Vodka sometimes gets a raw deal. Wait, did I actually say that out loud? (I mean write that out loud?) A few years ago, such sentiments never would have crossed my mind, much less my lips (fingers?). I had a lot to learn. It is easy to hate vodka. For a while it was even trendy to hate vodka, it might still be. I'm not going to suggest that there still aren't a lot of reasons for that hatred. But backlash has a kind of alluring appeal--the communal, mindless, mob mentality of it. Just pick up your torch and pitchfork and follow the guy in front of you. I have learned that I don't really hate vodka. I just don't drink it very often because I like a ton of flavor in my cocktails. And since vodka producers over the years have tried very hard to make a product with as little flavor as possible, and since they have made a pretty good living doing it, I would say all is fair. But that doesn't mean all vodkas are flavorless. It also doesn't mean that a cocktail with bold flavor can't have vodka in it. Those cocktails are just harder to find.
So what changed my mind? As little as two years ago, my primary use for vodka was as a tool, an ingredient that was useful only for making other yummy things. Infusions, yes. Bitters, yes. Preserving agent for syrups, yes. Base ingredient in a cocktail, please god no. But then I tasted some vodkas that had a lot of flavor, texture, and nuance. These vodkas were made to have flavor and thus weren't overly filtered, or distilled to death. I could taste actually taste the base ingredient, be it barley, corn, sugarcane or even grapes, but in a totally different way. It was such an eye-opening experience. Suddenly I started thinking that maybe my opinions about vodka weren't really fair. And mostly they weren't fair to me. I used to think I didn't like scotch, or tequila, or even gin--but then I tried some that I did like. It had more to do with individual brands and my taste buds than with an entire spirit category. And like everyone, some brands speak to me louder than others (or even in a wonderfully soft way). Just because I am not a fan of Jack Daniels doesn't mean I am not a fan of whiskey.
So I turned over a new leaf with vodka. I have decided to explore this new found tolerance with a few vodka-based cocktail classics, both modern and classic. Considering that these drink are classics, none of them call for the flavorful vodkas that so changed my mind. But in the name of personal growth, we shall see where this experiment with traditional vodka leads me. In these cocktails, the vodka's purpose is to soften the stronger flavors to bring about balance. The first drink I tried was Paul Harrington's Drink Without a Name.
Drink Without a Name
2 ounces vodka
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/8 ounce Green Chartreuse
Stir ingredients in a ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Chopin for the vodka.
The aromas of the orange oils and overwhelming herbal notes of the chartreuse greeted me when I took my first sip. As far as the taste is concerned, the vibrant flavors of orange were most apparent initially, before the green chartreuse took over. Even at one-eighth of an ounce the chartreuse still packed quite a punch. The Cointreau contributed a crisp, dry orange flavor, though on the swallow, it came across with more of a bitter orange flavor, in reminiscent of the peel. This drink had a creamy mouth feel and was quite refreshing. Considering how much I love green chartreuse, it was not surprising that I was very happy with this drink. Score one for vodka--never thought I would write that out loud either.