The Vodka Dilemma: MxMo LXXI

For my next post I will delve into the not so fabulous world of vodka.  Sure it’s still one of the most consumed spirits in the world, especially in the United States in which it accounts for about a third of total spirit sales.  However, most craft bars and enthusiasts have steered away from vodka, and many top bars either only have a few choices, especially void of premium and ultra premium brands, or have completely done away with their vodka programs in general.  Since vodka is by definition a flavorless alcohol distillate derived primarily from grains, potatoes or sugary fruits, a “quality” vodka is graded by most people based on how smooth it finishes versus
any real flavor profile.  Yet, distilleries still crank out their own vodkas, especially in the flavored department where we seem to have almost every flavor imaginable.

Here is where in lies the problem.  With flavors ranging to the more off the wall tastes like PB&J, marshmallow and, for the love of God, glazed donut; it’s no wonder why most of us sneer at the thought of crafting a real cocktail from so many extremely sub par, and overly artificially flavored choices.  Also, marketing on most brands is very misleading using terms like “5 times distilled” or “naturally flavored” or even saying “natural spring water” means absolutely nothing in terms of the quality of the finished product.  Unless they are using sewage water, water really has no effect on the final flavor.  Also, after the spirit is distilled, it goes through a series of filtering columns, which remove impurities that give cheap vodka a medicinal and metallic flavor and hot burn in the finish.  So saying something is distilled 5 times doesn’t mean a damn thing if it only goes through one column of filtering.  As for flavored vodka, unless they are really cold macerating real whole fruit or the skins before filtering you’re pretty much getting an artificially flavored product.  Most commercial brands use essential oils or artificial flavors for their products, hence marshmallow and glazed donut.

So how do you know if you’re really getting a quality product?  Well, taste it for one thing.  Don’t go by price since a $18 brand might be just as good or better, than the so called “premium” and “ultra premium” brands that go for well over $30 a bottle.  For flavored vodkas, if the abv% is less than 40%, they are most likely using sugar to mask the impurities and artificial flavorings (though not always, especially on tart flavors like grapefruit, a little sugar helps kill the bitter).  Again, taste the flavored vodka, does it taste clean and like real fruit or like a jolly rancher?  Real fruit taste, good.  Jolly Rancher taste, not so good.

Brands I like are Tito’s Handmade, Kettle One and Russian Standard for unflavored vodka.  As for flavored vodkas I actually enjoy Grey Goose, as I find it has a more subtle, natural flavor, even though the price tag is higher than most.  Kettle one and some Absolut offerings are pretty good as well.  Also, see if there are any local distillers in your area, chances are most of them are producing a vodka or two.  Project V, a local distiller based out of Woodinville, WA, makes a great Single Silo Chai Vodka that uses real chai (it’s actually not even remotely clear in color) that is out of this world.

For the cocktail I’ve decided to take a vodka that I like and do a home infusion with fresh, seedless cucumber.  The great thing about doing your own infusions is that you control the quality of the ingredients and flavor.  Infusions are extremely simple to do, and usually are ready to strain and consume with in a few days.  The weather was gorgeous the past couple days here in Seattle so I felt it was a perfect opportunity to use summery ingredients and create a very universal cocktail.

Quintessential Cucumber Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Cucumber Infused Vodka

1/2 oz Lillet Blanc

1/4 oz Douglas Fir Liqueur or Eau de Vie (I used a local liqueur from broVo Spirits)

1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice

1/4 oz Simple Syrup
dash of Bittermens Hellfire Shrub
3 Thin Cucumber Slices for Garnish

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish and enjoy.

To make the infused vodka, rough chop a seedless cucumber and place in a large jar.  Cover with one 750ml bottle of your favorite vodka.  Seal and put in a cool dark place for 5 days, shaking once daily.  Double fine strain through two layers of cheesecloth and refrigerate till use.

Color:  Crystal green hues

Flavor:  Refreshing cucumber, aromatized wine, hint of Douglas fir and a bit of salty spice

Texture:  Light and easy drinking

Note:  This infusion works wonderfully with a good gin such as Hendrick’s or a local favorite, Counter gin.

I hope you enjoy this refreshing and easy drinking cocktail that gives you a way to make your own infused vodka that you know will be real and flavorful.  Cheers!

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