And then came my college days. My father’s quirks passed on to me. I would cozy up to the bar and order the exact same thing. Beer. Side car of vodka. Little did I know I was doing it all wrong…vodka, when consumed the right way and with a great brand can be one of the most enjoyable spirits around. Let’s discuss.
Traditional vodka is made of cereal grains or potatoes, distilled primarily with ethanol and water and has its roots in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. These days, you can find vodka in many flavors, made from other substances and produced in many areas. Unlike bourbon, scotch and even tequila, there is not an aging process or a certain maturity that makes vodka better or worse. You purchase a bottle today and it will be the same formula and taste if you buy the same brand 10 years from now. Hence the price differential as compared to other spirits.
Additionally, with good vodka, not that bathtub vodka or bottom shelf/house swill, it is meant to be sipped neat. The idea of taking shots is outdated and the concept of enjoying and pairing is where you want to be. The great thing about vodka is when you taste and compare brands, you can notice slight differences in taste and quality. I can fondly remember going for Absolut because that was what my father chose. I did not take to Absolut so I ventured off and found that my palate enjoyed Ketel One. Over the years and with many experiences, Grey Goose, Belvedere, Tito’s, Ciroc and Reyka have all spent time on my bar. Each of those gives you a distinct flavor and experience.
When it comes to cocktail creation, I would push you to be a purist at first. Pour your vodka of choice neat, slightly chilled [no ice] and sip. Look for the fermented taste and try to notice the purity of the spirit. If you want to add an ice cube or two, that’s fine as well. Next, try pairing your vodka with fresh oysters. The salt and the brine from the oysters is washed clean with a great tasting vodka. If I am going to mix a cocktail, then I would go for a vodka martini [straight up, dry and with an olive]. Make sure your barkeep doesn’t go too heavy on the vermouth [hence the dry order] so not to minimize the taste of the vodka.
Storage for vodka is very easy. Just keep it on your shelf with the cap on. Or you can stash it in the fridge/freezer to keep it chilled. Vodkas you can go buy and enjoy immediately, I would recommend the following:
- Ketel One (https://www.ketelone.com/)
- Ciroc (https://www.ciroc.com/)
- Tito’s (http://www.titosvodka.com/)
- Reyka (http://reyka.com/)
Vodka, when compared to other spirits, can be less expensive to purchase and a great staple for building a budding home bar. It is a foundational liquor and can be mixed with just about anything. Keep some on hand for those that like to imbibe but mix it up. While I am not a fan of the flavored vodkas, there is a strong market for it and I say buy what you like. There’s a reason it’s called the water of life in Europe. Go ahead, get you some.
Keith Cradle, Ph.D. (@mrcradle on IG/Twitter)