Food and Drink

It’s Time We Face the Facts; Vodka Isn’t Actually ‘Basic’

There's more than meets the eye.

Courtesy of Grey Goose

I’ll be honest from the get-go; I’ve only recently started drinking vodka with pride.

Vodka suffers from a pretty bad wrap. It’s often known as the “basic bitch” spirit, the spirit you drink if you don’t like the taste of alcohol, or if you don’t have any flavour culture and aren’t into trying new things.

But seeing that today is National Vodka Day, it’s time to debunk the stigma around vodka.

In my hospitality years, vodka was frowned upon more often than not, which meant that I didn’t actually start properly drinking it until I left the ‘bartending world’ just over two years ago.

This definitely has something to do with the reputation that comes with working in hospitality; it’s kind of an ongoing competition of who likes the booziest drinks. But more than that, drinking spirits like tequila and whisky, which have very distinct boozy flavour, seemingly showcases an appreciation for the flavour of alcohol, that bartenders are passionate about sharing. And we can’t blame them; that is their job, I just think that vodka deserves a place at the table.

It started with a bad hangover. I’d consumed one too many dirty gin martini one hot summer’s night, and woke up the next day with a not so nice feeling in my tum. From that moment on, I haven’t been able to enjoy gin martinis the same.

For a while, I went without. I resisted the idea of being that girl, the girl who orders vodka anything.

But then one day, my hankering for a martini was too strong to care about being basic. Maybe I was basic and I was okay with that? I ordered a dry vodka martini with a lemon twist; and my entire idea of vodka changed.

What I tasted, was a beautifully balanced drink that was crisp, refreshing and slightly citrus-y, still with that kick of spirit that signifies a stiff drink. I was overjoyed and pleasantly surprised, that vodka quenched had my thirst so perfectly.

It wasn’t the basic bitch drink I’d envisaged, but actually something quite complex, clean and delicious.

“People absolutely have the perception that vodka is basic,” Grey Goose Ambassador Georgie Mann tells Thrillist AU.

“There’s such a stigma in more upmarket venues too, like CBD cocktail bars that serve a lot of suits, around the customer that doesn’t like booze ordering only vodka,” Georgie says, of her time experiencing the vodka stigma as a manager of high-end cocktail bars in Melbourne.

“But there are a lot of people that still think that all vodkas are the same, with the only differences being different prices and fancy bottles.”

Georgie Mann, sippin’ a martini with style.

“Thinking that all vodka is the same is a foolish train of thought, Georgie assures us; “given that it’s the most simple spirit, its raw ingredients are that much more important.”

When we think about other spirits, such as whiskey and gin, most of them have natural flavours added to them during the distillation and ageing process. For example, a gin is made with botanicals, which are added to the actual alcoholic spirit, and give the gins we know and love their iconic flavour palettes. Similarly, with whisky, different flavours come from choices made such as what kind of barrel they’re left to age in, such as the type of wood and what was in the barrel before. A ‘sherry cask whisky’ has distinct flavours, as does a 10yo whisky compared to a 21yo whisky.

“Everything is vodka before you do something else to it,” Georgie says, explaining that “to understand alcohol generally, you need to understand vodka.”

There’s some history to this. Not only is vodka an incredible base spirit, meaning that it provides unmatched versatility; you can be creative and add flavours to create a cocktail or just drink it on its own, vodka played a massive role in the start of cocktail history.

Back in the early 1900s, there was lots of civil unrest in Russia, which sent a lot of Russian’s packing, moving to London and Paris. And guess what they brought with them? Yep, vodka. In the 1920s, the Prohibition-era saw bartenders come over to Europe, who then met Russian’s living in Europe that introduced them to vodka, which opened up a world of possibilities for American bartenders. Then, when prohibition was over, the Americans took vodka back with them.

“One cocktail that was created and became really popular during this time was called the Gypsy Queen,” Georgie tells us.

“It was made with vodka, don benedictine and bitters, stirred down and served up, like a martini. This is a great example of a cocktail that could never have been made with gin, as the botanicals of the benedictine and bitters would’ve clashed with the gin.”

And so, vodka was born into a category of its own.

