From its heyday in the 1980s to its recent comeback across several prominent bar programs, vodka has always been somewhat polarizing among industry folks. While detractors find it (and those who drink it) to be dull and uncreative, proponents of mixing with vodka see it as a blank canvas for experimentation, nodding to its inherent harmony with other flavors. From a boozy green juice to miso-coconut mule, here are eight delicious vodka cocktails that are giving the clear spirit a good name.
Perched on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association, this gastro-cocktail lounge plays to its strengths with drinks that are ideal for sipping while soaking up the panoramic city views. In this subtle lavender-hued refresher by the bar’s spirit guide Nandini Khaund, Ketel One vodka is layered with sweet Dolin Blanc, floral crème de violette, lemon juice and delicate emperor’s jasmine pearl tea.
It makes sense that Bobby Heugel’s downtown mezcalería, known for its Mexican cocktails and house infusions, would give vodka a smoky South of the Border upgrade. Here, the spirit is infused with cascabel chile, then sloshed with mango, cilantro, cayenne, lime and Tajín seasoning for a tropical chile-forward elixir. As for the name? It’s a cheeky tribute to the drinks found at Mexican resorts, and the cougars who order them.
If you add vodka to your green juice, it’s still healthy right? Maybe not, but this kale-whispered highball drink by head bartender Maxime Belfand makes for the perfectly refreshing summer sip. In the spirit of cleansing, Belfand employs Absolut Elyx vodka, manually distilled in a century-old copper still that removes unpleasant odors and impurities, along with rich Carpano Bianco vermouth, oregano-mint syrup, lemon and kale juices, and a few dashes of apple cider vinegar (it’s good for you!).
It may not sound nearly as glamorous as the original, but you’ll definitely prefer drinking this Southern-twanged take on the ol’ Sex on the Beach. WithAylesbury Duck vodka as the backbone, the recipe’s peach schnapps are swapped out for more tempermental Giffard Crème de Pêche de vigne liqueur while the orange and cranberry are balanced with a house-made strawberry-lime shrub.
A fairly unusual take on the classic Moscow Mule, this concoction by SushiSamba head of spirit and cocktail development Richard Woods adds bold miso-infused sugar and Coco Lopez coconut cream to the usual recipe of vodka, lime and ginger.
At this East Sixth industry favorite, veteran bar man Brett Esler whips up a playful sour cocktail using Belvedere vodka as the base. Strawberry and lemon brighten up the mix, while a splash of Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos sherry provides a nicely dry finish.
The traditional Rickey calls for bourbon or gin, but at LDV Hospitality’s vinyl-soundtracked Colorado outpost, vodka steps in as a substitute, allowing the drink’s fruit flavors to shine through. The bottle of choice here is silky Woody Creek vodka, distilled from potatoes and hinted with sweetness. It’s mixed with agave nectar, lime juice and blackberries and topped with prosecco.
Those who find vodka unimaginative would be silenced by a sip of this seven-ingredient vodka-and-sherry cocktail by bartender Rachele Byrd-Townsell. In the mix is Absolut Elyx vodka, Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa sherry, Gran Classico bitters, fresh lemon juice and a bright house agua fresca made with pineapple, red bell pepper, ginger and mint. The drink is poured in a coupe glass, topped with three drops of Weatherby’s orange saffron bitters and garnished with a dried orange wheel.