It's difficult to find a vodka-based drink that I can get excited about. In general, this has been one of the reasons why I find it hard to get excited about vodka. Too many recipes call for vodka, citrus, and syrup, at their most simplistic, or vodka, muddled fruit, citrus, and a some crazy flavored syrup, at the other extreme. As a good friend of mine recently said, "Who wants to drink boozy lemonade." Nutshell moment, anyone? Indeed, who does want to drink boozy lemonade? Granted, sometimes I do--hello, whiskey sour. But that isn't the point. Why is there nothing else? At the end of the day, whether it's fresh peaches or kumquats, muddled basil or cilantro, or even chinese five-spice or lavender syrup, once you add the vodka, it's still just a variation of boozy lemonade.
It's true that some people just want the buzz. Good for them. And drinking a really great non-alcoholic beverage with herbs, spice and fruits, and even sometimes vinegar, can be a mind-blowing experience. But why is that all there is? Sure, there is a time and a place for everything, but sometimes the easy answer isn't the best answer. And it sure as hell shouldn't be the only answer. Where are the spirit-forward vodka drinks? There must be room for the challenging vodka drinks, for the kind of drink that makes you sit up and pay attention to what's going on in your mouth, that make you say "Wow. Really?" What about a drink with citrus, syrup, and vodka is going to do that? Vodka does not stand in the way of flavor; that is its best and worst feature. But there are so many interesting flavors out there--using a blank canvas for lemonade seems like a waste.
So in spite of my rant, the search continues. Trying to find a complex, flavor-filled vodka-based drink can lead to bitterness and resentment, headaches and frustration. But then you stumble across something so unlikely, so interesting that your hope is renewed and you almost forget about the conundrum of boozy lemonade. Well, almost.
Delancey (from Killer Cocktails)
2 ounces vodka (Dry Fly)
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
1 dash Peychaud's bitters
1 dash orange bitters (Angostura)
Combine the syrup and bitters in a chilled old fashioned glass. Add a large ice cube and vodka and give it a quick stir to incorporate. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I chose to use the Dry Fly as it has more flavor than most vodkas, but any vodka with flavor will do.
The Peychaud's bitters made this drink an almost neon pink, though I am sure the photo doesn't do it justice. Perhaps this fact alone would chase away many. The brightness of the lemon oils, the honey notes from the vodka and the smell of anise from the Peychaud's all contributed to the aroma. The first sip was extremely creamy and heavy with vanilla, characteristic of the Dry Fly. The bitters rounded out the flavors, with the orange standing out most on the swallow. As someone who is usually skeptical of vodka drinks, this drink was light and surprisingly refreshing. As the drink warmed up, the flavors of the lemon peel and the cherry notes of the Peychaud's became more apparent throughout.
Very few drinks allow vodka to be the star, where its subleties and nuances are showcased. There should be more. This vodka old fashioned hinges on the fact that a drink doesn't have to hit you over the head with flavor to command attention. Sometimes complexity and interest are not dependent on boldness and strength. Instead, the inherent qualities of the spirit are highlighted, just like in any other spirit-forward cocktail.