By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
If you’ve been doing something for 10 years, you should be pretty good at it.
Barry Young has been distilling Boyd & Blair vodka for a decade now. And according to the results of this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge, the most prestigious global spirits competition, Boyd & Blair isn’t just good—it is the best.
In previous years, the Glenshaw-based craft distillery consistently ranked near the top of the unflavored vodkas, scoring an impressive 94 or 95 out of 100. This year, Boyd & Blair got its first 96. And with that 96, came the Chairman’s Trophy for being the best in its category.
“I was like ‘yes!’ because I never thought I would achieve it, and after 10 years,” Young says.
Boyd & Blair was also awarded the Tried and True Award, for its consecutive high rankings over the past four years in the competition.
“Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka…is a once-in-a-generation distillate that redefines an entire category,” said F. Paul Pacult, chairman of judging for the competition.
“While most unflavored vodkas leave you without sensory impressions because they are void of character, Boyd & Blair gives you rich aroma, bountiful flavor, and a satiny texture,” he continued. “Little wonder that it won the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2019 Chairman’s Trophy as the world’s finest unflavored vodka.”
You don’t have to be an expert like Pacult to notice that Boyd & Blair is just different than other vodkas. Calling it an ‘unflavored vodka’ almost feels wrong. It’s sweet and spicy, citrusy and buttery, and oh so smooth.
“It’s something that you have to experience to understand that it really is different,” Young says.
Young left the pharmacy field to co-found Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries. He knew the chemistry behind distilling, but he had an outsider’s perspective on crafting spirits that made him question some of the usual practices.
There are a few major things that Young does differently then most of the big name brands. First, nothing about the distillation process is automated—it’s all handcrafted in small batches.
Next is the potatoes. Boyd & Blair is made from 100 percent Pennsylvania-grown potatoes. Distilling vodka from potatoes is more difficult and expensive than using wheat or corn, but it leads to a natural sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel.
And finally, Boyd & Blair is all ‘heart.’ A distilled vodka has three parts: head, heart and tails. Everyone gets rid of the head, but most keep the tails.
“We’ve all done a shot of something that was fairly cheap in our lives and you get that you face where you shake your head…that’s actually the tails that you’re tasting,” Young says. “Boyd & Blair never adds the tails.”
Young says he wants the most flavor with the least aftertaste, and he has it down to a science.
Everyone thinks they know what to expect from a vodka, for better or for worse. So watching people taste Boyd & Blair for the first time is one of Young’s favorite things.
“People’s eyes open and they look at you and then they look at the glass and they look back and I never get tired of it,” he says. “It’s one of those things that drives you because you know you’ve made something different.”
Boyd & Blair is great in a classic martini or even on the rocks. But, to me, spring and summer are for fruit and herbs—so here’s what I’m drinking.
Strawberry Basil Vodka Soda
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
A dozen strawberries
5 basil leaves
2 oz Boyd & Blair Vodka
Make a strawberry simple syrup by simmering the sugar, water and berries in a saucepan for 15 minutes or until bright red and slightly thickened. Strain the syrup and let cool. Put the basil leaves into a tumbler and muddle. Add vodka and 1oz of strawberry syrup and stir. Add ice and top with club soda.
Mango Mint Mule
1/2 oz lime juice
2 oz Boyd & Blair Vodka
3 oz mango juice
5 mint leaves
3 oz ginger beer
Shake lime juice, vodka and mango juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Muddle mint leaves in copper mug (or just a regular old glass!), then pour in the vodka mixture. Add ice and top with ginger beer.