21 Mar 2022
The Storied Tradition Behind Latvian Vodka And The Master Blender Inspired By Ancient Latvian Spirits
Master Blender, Ginta Muižniece, has been perfecting the art of spirit making since the early aughts. But before beginning her career with the world-renowned elit, Muižniece pursued her knowledge of knowing every aspect of the traditional Latvian spirit space through its ancient tradition and history.
“Before joining elit, I worked for the ‘Latvijas Keramika’ factory, which produced ceramic bottles for Riga Black Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal spirit drink,” explains Muižniece.
Legend has it that Empress Catherine the Great, who was returning to Russia stopped in Riga, the capital of Latvia. After falling sick, local apothecary Abraham Kunze was asked to step in to help. He thought to give her some of the balsam spirits he created. Ancient lore says that Catherine the Great became well again, and Kunze’s drink became renowned throughout Europe. And Latvia’s trajectory in the spirit space proved prominent. Growing up in Latvia, Muižniece was thirsty to learn all aspects of the great spirit tradition.
“The original team in Latvijas Balsam has always been led by knowledgable and powerful women – this is how it was built from the beginning. The elit vodka recipe was created by two great women: the head of our Laboratory Tamara Ponomarjova and our Chief Technologist Aija Zablocka,” says Muižniece.
Despite the spirit space being very male dominant, Muižniece does not feel singular to the sector, “I don’t feel unique as a woman, because I am part of a bigger female team. It was always a very open learning environment and I learned everything I know about spirits from them.”
elit vodka, as it is aptly named, is unlike traditional vodka. It’s smooth, more delicate on the palette, almost floral. The painstaking process to create the elegant flavor is in part due to the detailed process. “Every step of the distillation process is managed with a very high level of accuracy,” says Muižniece. elit is filtered four times through super-fine quartz sand to begin the removal of impurities. Then the filtration process continues with birch wood charcoal to ensure ideal purity levels. A -18° freeze filtration process that mirrors the old vodka-making tradition of leaving casks outside in plummeting winter conditions.
Although Russia is the first point of origin in which people typically correlate vodka, Latvia has become a major player in production. “Russia and vodka are historically intertwined, but vodka is big in Latvia as well. While we were inspired by a centuries-old Russian freezing technique, our Latvian filtration and distillation processes are unique to us. This is what makes our liquid so mild and soft, removing sharp notes and unpleasant aftertaste,” explains Muižniece about what makes Latvian vodka unique.
The use of pure artesian water that is sourced “directly from the well-found deep below the earth at our Latvijas Balsams facility in Riga coupled with our proprietary -18C freeze filtration, elit has a purity that is unmatched.”
To be a renowned master blender, it takes enormous diligence to maintain the senses. “I take my job very seriously. I am proud to be the keeper of our superlative elit vodka flavor. Along the journey, I have understood that I need to take care of my health to upkeep my sensory capabilities at their finest. I have excluded gluten and lactose from my diet and I watch my sugar intake to make sure I am primed to catch any changes in our spirit flavor. I even do herbal cleanses twice a year and now follow a naturopathy regime.”
But most importantly, “the endless pursuit of knowledge and commitment to problem-solving before problems begin,” is what it takes to be a master blender.