Get over that preconception that vodka is boring. Odds are, if that’s what you think, you’re just not drinking it right. And by right, we mean mixed into cocktails.
“Cocktails represent a lion’s share of the vodka we consume—one in four, at least,” says bartender Tony Abou-Ganim in his vodka-centric book,Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails. “Vodka’s flavor and character nuances, subtle though they may be, can enhance the cocktail experience. Light and citrus-forward versus spicy and bold—there’s a place for each in creating an outstanding cocktail.”
In other words, although vodka is deliberately distilled to be neutral, with minimal odor, color and flavor, all vodkas are not the same. These four cocktails from Vodka Distilled will make the most of vodka bottlings distilled from various ingredients.
How to Mix with a Grain-Based Vodka
Whether made with wheat, which offers vanilla, anise, citrus or malty grains and bread dough; corn, which can read as cooked cereal or sweet butter; or barley, which can provide bright citrus, floral, herbal or even nutty notes, a grain-based vodka is the right choice for light, fruity vodka cocktails. Note: Many vodkas don’t list the specific grains included in the bottle.
Caipiroska (image: Tim Turner Studios / Vodka Distilled)
Try it in the Caipiroska. Similar to Brazil’s famed Caipirinha but made with vodka in place of cachaça, this fresh, citrusy drink matches best with “a clean, neutral vodka with fruity, floral notes—something made from corn, wheat or mixed grain, something gentle,” according to Abou-Ganim.
How to Mix with a Rye-based Vodka
Known for big, spicy black pepper notes as well as earthy, vegetal tones that hint at green bell pepper, a brisk rye-based vodka is the right choice to stand up in a Bloody Mary or other similarly styled cocktails.
Caesar (image: Tim Turner Studios / Vodka Distilled)
Try it in the Caesar.The Canadian answer to the Bloody Mary, this drink originally hails from the Calgary Inn, where it may be the only cocktail recipe inspired by a pasta dish.
“This is a feisty drink,” says Abou-Ganim. “Respect its big flavors and reach for an Old World potato-based or rye-based vodka—something with a little spice to boost the flavor.”
How to Mix with a Wheat-based Vodka
Wheat vodkas are known for soft, subtly creamy notes of vanilla or cookie dough, as well as perkier anise, citrus or white pepper. Abou-Ganim says these characteristics make wheat-based vodkas the right choice for sweeter dessert-like libations.
Cocoa À Trois (image: Tim Turner Studios / Vodka Distilled)
Try it in the Cocoa À Trois.This dessert-y sipper has rich, chocolaty underpinnings, so “the drink will pair best with a New World corn-based or wheat-based vodka rich in vanilla or cocoa elements,” according to Abou-Ganim.
How to Mix with a Potato-based Vodka
The robust mouthfeel and “earthy, musty fruit-cellar qualities” of a potato vodka make it ideal for standing out in a drink with bold, acidic or even bitter elements like fruit juices or liqueurs like Aperol.
Ruby (image: Tim Turner Studios / Vodka Distilled)
Try it in the Ruby. “The Ruby is a fruit-centric drink,” says Abou-Ganim. “I use a vodka with a good structure, rich mouthfeel and diverse fruit flavors. A potato base is ideal to help soften and moderate the drink’s bitter and floral elements.”
I find it really hard to believe that the grain used to make a vodka would make any noticeable difference once the vodka is mixed into a cocktail. I'm even skeptical about how noticeable it would be for most people when drinking the vodka straight. I'd be willing to bet that even the author wouldn't be able to tell the difference between vodkas and vodka grains when mixed without being told which vodka was used.
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