It may surprise you, given the rise of gin and tequila in the past few years, but vodka is the most popular spirit of the western world.

9 billion vodka drinks are ordered per year, which is pretty mind-blowing.

Mind-blowing to those that haven’t tasted a good vodka martini.

“There’s nothing like a good vodka martini,” Georgie says. “But also, vodka allows fresh flavours to really play a part in cocktail lists of beloved bars today.”

“There has been a rise in the desire to use fresh local ingredients in cocktails, which add this amazing seasonal element to the creative process; creating a drink for the mood or season and vodka really allows that to happen, acting as a base that doesn’t take over the drink.

“It can also be quite difficult to create with and takes a skilled bartender, because vodka doesn’t give you much to hide behind.”

Melbourne-based bartender Chelsea Catherine has firsthand knowledge of this, often recommending vodka to her customers.

“The cool thing about vodka is it’s stripped back. Whether it’s made from grapes or rye or wheat, you can really taste how different they all are, and you can build on it or strip it back.

“There’s beauty in its simplicity.”

via @chelcath

Chelsea tells us that people are often surprised by how different vodkas actually taste.

“Because vodka is such a simple spirit, with no added ingredients, its base ingredients really come through,” she says.

“People have started doing some pretty incredible things with vodka too, like the yam vodka from Seven Seasons, which is an Indigenous-owned company.

“The yams really come through! It tastes super earthy, which is really cool and sparks inspiration for new drinks and flavours.”

Basically, vodka is a blank canvas. If you get yourself a good vodka, you can do just about anything with it.

To quote Joe McCanta; “Vodka is the only spirit that you can drink at all times of the day.” Just think: a Bloody Mary in the morning, a pornstar martini with lunch, a spritz in the afternoon, a pre-dinner martini and a post-dinner pre-party espresso martini, it’s the perfect all-day cocktail menu.

To help get you started on your vodka journey (and just in case you wanted to trail a vodka drink on National Vodka Day), Georgie has provided us with some premium Grey Goose vodka cocktail recipes below.

Get ready for some new favourites!

Courtesy of Grey Goose

Grey Goose Martini

Ingredients
50ml Grey Goose Original
10ml Noilly Prat Original Dry
1 dash orange bitters

Garnish
Lemon twist or Sicilian olives

Method
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice.
Stir for approximately 15 seconds.
Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a lemon zest or Sicilian olives.

Courtesy of Grey Goose

Fresh Cut Spritz

Ingredients
30ml Grey Goose Original
15ml Noilly Prat
100ml Soda

Garnish
Ruby Red Grapefruit Slice & Thyme Sprig

Method
Add all ingredients to wine glass and fill with ice.
Garnish with ruby grapefruit slice and thyme sprig.

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Food and Drink

The Best Ways to Dress Up Your Summer Beers

From micheladas to shandies to fruit infusions, the power is in your hands-and kitchen.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Today, just about any flavored beer a person could dream up already exists in a can, from micheladas to shandies to, yes, pickle beers. But there’s still much to be said for the DIY versions of these dressed-up beers.

For one, they’re fresher (you could squeeze your own lemonade for a shandy right this instant). For another, they’re customizable: spiciness, fruit choice, how strong you’d like the final drink to be-all those are in your hands. And perhaps more importantly, they’re fun. Whether you want to spend two minutes constructing a beer-lemonade shandy or spend an hour infusing your IPA with real chunks of pineapple, there are plenty of ways to get creative in gussying up your beer this summer.

Embrace red beer

A brunch staple across the western half of the U.S., “red beer” is essentially a stripped-down michelada: just your preferred light lager of choice, plus tomato juice. But the devil’s in the details-folks can get mighty particular about their red beer specifications.

My preference is Coors Light with just a splash of Campbell’s tomato juice. It’s a pet peeve of mine when bartenders go too heavy on the tomato juice; it’s called red beer after all, not tomato juice. To make this yourself, start with your light lager of choice, then add just a splash of tomato juice so that the beer has a strong orange hue. Sip, taste, and add more if necessary.

