October 4 is National Vodka Day. The versatile, once virtually tasteless and odorless tipple accounts for almost 20 to 25 per cent of spirits sold today in North America, according to nationalvodkaday.com.
“Vodka is king. It dominates the spirits industry. Vodka evokes passion as pure and clear as the spirit itself,” says J.K. O’Hanlon, author of “3 Ingredient Cocktails.”
Some say it’s about the water, says the author who has a section in her book about the history of vodka. “The Russian and Polish words for water are, respectively, voda and woda. Vodka can be translated as dear little water,” O’Hanlon says.
The “flavorless” spirit lends itself to limitless infusions. The shelves are blanketed with more than 100 varieties of different flavors, from the sedate vanilla or lemon to the curious bacon or wasabi, she says.
“These products are fun and allow for infinite drink options. Think before you buy, though. That bottle of vanilla vodka bought several years ago for some clever themed drink at a party is collecting dust on my bar. Buy small unless you are having a whopping big party and plan on pushing that specialty cocktail like last year’s fad on the closeout rack,” she advises.
Flavored vodka isn’t a new thing; Russians flavored vodka as early as the 15th century, but the aristocracy took it to a new level during the reign of Catherine the Great in the late 1700s. There were dozens of options ranging from spices to herbals to fruits, the author says.
“The 1920s cocktail craze gave rise to one of the most popular vodka drinks of all time: the Bloody Mary. Invented in Paris’ Ritz Hotel, the Bloody Mary became de rigueur for hangovers of the party-hearty Europeans and ex-pats. Before long, the Bloody Mary crossed the Atlantic, got spiced up, and became popular in New York,” O’Hanlon says.
The rise in popularity of the cosmopolitan cocktail made other specialty flavored vodka based cocktails sexy and all the rage, she adds. Restaurants and bars around the country soon had extensive “martini” menus mostly consisting of fruity vodka drinks.
In “3 Ingredient Cocktails,” one of the vodka cocktails O’Hanlon features is the infamous “Moscow Mule.” It’s a simple concoction of 2 ounces of vodka, 4 ounces of ginger beer and one-half lime. “You squeeze the lime in a highball glass, add vodka and fill with ice. Add ginger beer and stir gently,” O’Hanlon says. “The ginger beer, not ginger ale, gives it the spicy kick at the end.” Follow O’Hanlon on Facebook as Thirsty Jane and at http://www.thirstyjane.com.