journals, with experts trying to outdo each other in praise for the new tipple. They predict a brilliant future for the Slovak spirit, which was launched in New York in September, the Sme daily reported.
The vodka, whose name is derived from the Lorraine cross (often called the “double” cross), is made in Stará Ľubovňa.
“We try to make common things in an uncommon way, and mainly well” Marián Gurega, head of Gas Familia, told Sme.
The family company got into the vodka production through a lucky break from an American company, Old Nassau. Five years ago, one of its main shareholders, Malcolm Lloyd, decided to launch a new, top-quality vodka on the market. Old Nassau looked for a producer in areas with the longest tradition of vodka-making, specifically in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
“In the first phase, there were about 60 producers in the competition, with more than 200 types of vodka,” Gurega recalls. “After analyses in US laboratories and taste tests, our vodka attracted the most attention. Then quite tough negotiations followed. They wanted to be sure that we were able to produce alcohol with special qualities.”
Two years ago, they started working on a new formula. At the heart of the project was technologist Ján Krak.
At the root of Double Cross’s success are good original materials, seven-fold distillation of absolute alcohol, and seven-fold filtration, said Krak, who is known as “the chef”.
The company grows wheat in plots set aside specially. It then mixes the alcohol with spring water from the Tatras. The last filter is diamond dust. “The filtration through diamond dust removes remnants of aftertastes and aromatic elements from the alcohol, and makes it even more refined. That’s what we needed,” Krak added.
The bottle design was developed in France. It’s cuboid, with a metal cap studded with an engraved logo of a stylised double cross; the back of the bottle is inscribed with verses by Slovak poets Hviezdoslav, Sládkovič, and Hollý, in historical script.
Gas Familia was founded by Guregas in 1994, first as a distribution firm. When it started producing spirits it bought alcohol from various producers, but its quality was variable.
“We needed a reliably top-quality raw material. We could have secured this only in our own distillery,” said Gurega.
Later, the company bought an old house in the centre of Stará Ľubovňa. It had previously housed a distillery owned by the Morgenbesser family. During reconstruction, papers were found hidden under a beam.
“We found a true treasure: old formulae! By then, we were assured that we had chosen the right method,” said Gurega.
Ján Krak revamped and improved the formulae. That have become the foundation for the new production, connecting it to the old tradition.