What? We're Out Of Vodka?!
We live in what may be called a Golden Age of Vodka, where from the point of view of the mixologist, anything goes. Certainly we are light-years from the days of bottom-shelf two-buck Popov and OJ concentrate. Today, the shelves at the liquor store extend from one end to the other, from top to bottom, loaded with every imaginable kind of vodka, from the steadfast veterans like Stoli, to the up-and-comers like Tito's. There are vodkas made from potatoes, wheat, rye, corn, rice, grain (including barley and oats), sugar beets, grapes (like Cîroc), herbs and fruits, honey, sugar cane, horseradish, and even a Filipino vodka made from coconuts. And then there is the legion of infused and flavored vodkas—Absolut being the very first. Vanilla, citrus, peach, pear, currant, orange, raspberry, grapefruit, chocolate, espresso bean, hibiscus, lemon grass, ginger, chili pepper. (Absolut Peppar Vodka does make the best Bloody Mary.) And there's even a Twizzlers Vodka that tastes just like red licorice. (If only we could smuggle it into the movie theater!) And isn't it all about choice? We want to believe that we are agents of change, that our lives are malleable and within our control. Or such is the illusion. Ha! But at least with vodka, this is possible.
When I was trying out different vodkas for the Vodka Variation of my drink "The 21st Century" (see the BLOG entry for March 7, 2016: The 21st Century: A New Gin & Vodka Classic Cocktail), I went through quite a few. The first was Tito's, still a favorite for its taste, smoothness, and affordability (not to mention that it's from Texas. It just sounds cool, Vodka from Texas.). Then, the French superstar, Cîroc. As a stand-alone, there are few better vodkas (Pur from Quebec also comes to mind), but in this cocktail it seemed to pull back a bit in the mix. Then Ketel One from The Netherlands, which is just fine straight as well as mixed. And then another favorite, Reyka from Iceland, with that understated yet very cool ice blue bottle like a Minimalist work of art. And of course, being three-fourths Polish, I love Belvedere (Belvedere Citrus a favorite!). And what I realized was that while we are always seeking the definitive version of a cocktail (the Ultimate Manhattan! the Perfect Martini!), there is something to be said for the way each drink changes depending upon the brand of liquor we use. Variations on a theme, in the best sense (think J.S. Bach), as the subtlety of the variation makes you realize and enjoy the creation in a new, ever-changing, and often surprising way.
If Ponce de León made it to Russia...