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Sunday, November 29 Front Page >> Random Rants >> A new appreciation for Vodka

May 07, 2004, 11:25pm

Okay, so I'm slightly tipsy.

Only slightly though. Five vodka martinis later (had them over a 3 hour time span), and a serious education from a new friend Kiri, I've got a brand new appreciation for the beverage known as vodka, and one of the world's quintisential drinks - the vodka martini (gin martini drinkers, go away for the moment. I don't want to hear it).

For most of my adult life, Vodka was that bite and "tastes like alcohol" drink that you used to make electric jello, spring time vodkas and OJ, or if you wanted to fortify a drink (I've used lots of vodka while fooling around with various espresso and chocolate martinis).

But just this week, I've discovered a whole new world of vodka. It doesn't have to bite and burn. It doesn't have to taste like "alcohol"... in fact, it can be a drink that, on its own, is tasteless and velvety smooth with a clean aftertaste... but add a bit of dry vermouth, add some olive brine, add some high quality spanish olives... and walla, the drink is a greater total than the sum of its parts.

The best vodkas are opined as being without any real taste, bite, or burn. Why would you pay a premium price for something that has no discernable taste? It's because the vodka actually adds, complements and fullfills other ingredients. I'm a believer now. But it's gotta be a the good stuff.

My friend Kiri is a serious vodka snob - as much as I'm an espresso and coffee snob, she's into vodka. It's all about quality, not quantity. Today, we went on a shopping trip to the liquor store. Some $245 later (yikes), I had six bottles in my fridge.

  • Ketel One, often thought of as the best vodka for the dollar (it's a premium, but not too premium in price)
  • Stoly 100 proof (the Russian stuff)
  • Three Olives Vodka, a Brit import that is considered "the underdog"
  • Chopin, a Polish vodka made from (fairly rare) potato base, instead of wheat or rye or other grains
  • Belvedere, the sister to Chopin, but made with Rye Grain.
  • Finlandia - Absolut may have the marketing muscle, but Finlandia is (supposedly) the better stuff.
  • Gray Goose - super premium price, but the Ketel One is actually better! (Goose is good though).

And this evening, I went to school.

I discovered that the whole "shaken, not stirred" aspect of the vodka martini transcends Bond, James Bond. Delicate vodkas are affected by aeration and by mixture with ice. Keeping the vodka in the freezer is key, as it won't "break down" the ice too much when shaken. But also, vodka sees a short term benefit in taste compliments and function in the martini glass when it is seriously aerated and "bruised" by the shaking in a martini shaker... but it dies quick... just like espresso. We tried one test where we drank the martini right away after shaking, and tried it again when it sat for five minutes (in the freezer, to keep the temps similar). I did notice a difference in taste and texture on the tongue.

I also found out that my old way of drinking vodka martinis sucked. Why? Because I'd ask for Absolut or some standard brand. And I'd wince at drinking it in a bar because of the bite and burn.

Here's the new school. I think I've settled on liking (in this order) Ketel One, Chopin, and Belvedere.

And I've settled on a very specfic way to prepare the martini.

3oz Ketel One Vodka (or similar)
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1 tbsp of olive brine (seriously!!!!)
2 large spanish (non spicy) olives

Add the liquids to ice in a shaker. Shake vigourously. Pour into a chilled martini glass. Add two olives on a spear (I have some cool silver spears that came with a bottle of Silent Sam vodka - don't buy it, except to get the spears).

Heaven in the glass. It's a drink that transcends what you may think the vodka martini is supposed to be.

Kiri, I owe you big time. :)

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