Vodka is a clear, mostly odorless spirit which is un-aged. It comes out of the still and into a bottle, and never sees the inside of a wooden barrel like whiskey, brandy or rum. Its either distilled from potatoes or wheat and its origins lie somewhere in Scandinavia, Poland or Russia. Vodka is a Slavic word meaning “water” and first appears in text dating back to 1400 AD. In the 1950s vodka sales soared and by the 1970s it became the largest selling spirit in the USA. In the 1990s with the rise in popularity of “Martini like” cocktails including the Cosmopolitan, it almost put American Whiskey out of business. By the 21st century vodka got so carried away with itself that it was now nearly in every flavor including blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, marshmallow, caramel and even cotton candy. Its no wonder that by 2010 Americans were turning back to whiskey, mostly bourbon and as of 2015 vodka officially took a dive nearly by 20% in sales.
Personally, unlike some of my colleagues, I feel there is a place for vodka in the mixology world. While it is like tofu of the cocktail realm, I think plain, straight, unflavored vodka is nothing but the perfect ingredient in many drinks like the Bloody Mary and even as a replacement for gin in a Martini, with soda like bitter lemon, 7up, Sprite, and of course tonic. For me, the perfect place to use it is in a chocolate martini, it thins out the overbearing Irish cream and chocolate liqueurs and continues to pack the punch a good stiff drink should, even if sweet.
Vodka has a clean, crisp taste, and sometimes you want that instead of something that has been sitting in a barrel aging for a decade or more. Vodka does have taste. Its hard to differentiate or taste, but you will find they do differ. What I love about vodka is its incredibly cheap. $20 will get you a gallon of it, and not just the cheap stuff, but some of the highest rated like Svedka from Sweden. This makes it more economical to drink at home and have a party, and you can even cook with it when you go to make Penne A la Vodka. But if you are going to drink it straight, chilled or in a strong cocktail, here are my personal favorites.
- Reyka (Iceland)
- Stoli Elit (Russia)
- Stolichnaya (Russia)
- Svedka (Sweden)
- Mezzaluna (Italy)
- Belvedere (Poland)
- Smirnoff Black (Russia)
- Grey Goose (France)
- Fris (Finland)
- Tito’s (Texas, USA)
Vodka pairs well with many foods like caviar, smoked fish, nearly anything from Poland or Russia, however, you will want to discover the classic cocktails that brought vodka to its rise and avoid the ones that contributed to its decline. If you need a vodka flavored with any particular ingredient, just add that ingredient instead and use pure, straight vodka that is not artificially flavored.
- Frozen: Right out of the freezer, icy cold, it makes it even easier to drink straight.
- Screwdriver: Simply orange juice and vodka. Add some Galiano to it and you have the popular drink from the 1970s known as the Harvey Wallbanger.
- Moscow Mule: Vodka, Fresh lime juice, ginger ale or ginger beer
- Vodka Martini: Many will argue its not a martini if it does not have gin, but if you don’t like juniper and prefer a cleaner taste, be like James Bond and go against the mainstream and enjoy something non-traditional.
- Vodka Highball: This works with any soda including bitter lemon, tonic, lemon lime soda, orange soda, ginger ale, but definitely not Coke.
- Vodka & Cranberry Juice: My personal favorite and go-to vodka drink, even better with a squeeze of fresh lemon wedge, lime works too.
- Cosmopolitan: A bit more ambitious, this drink was popularized by the HBO series Sex in the City and includes vodka, cranberry, Cointreau, lime and maybe a splash of soda. It might appeal to the ladies, but it packs a punch for the guys for sure.
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