"Why do you have to hate on Vodka? What did vodka ever do to you?" This is the statement Tony Abou-Gani, author of Vodka Distilled, opened up with in the Spirits Academy vodka seminar a few weeks ago. Ask me what I would have told you had you asked me if I liked vodka two minutes prior to that statement. I would have told you I hate vodka, I can't stand it, and I don't understand why its still the number one selling distilled spirit in the world.
Why did I hate vodka? Because since I have been old enough to drink, the only drinks I ever hear ordered at bars are vodka-redbulls, vodka-cranberries, and vodka-sodas. Vodka this, vodka that. Shots of vodka (ugh...college days). No wonder I hated vodka, I didn't know how to drink it! Why add vodka to orange juice? I'll just have the orange juice, thanks. I just didn't get it, and when I started discovering cocktails, I wanted anything but vodka in them to prove I was better than that.
It's not just me, its a growing trend in the mixology world to hate on vodka right now since we don't want to be associated with the vodka-redbull fad. I think all of us enthusiasts think we're too cool for it. Tony told us a story of one time recently that he went to a great cocktail bar in town. He asked the bartender what vodkas they had available as he didn't see any on the back bar. The bartender told him (in a wonderful snobby voice) that they had two, "and in his opinion, that was two too many". Okay, maybe this hatred has gotten out of hand. Too good to have vodka at your bar? You've crossed the line.
Needless to say, after a wonderful presentation, an awesome 11-vodka tasting flight, and another 6 flavored vodkas tasting, my mind has been changed about vodka. (And yes, we were spitting all of those vodkas. C'mon.) I was so excited when I went home that night to tell Andrew all about my new appreciation for vodka. He immediately went to our vodka stash and presented a tasting of all the vodkas we had in the cabinet. Unfortunately, our selection was pretty pitiful:
Seriously, all we had was vodka in a gun-shaped bottle, a plastic bottle of "Potters" (I highly do not recommend), a vodka in a skull bottle he had signed by Dan Akroyd, and another one shaped like a fire extinguisher. Most of these were left over from college or gifts; shows you what kind of vodka drinkers we are! (Shortly after, I purchased a bottle of Belvedere, one of my favorites from the tasting.)
So I have come to realize that our hatred of vodka stems from Americans not knowing how to drink vodka. There's a lot of great cocktails out there with vodka in them, and no I'm not talking about the strawberry martini made with strawberry-flavored vodka. These are real cocktails that use vodka to enhance the flavor of the overall drink, not hide it. I will admit...I'm still not a vodka drinker. That tasting I did of straight vodkas was pretty hard for me, so I know I wouldn't enjoy straight vodka poured over ice (as most skilled vodka drinkers do), but I have learned how to appreciate it in our cocktail culture.
Tony's book has lots of classic cocktail recipes in it, so Andrew made me this "Gypsy Queen"cocktail I'm sharing with you on this post. I absolutely loved it! It is very easy to make, but be careful, it is boozy! (It is actually straight booze, no mixers added.) Since it has benedictine in it, think of it as an herbal-floral concoction that has flavor and fruitiness but is not necessarily sweet. If you are a new cocktail drinker, this might be a little strong, so order another classic vodka-based cocktail, like a moscow mule or harvey wallbanger next time you're out at a bar.
2 oz vodka of choice
1 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
thin slice of lemon peel (for garnish)
In an ice-filled mixing glass add vodka, benedictine, and angostura bitters. Stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled low-ball glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel.
How to Rediscover Vodka
Okay, so I hope my spiel above has changed your mind about vodka. If you know its still not your cup of tea, no worries. As I said, the tasting I did in my class was tough as I don't particularly enjoy drinking vodka straight. However, it was so cool to taste the differences between the different brands; if you have the opportunity to taste through 3 or more in a sitting, do it (but make sure you're spitting those out, no need to get plastered from it!). My favorites from the tasting were Russian Standard, Belvedere, and Zyr--they were all different, but all appealing. Others, that I'll leave unnamed, were awful to me. But that's just my preferences, yours could be completely different.
Also--next time you're at a mixology bar, don't be afraid to order a vodka-based cocktail. Try to keep it classic though, like a gypsy queen, moscow mule, harvey wallbanger, cosmopolitan, or lemon drop. Hopefully these drinks will change your mind about vodka, as my mind has certainly been changed.
A Little Info on Vodka
- Vodka can be made from anything that contains fermentable sugars, but most are made from wheat, potato, or rye
- Its highly debated whether vodka originated in Poland or Russia (no one knows the factual answer)
- Historically Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland all have a rich heritage and tradition with vodka production, so we call these countries the "Vodka Belt"
- Vodka struggled in America for the first part of the 20th century. The first vodka distillery built in America was Smirnoff, which was built in 1934. It was unsucessful at first and had to be marketed as "white whiskey".
- Ian Fleming invented the vesper cocktail through his James Bond series, and we can thank him for the vodka martini, as the classic martini was gin-based prior to his phenomenon