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August is Vodkaaaah month. You know you want it.
Not all vodkas are created equal.
While this may not be news to anyone who’s familiar with the “neutral” spirit, it might surprise those who only have experience with the astringent qualities of bottom-shelf vodka.
The mark of a great vodka is not its ability to completely disappear into a drink (or to “get the job done”), but to seamlessly support other ingredients with the right amount of oomph—and no rubbing alcohol flavor.
Amaze yourself with vodka’s ability to blend with everything from citrus and strawberries to espresso and spices.
Sure, this cocktail from all-star New York bartender Pam Wiznitzer is purposefully “girly,” but don’t let its rosy hue derail your vodka-laced fun. Building on a base of easy-to-drink Ultimat vodka, the Girls Next Door combines fruity and floral hits: strawberries and hibiscus star in a syrup with a touch of rosehip, then pear liqueur and lemon juice balance the creaminess that egg white lends to the drink. A few dashes of Burlesque Bitters from Bittermens gives it a femme-fatale finish.
We don’t always put vodka in our espresso, but when creative booze geniuses like Nico de Soto provide the perfect recipe, why resist? Playing on the uniqueness of cardamom pods, this cocktail mixes pistachio fat–washed vodka (it’s easier to make than it sounds) with cardamom syrup and java. There’s no point in trying to detect even a hint of astringency: In this drink it doesn’t exist.
These two spring favorites make great pie, so of course it works when you swap the crust for a healthy measure of eau de vie (or, in this case, vodka). Aperol buddies up with rhubarb syrup to help cut the sweetness of the strawberry juice. All that’s needed is a little lemon juice and fizzy soda. (This drink is a Collins, after all.)
South America got it right with the cachaça-based Caipirinha, which easily transforms into the vodka-based Caipiroska. This variation looks to the Thai tropics for its inspiration. Its foundation doesn’t stray too far from the lime wedge, sugar and vodka classic, but it does add a dose of Thai basil syrup and lemon juice. Top it with ginger ale and your home will transform into a tropical paradise.
Another classic that relies on sugar and citrus to carry its weight, the Gimlet is easy to make—and equally easy to manipulate. Case in point: When you swap the traditional gin for vodka, then add basil leaves and cucumber slices and a touch of lemonade, you’ve still got a balanced cocktail. But it’s one that sips even faster than the original.
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Let’s start with some basics.