Fear and Loathing in Seattle
If you feel your feet getting a little chill, it’s because hell just froze over.
Today I’m going to do a post on vodka. That’s right, Jamie Boudreau, champion to gin (the world’s best flavored vodka) and whiskey is doing his first post on vodka. I’ve even had to create a vodka category to your right in order for this post to be properly catalogued.
I’ve never really had much cause to write about the world’s most popular spirit, as it is colorless and tasteless, and as such I don’t think it has much to offer in the way of complex, interesting cocktails, which is my passion. But an interesting email caught my eye yesterday, and I’ve decided to give vodka, and Rob Willey, some props.
In September’s issue of Details magazine (on newsstands August 14th), Rob reviews six vodkas (Medoyeff, Chopin, Imperia, Christiania, Stoli Elit and Tito’s) and details (pun intended) a yummy hackleback caviar/potato chip/crème fraiche accompaniment to go along with your chosen poison.
What caught my eye though, was his opening paragraph:
Cocktail connoisseurs don’t have much patience for vodka. They say it’s odorless, tasteless, useful only when infused with juniper, redistilled, and labeled as gin. Dilettantes, on the other hand, tend to regard it as an alcohol delivery system best combined with tonic or Red Bull. Both groups have it wrong. Good vodka may not blow your mind the way single-malt scotch can, but it is subtle enough to be savored on its own terms. And though the tradition of storing it in the freezer and slugging it from a shot glass holds, that’s a bit aggressive for unwinding on a weeknight. Take your vodka cold and neat, but swap the shooter for something more dignified, like a chilled rocks glass. Hacks and naysayers still won’t get it, but that’s just one more thing to savor.
Catch this mag on newsstands now, or go to Details online to get a brief glimpse firsthand.
And now, further into the dark, angry depths of my vodka-soaked mind:
For all the things that I love about the States, there are a few things that drive me absolutely bonkers. For instance, it stuns me that a country that has no problem with going into another and causing innumerable deaths on a daily basis, lives in a constant state of fear at home. Not a fear of international repercussions, but a fear of, god forbid, offending somebody. Anybody. Regarding anything.
What am I going on about, you ask?
I’ve found that people in the U.S., (I am being general here, don’t believe for an instant that I am referring to every single individual in these great States), are so afraid of upsetting anyone, that we are wiping clean any sort character that a person, place or thing may have. We are becoming a vanilla nation.
Not only do we have to put stupid warning labels on every product to ensure that some idiot won’t be offended or hurt themselves or others, we also have to be very PC in our speech and thoughts lest someone read their own fears or concerns into your words.
Jamie, you crazy Canuck, what does this have to do with anything, you say?
Here’s my personal beef.
I’ve recently added two more pages of cocktails to my menu at work. Unfortunately, because of the way that my menu is designed, this actually meant that I had to add four pages of content. In order to fill some space, I thought that I would add another page of definitions to my existing glossary. One of the words defined was vodka, and it went as such:
A colorless, flavorless distillate that regrettably offers little to the art of the bar, but is a wonderful tool for tinctures or cleaning jewelry.
Well apparently, someone came into the bar the other night, and was so offended by this definition that they walked out in anger and disgust, and now I’m being ordered to erase this definition. This is not the first time a very vocal, but extremely tiny minority has dictated the way we do business. But I digress.
Let’s take a look at my definition and break it down.
“A colorless, flavorless distillate…”.
By definition that’s what vodka is. I don’t see a problem here.
“…regrettably offers little to the art of the bar“.
While a few may dispute this section, I think if you pay attention to the words “little” and “art”, you’ll see that there is little room for debate. When we are talking about the cocktailian craft, I think that it is safe to say, that out of all of the spirits, vodka has the least to offer, as it is merely bringing water and alcohol to the table, with little or no flavor. I did not say that vodka has nothing to offer a bar. I merely stated that it has little to offer to the art of the bar. There is a huge difference in my eyes. Am I crazy here?
“…is a wonderful tool for tinctures or cleaning jewelry”.
I use vodka for my tinctures and to clean my vintage lighter on an almost daily basis. It works wonderfully in this capacity. If I had typed that white wine is a wonderful tool for removing red wine stains, I would hope that white wine drinkers wouldn’t walk out in anger and disgust. If I had typed: RUM: a product of industrial waste and also a large contributor to slave trade (also a fact), I wouldn’t expect rum lovers to storm my bar with torches. I therefore don’t see a problem with my vodka statement, as it is factual.
Another thing that one may need to consider, is that a few of the definitions are a little cheeky. Vodka was not the lone brassy description amongst a series of straight forward definitions.
A cocktail consisting of gin, vermouth and orange bitters. Anything else ordered is not a martini, but a libation of another nature and name. Vodka instead of gin? You have now ordered a Kangaroo Cocktail, a drink that was invented and named in the 1920′s.
As I’ve stated before (on this blog or my old one), I personally feel that there is little use for vodka in a bar. This does not mean (as many people who know me assume) that I don’t think vodka should be in a bar. I repeat: I personally feel that there is little use for vodka in a bar. I think that too many bars over use vodka on their menu, the way a child, who slightly scrapes their knee, will overuse tears and crying for attention.
Vodka needs to be in a bar, for the people that enjoy the subtle flavors of the spirit by itself, or for the guest who is just beginning to appreciate cocktails, and hasn’t developed the palate to appreciate more complex, powerfully flavored libations. As Robert Hess is famous for saying: “Continuing to stick to vodka cocktails is a little like leaving the training wheels on your bicycle long after you’ve learned to ride. While the safety and security might be comforting, eventually you need to move on and get the full experience that are available through the other spirits, and the myriad of cocktails that they provide. I feel that this is the problem that cocktails are facing today.” (Click here to read the whole essay)
Again, this does not mean that I hate vodka or think that I think that it is useless.
I do, however, have a problem with using a quarter of my shelf space to carry thirty varieties of a spirit whose whole purpose in life is to taste of nothing (which is why I carry only three vodkas). I do have a problem with drink menus that have fifteen drinks that use the ingredient vodka, and only two that use any other spirit. I do have a problem with certain companies charging $60 for an unaged product that probably cost them fifty cents to produce. And I do have a problem with the way some of these companies have brainwashed the unsuspecting public into thinking that more expensive equates to more quality and better taste, and that therefore they should ask for the most expensive vodka in their Cosmopolitan. News flash: if I’m adding juices and other spirits to your vodka, you’re probably not going to be able to tell the difference between Stolichnaya and Grey Goose. Especially after your third cocktail.
I don’t have a problem with vodka, just the way it is over-marketed, over-used and the way it’s forcing some in this country to be just a little more vanilla and dragging me along with it.
I hope I didn’t offend any of you, and if I did, let me know which parts were offensive so that I can go back and change my words and opinions.
I need a shot of vodka.
Thanks for letting me blow off steam. (I hope I have a job next week.)
Back to more Tales of the Cocktail posts next.