I love vodka. It’s pretty much all I drink. Sure, on occasion I’ll have a glass of wine, or on very special occasions I’ll drink whiskey because it’s a delicious sin, which I always pay for in the morning, but mostly, I drink vodka.
In college, I drank beer. I loved it, but I became allergic to it. It makes me sneeze something horrid. I drank gin for a while, but it didn’t take. It reminds me of chewing on pine needles. I turned to vodka, not out of love, but out of desperation. I didn’t even like vodka when I started drinking it. I drank it with cranberry juice or lemonade. I thought (as most Americans do) that vodka doesn’t have any real taste other than “booze” so of course I felt I had to dress it up. Oh, how wrong I was.
Not only is vodka my drink of choice, but in my small community, people associate me with it, and not in a drunky, drunk way, (OK, maybe in a little drunky, drunk way) but when I order a vodka and club soda, which I affectionately call a “skinny bitch” bartenders give a knowing nod.
I roll my eyes at flavored vodkas; I don’t even use a lime or lemon; just the booze, please. I love the taste of a good, stout vodka.
This past birthday, I received four bottles of vodka from four different friends. Really good vodka. I feel lucky that my friends know me so well, and that they thought so well of me to get me such a fine and luxurious treat. It started me thinking about the different kinds of vodkas I love. Turns out, I’m something of a vodka aficionado.
My friends have amazing food and wine blogs, and when I read them, I become impressed and hungry. I love how they know how to make soda bread at the drop of a hat, or what wine will go with what braised something-or-other. It got me thinking of that old adage, “write what you know” so I thought, I will share my knowledge of good vodkas! This is what I have learned in the past 20 years of drinking.
The following is a list of my favorite vodkas, from every day, to “stash it away and bring it out only on special occasion” bottles.
IN A PINCH – I drink Smirnoff. It’s cheap, tasty and clean. It’s great with tonic or good juices. This is also my go-to in bars in southern Wisconsin. Often in nicer bars and restaurants, it will be on the rail, so if you can spy that tell-all red label out of the corner of your eye, order a vodka with confidence and without appearing to be a vodka snob.
EVERYDAY – I like either Svedka or Rain. Both have a smooth quality and can stand up to club soda. One is organic, one is triple distilled, both are priced reasonably. A little lacking in the flavor arena, they are affordable and subtle. It’s a great Monday-Thursday vodka.
OUT IN PUBLIC – My stand-by order, is always “Absolut and club soda.” Absolut is a great, clean vodka you can find almost anywhere. It’s fairly affordable and it’s flavor (yes, it has one) is a little on the high-end of the palette, which I like, and it can stand up to the sweetest of lemonade. You can’t go wrong with it.
Now we get into the fun stuff…
WEEKENDS AT HOME – There was a week in my life, where my old friend Blake and my new friend Ted both gave me a bottle of Tito’s for no reason, so I figured it was fate. I admit I was a little dubious when I saw the paper label and the plastic, bronze colored cap, but as it turns out, I love this vodka. It’s made by Mockingbird distillery in Austin and it is the best affordable vodka out there. I love it with club soda. It is a yummy, smooth vodka with a little bit of gusto on the end. Completely affordable, completely tasty. If your local spirit shop doesn’t carry it, point it out to them; they should. (I’m lucky enough to have Bayfield Wine and Spirits that carries it and many of the excellent vodkas that will follow. Joanne rocks and often will introduce me to new and tasty treats! We’re lucky to have her here in our little town. www.bayfieldwineandspirits.com )
FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS – One of the vodkas I got for my birthday was one of my all-time favorites, Ultimat and, if the indigo blue bottle doesn’t take your breath away, then have a shot of this. This is a blend vodka of potato and grain. (It is hard to find a potato vodka these days, especially in the states. Most are made from grain, and yeah, you can tell the difference.) I love it because it stands up in a highball glass with or without club soda. I could drink this on ice and not flinch. It is smooth, clean and yummy, but has some darker notes that are really fun.
WHEN I FEEL HIGH BROW – Belvedere is a great Polish rye vodka. It has a strong taste, and some may think it comes dangerously close to being “boozy” but it isn’t. It’s powerful, but it has a sweet start and a strong finish, so it gets away with it. Lime works well, but it doesn’t need it. This is my vodka of choice when serving dry martinis.
WHEN I NEED/DESERVE AMAZING VODKA – This vodka was recently voted “Top Vodka in the World” by Spirit Journal and I know why. This is not your father’s vodka. In fact, this is more like your father’s appertiff or even Kirsch. That’s what Boyd and Blair’s Potato Vodka tastes like to me. The best. It is made in the states (Pennsylvania) and they make it in single batches. Each bottle is numbered and signed, but all that stuff aside, this is an amazing vodka. I would never think to drink it with tonic. It would ruin it. This vodka should be drank on the rocks, in a martini or with club soda. It is deliciously rich, flavorful and potent. It honestly smacks of Kirsch and has some almost vanilla tones with it’s bold vodka start. I love this vodka, a lot. I don’t drink it everyday; I savor it for special occasions. This is not for the faint of pallet, as the flavor of this amazing liquor is strong, but yummy. My friend Solvieg got me a bottle, and I have been hooked ever since.
My trio entered a contest for Boru vodka (Best Bar Band in the States) and ended up in the top ten. For that, they sent us a free case of Boru. I may have been influenced by the free swag, but let me tell you, that was a lovely vodka. It had a bit of a floral aftertaste, and not in a bad perfumey way, but in a lovely hint of lavender way. If you can find it, Boru is excellent.
A new bottle, just opened today (another birthday present) is a bottle of Kru 82. It’s a tad kitschy, because the bottle is an actual aluminum drinking canister with a grappling hook. When I got it it, I thought it was all promo and doubted the substance, but after a drink, this vodka has merit. It has a real sweet start and some fun aftertastes, almost a hint of fennel.
The current trend in vodkas is adding a blade of sweet grass to the bottle. I was lucky enough to have friends visit Poland a year ago and they brought me back a bottle of Zubrowka. This is not for the faint of heart. There is a real distinct flavor of vanilla and almond, and I have found when sharing it, the response is either love or hate. Folks who like a fuller-tasting vodka seem to really enjoy the sweetness of the grass, but be warned, it can overpower the timid. Don’t drink it with tonic, but rather sip it on the rocks or with a cleaner juice like apple.
Don’t be afraid of vodka! Good vodkas have a distinct taste; it isn’t just for martinis or cranberry juice, and it won’t make you feel like crap in the morning…well, assuming you don’t drink too much of it. Skol!