Vodka: A Conundrum Wrapped in a Distilled Spirit

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There are so many “habits” about the consumption of alcohol in America that confuse me.

You say, and yes, you know who I am talking about, you don’t like sweet. And to your point, you are not purchasing Dry Riesling wine, which is nothing about sweet. Educators and people who stage wine tastings have literally had to individually pour glasses of Rosé into your mouth to prove to you that the pink-tinged wine is not sweet. It is not, you have discovered.

Okay, we will take you at your word: you don’t like sweet.

However, then you turn around and start buying moscato, a decidedly sweet wine, by the boxcar.

Of course, beverage confusion is nothing new to Americans. Europeans have always had a problem understanding our love of iced tea. First we boil the water, and then we add ice. We add lemon then we add sugar. The Europeans don’t really go along with this program, by the way, and any self-respecting Salon de Té anywhere on the European continent does not offer such a concoction.

For me, a beverage that causes much confusion and occupies way too much thinking time is vodka. This clear spirit comes in a wide array of packages and can cost from next to nothing all the way up to “what’s so special about this stuff?”

Our love affair with vodka continues unabated. In its simplest form, vodka is an infuser of alcohol into a wide array of cocktails. In its most complicated form, vodka becomes a key essence (taste and smell) component but only after the clear spirit has been infused with all manner of flavoring ranging from deep, sweet berries to vegetables like beans and peppers to spices like cinnamon and ginger. Flexible it is, for sure, beyond all discussion to the contrary. 

The vodka producing industry has become very savvy at expanding the use of their product. If you find the flavor of raspberry appealing in a particular recipe that calls for both vodka and raspberry, you can be assured there is a raspberry-infused spirit that will make you quite happy. But then you want a drink that comes forward with the flavor of apple. Well, you can’t use the raspberry-flavored vodka for that. You have to purchase an apple-infused vodka, or use the pure, straight stuff and add some level of apple to the mix.

Which means, potentially, you will have many, many bottles of vodka on hand, each one performing one purpose from a spirit that was originally intended to be applicable across a broad range of concoctions. Why didn’t I think of that? Narrow the uses for a product, but sell more products. The Smirnoffs are rolling over in their sarcophagi.

There seems to now be a movement towards higher proof spirits and vodka is not about to miss out on that boat since, for the most part, proof is what the beverage is all about anyway.

A new New Orleans start-up distillery, located in the heart of the city on Broad Street, has created and brought to market a higher proof vodka, not just for the purpose of adding more punch to the punch but specifically for the purpose of adding ingredients to infuse the clear spirit.

Atelier Vie, shiny new and loaded with interesting projects, created Buck 25 to encourage small-batch additive and infusion experimentation by the professional mixologist crowd as well as frustrated mad scientists. Okay, so they all are and that is a bit redundant.

Buck 25, now on a retailer’s shelf near you, is almost 63 percent alcohol so the process of adding a flavoring can happen quicker. You can make your own infusions but not necessarily in 750-ml. batches. Play around with smaller units of measure and see what levels of flavoring bring your concoction to its desired state. You are the one doing the defining and desiring.   

On its website, the company has recipes for ginger 3 ways, using fresh, dried and candied ginger, as well as a hot red pepper infusion suggestion that even discloses the source of the pepper, Hong Kong Market.

The whole concept is not limited by anything except your imagination and taste buds. And if you believe you are thinking crazy, out of the box, just wait until those little mixologist devils get hold of this higher proof liquid and see where they take the possibilities. Even if you are not a vodka lover, you’d better get accustomed to the idea of seeing a lot of it on cocktail menus for the foreseeable future. Oh no, not another bar serving hamburger-dressed-easy-on-the-mayo vodka cocktails.

The good old days of a simple not-too-spicy Bloody Mary may be in the rear-view mirror with the vodka now providing the flavors of celery and hot green beans.

Vodka at its core is a really simple-to-enjoy-simple-to-make spirit. Yet that’s not going to be good enough anymore. Personal expressions of distilled spirits are in the infancy stages. And now when you order a drink with vodka, you are going to have to ask, “What’s in that stuff?”

 

                                                -30-  

Categories: Cocktails, Happy Hour

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