A Primer on Vodka
Vodka is one on the list of many things that I just didn’t get. Part of it could have been the fact that the people I remember drinking vodka always drank Popov vodka and so I’ve kept away from it ever since. However, I’m older now and I don’t have friends that lug around 1.75 liter bottles of Popov (at least in public) and instead drink brands that seem passable as something other than lighter fluid. So, I think it is time for me to delve into this world and see what it has to offer.
Per Wikipedia, vodka means, “little water,” dates back to 9th century Russia and its early nicknames included “bread wine” or “burning wine.” (Let’s just pause and give pretend credit to Ralph Wiggum for that name.) In the 19th century, Polish vodka makers started to use potatoes to make the spirit in addition to variations that use corn, rye, wheat and sugar beets. Rye? Corn? Those sound like the ingredients for bourbon and whiskeyand I know vodka tastes nothing like whiskey. So, what makes vodka different from whiskey? Well, makers distill it down to an almost pure alcohol and then water is added to lessen the strength.
Vodka and Red Bull is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of vodka drinks, but there are many more due to its perceived neutrality of flavor. (I use perceived because I have never not been able to taste the vodka in a drink. It tastes like burning, I mean, alcohol.) The vodka tonic, vodka martini and screwdriver are also popular drinks that don’t take much in the way of ingredients. (Tonic water, dry vermouth and orange juice respectively.) However, I think the one drink that is definitely vodka’s signature is the Bloody Mary. I’ll leave it to you to peruse the rest of Martha Stewart’s recipes where you can add things like cucumber and mint, strawberry and ginger, and blackberries. Now that we have an idea of how we can use vodka, what vodka should we use?
Here are the main brands that I know I’ve seen (besides, shudder, Popov) and each of them also has a few flavored vodkas to their name, depending on if your drink needs that hint of orange, blackberry, vanilla or other flavors.
When I think of Absolut Vodka, my mind immediately goes to the ads. That’s because since 1979, the Swedish company that makes Absolut has been marketing their vodka over here it seems like non-stop. If you watch the “Story of Absolut” video, you’ll find that Absolut is almost 200 years older than the United States.
How do I know Grey Goose must taste good? I have a friend that has a membership to Costco. The main and really only reason is to buy super-duper size bottles of Grey Goose. Once I started to explore their website and found this link to the Food and Wine Classic of Aspen, I knew this would be the vodka to beat.
Remember how I wrote that vodka started in Russia (and some even say Poland a century earlier)? Well, Ketel One (pronounced KAYE-tul) is from the Netherlands, and the aforementioned Grey Goose is produced in France. (Skyy is produced in San Francisco and Stoli is the only one of the main vodka brands produced in Russia or Poland.) As the site is under construction, the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the name comes from the Dutch word for the copper pot used to make the vodka – Distilleerketel.
Skyy Vodka also has some sweet ads, generally the bottle next to a nice pair of ladies’ legs. (This ad adds a second girl and covers up most every other part of the ladies.) Does this vodka want me to think of running which makes me think healthy because Skyy has the fewest impurities? Or does it just know that I’m a leg man?
So, to me, if you want to go old school, Stoli would be your brand. Don’t believe me? If you have Hugh Hefner shilling your product, you have to be old school. So, with that, I raise my glass of vodka to you and say, happy drinking.
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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."