Q. I've been hearing a lot from bartenders that vodka is passe. What are your thoughts?
A. Ahhh, the vodka question -- there's been much debate in my community about this. Is it passe? Some cocktail snobs might say so, but I believe that vodka has its place.
Served traditionally, ice cold with Eastern European food? Yes.
Used as a thinning or balancing agent in certain cocktails? Yes.
Infusing (some would say that is passe, but not I) with interesting ingredients? Yes.
In a martini? Emphatically NO.
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Vodka is the tofu of the spirit world, and takes on the flavor of its surrounding ingredients. In that attribute lies its beauty and function. I enjoy the challenge of balancing flavors with various spirits in various tipples, but sometimes you may have a fantastic concoction of liqueurs, spices, herbs, fruits, bitters, etc. that just needs the strength (proof) and subtlety of vodka to make it a potent potable without stepping on the other elements.
Even flavored vodkas have their place. For example, in a very loose interpretation, gin could be considered a flavored vodka. So when creating cocktails, I approach flavored vodkas as I would a gin, balancing the ingredients to complement the botanicals and essence of the spirit. (Of course, the spirit must be top-quality.)
Vodka is still the world's top-selling spirit by a long shot, with no signs of relenting that position; it deserves respect.
I am a whisk(e)y man myself, and vodka is not high on my list of favorite spirits. But unlike some other cocktilians, I believe it has a place on my shelves. Vodka is sometimes uninteresting, but it's definitely functional -- and certainly not passe. Have a question for Sean Kenyon? Post it below, or e-mail email@example.com