Vodka: The Other Whiskey
Vodka is sometimes compared to gin; usually when considered as a substitute by those who say that they hate gin. The vodka martini, vodkatini or, as it was once known, the Kangaroo, comes immediately to mind. The problem, of course, is that the two liquors are not really interchangeable. Gin is made by distilling neutral spirits a second time with botanicals such a juniper, citrus peel, etc. That is how it gets its distinctive flavor. Vodka is a whiskey. Unlike other straight grain whiskeys, however, it has not been aged so it lacks the depth of flavor and color associated with whiskies. Any flavorings are generally added to vodka after distillation.
Vodka did not truly enter the American cocktail scene until after WW II, and while Russian vodka was not being exported [legally] past the Iron Curtain, Smirnoff was producing it here in the United States.
Aside: Smirnoff should now be avoided like the plague. Success and distilling to the lowest common denominator has destroyed their ability to make a decent vodka.
With constant advertising of the new imbibing liquid that “leaves you breathless” (nice double-entendre, there) and “does not have an unpleasant liquor taste,” vodka captured the American public’s imagination and created a whole new generation of drinkers who disdained the bourbon and ryes of their fathers. The real shame is that many vodka drinkers have never acquired a taste for other liquors and are, thus, missing out on a rich plethora of classic drinks.
Someone once said that you can learn nothing from a vodka cocktail. While a bit harsh, they were not, essentially, wrong. I have a difficult time taking most vodka-based cocktails seriously. “Rock the Block Punch” anyone? Being virtually flavorless has its advantages (and, no, strawberry does not count as flavor; it’s just flavoring) . Vodka can be mixed with just about anything, which is how you end up with a “Watermelon Cape Codder.” God help us.
Let it not be said that I do not like vodka. One of my own recipes, the Nadia, uses vodka as the base spirit. If vodka is to be used in a cocktail, it needs to try and stand up for itself like other whiskies unless the intent is to add alcohol to a drink without adding additional flavor. You need to compensate for the fact that vodka, unlike bourbon or rye, lacks presence. In a word, it lacks “omph.” No, alcohol burn does not count as omph.
Juice of 1 lime (or less)
1 teaspoon sugar (simple syrup)
2 oz vodka (not flavored)
Few leaves fresh mint
Shake well with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
This cocktail comes to us from the St. Regis in New York via Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up (1951). You will want to adjust the amount of lime to taste, but this drink is meant to be a sour. That being said, I would still cut back a bit on the lime juice (fresh squeezed only, of course).
A light, refreshing drink which doesn’t let you forget you are drinking vodka. So leave the candy-syrup flavored vodkas on the shelf and discover your inner Ivan Turgenev (look him up if you don’t know him).
Vodka is our enemy, so we’ll utterly consume it!—Rusian proverb