…from the Happy Hour Bar
How you doin’? Do you love vodka? Many vodka drinkers never get past the vodka tonic. Yes, it’s a refreshing, easy to make cocktail that’s hard to beat—or is it? Most vodkas are famous for having a mild, mixing-friendly flavor. However, if your drink of choice is vodka, it would be a shame not to reach out and embrace the myriad of options that this spirit has to offer.
As with many other foods, historians debate the origins of vodka due to the lack of historical material available. The vodkas from centuries past are worlds apart from the vodkas of today. The spirit of long ago had a very different flavor, color and aroma, and was originally used as a medicinal remedy. It contained little alcohol, an estimated maximum of about 14% compared to about 40% today. The still, allowing for distillation ("burning of wine"), increased purity and increased alcohol content, was invented in the 8th century.
How do you make vodka? Vodka may be distilled from any starch- or sugar-rich plant matter; most vodka today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodkas, rye and wheat vodkas are generally considered superior. Some vodkas are still made from potatoes. Others from molasses, soybeans, grapes, rice, sugar beets and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing--ick! In some Central European countries, such as Poland, some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and yeast. In the European Union there are discussions underway to standardize vodka specifications. The Vodka Belt countries insist that only spirits produced from grains, potato and sugar beet molasses be allowed to be branded as "vodka," following the traditional methods of production.
In the United States, many vodkas are made from 95% pure grain alcohol produced in large quantities by agricultural-industrial giants Archer Daniels Midland, Grain Processing Corporation, and Midwest Grain Products (MGP). Bottlers purchase the base spirits in bulk, then filter (sometimes two and three times to make it more neutral in flavor removing the "fore-shots", "heads" and "tails"). These components of the distillate contain unwanted flavor compounds such as ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate (heads) as well as the fusel oils (tails) that negatively impact the usually desired clean taste of vodka. That allows the brands to dilute, flavor, distribute and market the end-product under a variety of vodka brands.
So, what’s the difference in vodkas? A study conducted on NPR's Planet Money podcast revealed negligible differences in taste between various brands of vodka, leading to speculation as to how much branding contributes to the concept of "super-premium vodkas.”
With that in mind, we used good old Smirnoff a 10X-filtered neutral vodka. Smirnoff currently uses a process of multi-column filtration, inspired by the process developed by P.A. Smirnov, himself. The double-digit filtration process removes a high level of impurities and imparts a smoothness that doesn't go unnoticed by vodka fans. Prices range from $4.95 to $19.95.
We tested some of the more interesting vodka cocktail recipes from mules to the martinis. With unique flavors and easy to follow instructions it's never been easier to get yourself out of a cocktail rut, so try out these fun cocktails that any vodka drinker is sure to love.
Old Vodka Glory
8-10 blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup (see ChefSecret below)
1-2 ounces Pinot Noir
Espresso Vodka Martini
1-1/2 ounces vodka
1 ounce cold espresso
3/4 ounce premium coffee liqueur
1 pinch of salt
Non Classico Spritz
1 ounce vodka
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce St. Germain (elderberry liqueur)
2 ounces Prosecco
ChefSecrets: For basic simple syrup only two ingredients are required—equal parts of water and sugar. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan over medium heat.
Stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then pour into a glass jar and seal tightly with a lid.
Simple syrup will keep, refrigerated, for about a month.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “Heard from a couple in NYC on lock down… I love you no matter what you do, but do you have to do so damn much of it?”
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