The legendary Tony Abou-Ganim talks about the magic of the vodka Martini.
“Here’s a small bit of trivia for you,” says Tony Abou-Ganim. “In the ’50s, a martini made with vodka in place of gin was called a kangaroo.”
It’s just one of the things that Abou-Ganim, one of the country’s leading bar professionals and an avowed fan of the spirit, learned while researching his seminal book, Vodka Distilled.
The name kangaroo never caught on, but vodka did. It now accounts for 25 percent of the liquor sold in the United States, having surpassed gin in popularity back in 1967. “That’s when the whole bar world changed,” says Abou-Ganim, citing the spirit’s ascent. “Once Ian Fleming got a hold of it, vodka was really on its way. It started to have a certain sexiness, because Hollywood was drinking it.”
“In a vodka martini,” notes Abou-Ganim, “you taste the subtle nuances of the distillate. It doesn’t hide behind maturation barrels and botanicals—it’s the art of the distiller that makes a quality vodka.” For Abou-Ganim, who got his start tending at his aunt Helen’s bar in Port Huron, Michigan, Stolichnaya® vodka holds a special place in his heart. “There were other vodkas out there,” he recalls, “but then Stolichnaya® showed up, straight from Russia, the birthplace of the spirit. I remember it cost a quarter more than the other brands. It’s the first vodka I remember drinking, in gimlets and Harvey Wallbangers.”
He is still a fan of the Stolichnaya® portfolio to this day. Instead of mixing vodka into a cocktail, he often drinks it straight, a testament to the quality of elit™ by Stolichnaya®, which is so smooth it can stand alone. “elit™ straight from the freezer, poured over ice in a crystal glass—that’s a great drink,” says Abou-Ganim. “It does not need vermouth. It does not need embellishment—unless you’re talking about a tin of Osetra caviar.”