Upgrade your salt rim

Another component of some micheladas, salt rims are more versatile than they might seem-and they complement several styles of beer. Just coat the rim of a beer glass with lime juice or water, then dunk the glass in a shallow dish of salt. Try the following combos:

• Mexican lager with a Tajin rim: Try substituting Tajin seasoning for straight salt for a bit of a chilli-lime kick. Pair this with a red beer for a michelada-like vibe.
• Gose with a herbal-salt rim: Goses are a beer style with a light salinity already, so pouring them in a glass rimmed with a rosemary salt or basil salt can add an additional flavour that doesn’t clash. Try mixing and matching fruited goses with herbal salts-how about a watermelon gose with a basil-salt rim?
• Dark lager with a smoked salt rim: Smoked salt is a surprisingly versatile ingredient because it’s way less powerful than liquid smoke. Try a dark lager (like Modelo Negro or a bock) in a glass rimmed with smoked salt for a subtle campfire vibe.

Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images

No shame in a shandy

Radlers and shandies are often used interchangeably to refer to a light-coloured beer blended with fruit juice (typically lemonade or grapefruit). Packaged versions exist, but with so many fruit-flavoured non-alcoholic beverages on the market, it’s worth playing around with some creative combos in your own kitchen. A good rule of thumb is to start light with the base beer, either a pale lager, cream ale, blonde ale, or (if you’re really a hop head) a pale ale. From there, most people blend in a splash of their favourite juice.

But here’s my preference: Use a fruit-flavoured soda. I find that adding straight fruit juice to beer often makes it too sweet and a bit flat. A high-quality fruit-flavoured soda, like the ones from Sanpellegrino, adds carbonation and fruit flavour with too much sweetness. Also, go easy on the ratio of soda to beer to start, because you can always add more soda. I find a ratio of about one part soda to three parts beer is ideal.

Infuse your beer with fruit

Your French press isn’t only for coffee-it can also act as a device for infusing fruit or other flavours into beer. If you end up with a bumper crop of strawberries or melons from the farmer’s market, this is a great way to use them.

1. Start with a new or perfectly clean French press to avoid coffee flavour leaching into your beer (unless that’s what you’re after).
2. Pour in your beer of choice. Almost any style could work here: light lagers, blonde ales, saisons, IPAs, even porters and stouts. Pour the beer into the French press, leaving a couple inches empty at the top.
3. Add some cut-up fruit. The possibilities are limitless: porter and raspberry, IPA and pineapple, blonde ale and mango, wheat beer and oranges, saison and cherries…
4. Allow the fruit to infuse. How long to leave the beer in contact with the fruit is up to you, knowing that the longer the mixture sits, the more pronounced the flavours will be. Start with 10 minutes, push the plunger down slightly, pour and taste some of the beer, and wait longer for a more intense flavour.
5. Push the plunger down all the way. Pour your infused beer into a glass and enjoy!

Make a mighty michelada shrub

Micheladas are typically a mixture of Mexican lager, lime juice, tomato juice, and salt. But recently, premixed michelada shrubs (like those from Pacific Pickle Works and Real de Oaxaca) have popped up, adding some vinegar tartness and other ingredients like Worcestershire sauce and spices to the mix.

A shrub combines vinegar with fruit or, sometimes, vegetables, and they’re easy to experiment with at home. Michael Dietsch, author of Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, suggests that if you’re creating a shrub to mix with beer and tomatoes, beginning with a base of apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar (to match the malt in beer) plus lime is a smart start. From there, savoury additions like soy sauce will lend a Bloody Mary feel-just be sure to use a light hand with those umami-packed additions. Because vinegar and soy or Worcestershire sauce are tangy and savoury, Dietsch notes that you may want to add just a pinch of sugar to your shrub for balance.

From there, the sky’s the limit. Swap apple cider for white balsamic if you’re feeling bold, or add orange juice as well as lime. But regardless of what ingredients you use, Dietsch says it’s important to let a shrub sit and mellow for a couple days before using it. That time will let the intensity of the vinegar mellow and will ensure all the flavours meld together in perfect harmony. Once the shrub has sat a few days, give it a taste, then add a few splashes of it to your favourite Mexican lager.

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Kate Bernot is a certified BJCP judge and freelance reporter whose work regularly appears in Craft Beer & Brewing, Thrillist, and Good Beer Hunting. Follow her at @kbernot.

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