5 Essential Rules for Drinking Vodka the Right Way

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Vodka flight at Kachka

Now in its third year, Kachka remains one of the country’s most singular restaurants. The Russian eatery, slotted into a cramped storefront on Portland, Ore.’s eastside, specializes in zakuski, which literally translates to “vodka snacks.” And although the bar stocks an encyclopedic list of labels, spanning from Kaliningrad to Kentucky to all points in between, co-owner Israel Morales stresses that vodka isn’t just about what’s in the bottle. It’s about sharing it with friends and food. These are his five rules for drinking vodka the Russian way.

Kachka (image: Carly Diaz)

1. Use the Buddy System

“Vodka needs a friend,” says Morales. “For it to be done right, it should include food and people around the table.” In Russia, he says, the zakuski tradition is to set out a spread of appetizers, almost like tapas. “It’s a social activity, with lots of toasting. How it works is you all have shots of vodka and everyone makes a toast. You drink communally, then have a bite to eat. And it repeats itself. This is the cadence of Russian dining and drinking at the table.”

Zakuski at Kachka (image: Carly Diaz)

2. Drink to the Occasion

“When I drink vodka, I have to think about my endgame,” say Morales. If you’re pairing with food, he recommends selecting something clean, crisp and lighter in texture. Eastern European or Scandinavian vodkas are good for this purpose. But in Martinis or to sip straight, he might opt for a more flavorful vodka, one made with an unusual mash bill or yeasts that supply funky or fruity notes. American vodkas often fit the bill, but Russian Standard is also a favorite for mixing, he says.

3. Chill It Out

At Kachka, most vodkas are served straight from the freezer. “It changes the viscosity and can be delicious,” says Morales. However, he warns that more flavorful vodkas have a tendency of becoming muted in the freezer, so he sets those in the refrigerator to cool. For example, Dystopia (a Portland-made vodka with tropical fruit notes) and Karlsson’s (a slightly sweet potato vodka from Sweden) would be prime picks for the fridge.

From Russia with Love at Kachka (image: Carly Diaz)

4. Exercise Portion Control

Tiny one-ounce shot glasses are best for vodka, says Morales. “It’s the act of consuming it in small portions that allows you to toast and drink more frequently without getting blown out. Small shot glasses are the key to dinner parties—you’ll have a very short dinner party if you use large shot glasses.”

(image: Carly Diaz)

5. Let the Vodka Lead

Infused vodkas are a staple at Kachka and are often used in cocktails such as the Kosmos-politan, a kitschy Cosmo riff that features cranberry-infused vodka but no cranberry juice. “A very carefully crafted Vodka Highball or Martini can be very delicious,” says Morales. “But if you’re using it in a cocktail with seven other ingredients, it will get lost very quickly.” So keep it simple, and let the vodka lead the dance.

Locations: Portland
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  • tuckermansagergmailcom33371861 posted 2 months ago

    Sorry Kara, you haven't drunk with real Russians. They drink their vodka at room temperature, to include in tasting rooms in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. While they do eat zakuski when they drink, it is not a literal translation of vodka snack, it just means, snack. The glasses in the picture are fancy, but now what any Russian I drank with drank out of--they have shorter stems to avoid unnecessary spillage. And real Russians (and Poles for that matter) will normally have a bottle of Coke or Pepsi, water and Fanta on the table as well. After a shot of room temperature vodka they chase it with a small glass of the other and eat. Makes you last longer. But at the end of the night, the ration of vodka to people is usually one half liter per person. Putting the vodka in the freezer is a common western mistake which masks the flavour. If the vodka is bad, that is good. If the vodka is good, that is bad.

  • plainbsyahoocom667410950 posted 3 months ago

    regarding number 4, the point of drinking is not to drink more frequently, it is to enjoy, if you want to drink more frequently you are only a drunker

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