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Okay, let's hash this out: vodka

Here we go, oh noes!

If you read this regularly you know how the illustrious tmfiii feels about vodka.  In short, he keeps some for its usefulness as a preservative, and only rarely if ever uses it for anything else.  My old friend Bill used to say "all vodka SHOULD taste the same", given that it's a neutral spirit yadda yadda yadda.

This despite my exhortations that Marshall simply must make a bacon-infused kosher vodka.  Did you know Smirnoff is kosher?  I could've sworn I saw a kosher logo on the back!  Maybe it was a different brand.  Whatever.  There's a bottle at Ace that has a big kosher thing right on the front of the bottle and that could really go for a bacon infusion, or maybe a bacon and cheese infusion.  The bacon cheeseburger vodka would be wonderful!  Or maybe not.  And maybe I'm digressing...

I, on the other hand, think that there is SOME variety amongst vodkas, if not that much.  Aristocrat and Bowman's might've been okay back in college, but for drinks that require vodka I typically keep a bottle of Charodei around.  I like it both straight and mixed and only buy it when it's on sale at Virginia ABC.

The other vodkas I have are all flavored.  Vanilla Absolut for a drink I came up with last year, black cherry Smirnoff for replicating a drink I had at Clare & Don's, Absolut Kurrant that I bought simply for the bottle, horseradish-infused Fris for a recipe from Imbibe!.

I have tasted a difference in even the "super premium" ones, I believed.  There was a vodka tasting at a liquor store in DC we hit on our way between a trip to Bourbon and to a Young Republicans room party (don't ask).  I can't remember the exact brands but I definitely felt there was a slight difference between the two.

As part of the usual retinue of websites I review each day, I hit The Consumerist as I tried to distract myself from the drudgery of cube life in corporate America.  One of their lead articles is "All Vodka is Pretty Much the Same", linked from a BusinessWeek article.

The most important part of the article is the conclusion, after he's done his taste test with his friends and etc. etc.:
The goal of vodka distilling, according to the spirits executives and distillers I have spoken with over the years, is to come up with a spirit that is as pure and clear as possible. The taste notes of vodkas can be so slight and subtle, most often depending on the grain used, and the number of times the spirit is distilled, that they really only exist when drunk straight with purified ice, at room temperature, served straight up or frozen straight up.
Compare that to the notes on the tasting of Charodei from the link up above.

The thing about that quotation, to me, is that last part - "frozen straight up".  It was my understanding that the colder a drink is, the harder it is to taste the subtleties in it, which is why a lot of American megabrews want their beer so cold.  But I haven't really experimented with that.

Some of the other parts of the article rang true to me.  My mom always drinks Grey Goose, for instance, but I've used various other brands of vodka in its stead and she's never seemed to notice (or mind, but then again, she is my mom).

I'm going to throw it out to you, gentle readers:  What do you think of vodka?  How do you drink it, if at all?  What do you think of its position in drinks and mixology?  Do you really think there's enough of a difference between brands to matter?  If your goal in making drinks is to use the best, most appropriate ingredients possible, should you be going for the most neutral vodka possible, embrace the slight differences between them, or just say "you can't taste it past the other ingredients" and let it be?
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One thing I would like to add that never seems to get addressed when talking about taste tests between vodkas. It is never taken into account what the person ate last, when they ate last, whether they chewed gum, whether they had other drinks prior to drinking vodka, whether they drank water between sips, do they smoke, etc. I would argue that any of these variables could be attributed to the "subtleties" one believes he or she tastes in vodkas.

Regarding my own personal stance re: vodka. Sean is right, I keep a bottle of high-test vodka for preserving stuff and I have a half empty bottle of Grey Goose (from before I was shown the light of great cocktails) and a bottle of vanilla vodka from the same time frame. Personally, I would prefer *not* to have a vodka cocktail. I want to know that what I am drinking contains spirits and I like the way the flavors of those spirits intertwine with the flavors of the other flavors in the glass.

Vodka only brings inebriating qualities to the table. By definition, it doesn't add flavor or aroma. It doesn't even heighten the flavor of any other ingredient. If someone is only looking to get f'ed up, then vodka is fine. Me, I want to enjoy my cocktail on more than that singular level.

I believe that Vodka, over any other spirit, is a moster of marketing. The PR guys want to sell people on exclusivity and status. They tout the number of times it has been distilled, where the water came from and what the base of the spirit was as being indicative of how great Vodka A is over all the rest. Yet what does it matter where the water came from and what the distillate base is when every last drop of flavor and character has been leeched out of it by distilling it 17 times? AND they want you to pay $50 per bottle for the "privilege" of drinking their pure ethynol . . .

Anyway . . .where's my gin . . . grrrrr . . .

(Anonymous)

Bowmans Vodka

I just wrote Bowman's to ask how many distillations - it used to be 4. Another Irony - Grey Goose used to be a 4x filtered unknown sold off the bottom shelf as piss and by use of fierce advertising has become a chi chi darling. My theory is 4x distilled is a neutral as you will find and anyone who tastes something off - has a loose filling in at least 1 tooth !!!
John