Tuesday 28 February 2012

Neutral Spirits Part 2: Vodka

Last time I discussed tasting neutral spirits to gain a better understanding of what exactly that means, and gain a better understanding of spirits in general. I walked out of that seminar with more of an appreciation for vodka - though I still don't have much. I have more respect for certain brands such as Cariel, who specifically use Swedish winter wheat and barley to make the vodka, opposed to cheap brands who use a range of cheap materials. Add in a cheaper and faster process to actually producing the spirit and you have not only undesirable flavours but also a higher number of byproducts like congeners, which are major contributers to hangovers.
I also gained more of a respect for vodkas that taste truly clean. After tasting neutral spirits that were actually quite heavy in flavour and aroma, you realize the amount of care and work it would take to properly remove those flavours. Of course, I still sit here wondering why you want want to remove flavours and aromas at all, which is really why I don't like vodka in the first place. I could just sit here and drink water, which is also flavourless and aromaless - but is also free. (Of course, water won't get you drunk. Ah, there's the rub...)

Something Duff talked a fair bit about as well was why vodka often has a bad reputation among knowledgeable bartenders and mixologists. My opinion, on top of the fact that it's flavourless and therefore boring, is that it's consistently used simply as a tool to get shit-faced. Bartenders have been pouring sugar and artificial flavours down our throats for years, and the spirit that encourages that sort of behaviour is one that gets you drunk without tasting like anything. Duff also discussed the marketing gimmicks behind certain vodka brands. Why is it that Grey Goose should cost more than Smirnoff if they are both essentially colourless, flavourless spirits made from grains and vegetables in a quick and cheap fashion that doesn't require any kind of aging? Because Grey Goose decided to sell their product for more.
That's IT.
That's the only reason.
Some genius (no sarcasm at all) at Grey Goose decided that if he just priced his bottles at double the average price, people would assume that it's better quality. Add in droves of ignorant bartenders who assume the same thing and display their Grey Goose on the top shelf behind the bar... then add in an ad campaign that claims that the wheat is harvested for only 2 days a year while the neon rainbows glow and the sun hits the ancient tomb at mid-day, from a certain field in southern France where sacred doves from French monasteries lay eggs after they've been brushed with fairy-dust by French nuns, and so on. The reality is that Grey Goose is made the same way every other vodka is made: they harvested some grains and vegetables, fermented them, distilled them a couple times, and bottled them. The only difference is that one guy who decided to make a smart ad campaign and price the bottles at double what they should be.

So in the end, I guess what I'm saying is that vodka is colourless and flavourless and therefore boring and not useful or interesting in cocktails, and that Grey Goose is overpriced and overrated. I'm also saying that, like anything, there are some good brands out there because there are distillers who care about the grains and process involved, and it can be enjoyed for what it is under proper circumstances.
Ok, I still think it's boring, but at least I have proper respect for those who care about it.

Also check out what Jamie Boudreau thinks about vodka, because I think he hits all the nails on the head.

Oh, and p.s., there is one consistently good use for vodka, and that's in making syrups, tinctures and bitters. That's all I use it for, anyway.


  1. Yeah!! Grey Goose, Chopin, Absolut are best vodka brands and have huge demand. People love to drink vodka in parties and wedding celebrations; reason behind which I couldn’t ever figure out.

  2. Hi I love your story Thankyou for sharing can you tell me about Aging & oaking orange cognac.
    PH of this 1st run was really acidic, 2nd run is 5 mid range?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sorry please reply here to my above question