Vodka Basics: History, Drinks and Storage
Worldwide, vodka is one of the most popular spirits. One reason why is because vodka is a “chameleon,” so to speak. Virtually odorless and tasteless, vodka easily blends into nearly any other beverage, making it an excellent addition to a variety of drinks. Since it is such a popular spirit, it is vitally important that bartenders understand the basics of vodka—after all, most will pour thousands of vodka sodas, screwdrivers, Cape Cods and other vodka-based drinks over the course of a career.
What is Vodka Anyway?
Vodka is a neutral grain spirit, made by distilling a grain. Potato vodka is especially popular in potato growing regions like Russia, Poland and even parts of the United States and Canada. However, corn, rye, wheat and even oats are used to create different varieties of vodka. Today, exotic vodkas are created using non-grain fruits and vegetables. Plain vodka has nearly no noticeable smell or taste; however, flavoured vodkas infuse the base spirit with artificial or natural flavors including citrus, berry, vanilla or even concepts as unique as pumpkin pie.
Vodka – One Spirit; Many Options
Most people are familiar with at least a few of the more popular brands of vodka including Absolut, Grey Goose, Smirnoff and Ketel One. In many bars, these brands are considered to be top-shelf. A house spirit is often a lesser-known brand, but should still have the distinct “no smell, no taste” of a traditional vodka. Today, small distilleries are creating small-batch vodkas that offer additional options at all price levels.
Some people choose to drink vodka straight. This is often taken as a shot, usually chilled, “neat.” Much more popular than drinking vodka by itself is drinking vodka in a mixed beverage. A guide to even the most popular vodka beverages is beyond the scope of this article. However, a bartender can expect customers to request a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice), Cape Cod (vodka and cranberry juice), Bloody Mary (vodka, tomato juice, hot sauce and various seasonings/relishes that vary from bar to bar), vodka and soda (self-explanatory), salty dog (vodka and grapefruit juice with salted rim) as well as other more complex drinks involving multiple liquors. This is where vodka really shines, as it can be added to another beverage to give it a kick without disturbing the flavor profile too much.
Vodka Storage Basics
Luckily, vodka is a relatively hearty spirit. In an unopened bottle, it keeps for several years with no ill effects. Try to keep it in a cool, dry place for best results. Once the bottle has been opened, make sure to take some additional precautions with it. While a bartender may want to use a pour spout during the workday, this is not a great idea for long-term storage. Keep the original cap, seal it tightly, wipe down the bottle and keep it cool when not being used. Storing vodka in a freezer is 100% fine, but not necessary. Once the bottle has been opened, it will begin to lose potency after about eight months.
Vodka is bartender’s best friend and will be a spirit turned to again and again when creating standby beverages as well as new house specials. Remember, there is much more to do with this versatile spirit—it pays to learn as much as possible about vodka.