There's more to vodka than just mixing it with Red Bull and lying wide awake at 4am after a heavy night out. Clue up on this boozy insider intel to become a king of the spirit.
SIP THEN BITE THEN SIP THEN BITE
Want to drink a Russian under the table? “Eat between sips,” recommends Marian Beke, head bartender at Nightjar, London. “Creamy and fatty things work well as they balance the flavour and break down the alcohol.” Think bread, cheese and pickles.
THROW OUT YOUR SHOT GLASSES
“The pro choice is a tulip-shaped glass,” says Oli Blackburn, brand ambassador at Grey Goose vodka. “It channels the aroma, making it easier to smell – which is very important, as 85% of the taste comes from the receptors in your nose.” Alex Davies, head of distillery at Chase Vodka adds, “Drinking when hungry will heighten your taste receptors, too.”
REMEMBER TO DOUBLE UP
Not as in “double up for another quid” in the local Wetherspoon’s, but to give your taste buds a heads up. “The first sip will only prep your tongue and senses to let them know a high alcoholic liquid is coming,” says Oli Blackburn. “The second time round, it doesn’t miss out on any of the flavours.”
DON’T LEAVE IT IN THE FREEZER
“Of course, vodka is best served chilled, but not too cold,” says Marian Beke. “If the molecules in the alcohol start to freeze, all you’ll be able to taste is the alcohol.” Instead, keep your bottle on a shelf and pour it over ice. You’ll get the biggest range of flavours between 1-5°C. Any warmer, and lighter notes such as citrus will start to tail off.
WISE UP TO GIMMICKS
“I saw a bottle of vodka in Berlin promising that every drop was filtered across the breast of a supermodel,” says William Borrell, owner of Vestal Vodka. “There’s also a popular brand that says it is ‘filtered through diamonds’. It’s ridiculous. If people buy certain brands based on these claims, or because rappers drink them, they’ll miss out on the truly good stuff.”
THE HUMBLE SPUD IS KING
“The potato is the premium ingredient of the vodka connoisseur,” says William Borrell. “Potato vodka is more difficult to make and is defined by an inherent flavour and feel.” Alex Davies adds, “Potato is very expensive to make vodka from, not only because they spoil very easily but because you get a much lower yield from them than you do with grain.”
…BUT IT DOESN’T REIGN SUPREME
The EU defines vodka as a distilled spirit made from any agricultural product, meaning you could be knocking back anything you find on a farm, bar the farmer. In West Dorset, a distillery called Black Cow bottles the world’s only pure milk vodka. “Ours is exceptionally smooth with a creamy note and no horrible throat burn,” co-founder Paul Archard tells us.
THE WEST IS CATCHING THE EAST
It’s not just the “vodka belt” (eastern countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Poland) that kick out the good stuff. “There’s an exciting micro distillery movement in America, and Scotland is doing really well, especially one called Valt, made from malt,” says Paul Archard. “Look out for Kazakhstan’s Snow Queen vodka too,” adds Alex Davies.
HANGOVERS DON'T NEED TO BE HELLISH
“Vodka gets a really bad rap,” argues Paul Archard. “A massive contributor to a horrible morning after is sugar, and a premium bottle of vodka shouldn’t contain any, or at least only a tiny amount. You start to walk a very thin and dangerous line when you add mixers.”
40 IS YOUR FAVOURITE NUMBER
19th-century scientist Dmitri Mendeleev had the task of deciding the optimum alcoholic volume any vodka should hold, and (possibly drunkenly) found it to be 40%. “Any stronger and the burn’s too hard, any less and it’ll over-dilute from the ice,” says Paul Archard.
NEVER MESS UP YOUR MARTINIS
A vodka martini is class in a glass, but only if you nail it. “They’re easy,” says Kaspars Osis, bar supervisor at the fancy Quaglino’s in London. “All you need is fresh ice, a couple of dashes of vermouth and a measure of vodka. Stir for 13-14 seconds, and pour into a classic martini glass. Finish it off with a twist of lemon.”
Words by Chris Sayer
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