It was not very long ago (1960’s) that vodka was viewed as an ethnic specialty similar to ouzo or pernod. The tides of vodka started to turn with the invention of Moscow Mule at the Cock and Bull restaurant in Hollywood.
The invention of the drink was a marketing strategy employed by Brown and Foreman (an American distiller and distributor of famous liquor and liqueur brands) in an attempt to popularize Smirnoff vodka, the production rights of which it had acquired from an impoverished Russian émigré in Paris in the 1950’s.
Both Poles and Russian claim to have invented vodka, which literally means “little water “, but the fact remains that per capita consumption of vodka is much higher in Russia than in Poland.
Vodka, according to historical documents discovered to date, was first distilled from potatoes in the 16th century, since they were widely available this far north in Europe and relatively inexpensive.
Potatoes contain sufficient starch to convert to sugar. Vodka production is essentially simple and many Poles and Russians distil it at home with varying degrees of success.
The production of vodka starts by selecting any starch-containing prime ingredient, boiling or otherwise heat-treating to start converting starches to sugar. (potatoes are boiled. For grains “malting“ occurs first, followed by mashing). Water is then added. After cooling, yeast is introduced to start fermentation and eventually distillation, to obtain vodka.
Most distillers use fast and efficient columnar stills, but those who like to produce uniquely flavoured, authentic vodka, employ copper kettle batch stills.
is essentially pure, diluted alcohol, with an alcoholic smell that is removed by filtration.
Smirnoff in Moscow invented a system based on nine separate charcoal filters from different woods. After distillation, the vodka is filtered through this system helping to remove most of the alcohol smell as well as impurities.
Although traditionally potato has been used, today distillers use whatever can provide the least expensive starch.
In Canada grains such as corn and cereal are used, whereas in Russia and Poland producers use whatever is available.
Millions choose to drink vodka because unlike gin, it does not smell and it is an excellent “ mixer “.
Literally hundreds of cocktails were invented, and the majority of vodka in North America is consumed in cocktails. (Bloody Mary, Bloody Caesar, Screwdriver, Vodka-Martini, Moscow Mule, are just a few that come to mind). In Russia and Poland remains a drink consumed ice-cold with fatty foods, i.e. caviar, smoked fish, cheese, pickled eggs, cured and smoked pork fat, smoked goose and /or duck.
Today vodka has become so popular in western countries that many distillers invented ultra premium products claiming superior purity in taste, smooth texture and better flavour.
Grey Goose, a French vodka, claims to use rye, wheat and barley and has won several awards for its smooth and pure taste. Other brands such as Absolut, Thor (Sweden); Finlandia, Koskenkorva (Finland); Danze, (Denmark); Ketel One, Cardinal (the Netherlands); Skyy, Rain 1995, Glenmore Special, Fleishmann’s Royal Vodka, Mr Boston Vodka, Barton Vodka, Barclay’s Vodka, Skol, Crystal Palace, Riva, Schenley (U.S.A.); Wyborova, Chopin, Belvedere, Original Polish, Pole Star, Luksusova (Poland); Stolinichnaya, Rodnik, Kremlyovskaya, Smirnoff, Staraya Premium (Russia); Gorbatchev, Pushkin (Germany), Van Hoo (Belgium), Canadian Iceberg Vodka, Silent Sam, Smirnoff, (Canada) are world famous. Now the family that invented it also produces Smirnoff in Moscow.
Local, popular-brand vodkas are widely available at reasonable prices, but there is vodka from Newfoundland produced from icebergs (12,000 years or older). The icebergs are cut, hauled ashore and melted. The vodka tastes pure and unique and is quite popular in the Atlantic Provinces.
Since Poles and Russians favour vodka over other alcoholic beverages there are many flavoured vodkas to at least provide a new taste dimension from time to time. To date Zubrovka (bison grass), orange, mandarin, black currant, pepper, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, cranberry, lemon, coconut and even catechu which renders vodka black, have been used. Who knows what else will be used in the near future?
The black vodka, called blavod, is unique. It is an invention of a marketing genius, and does well in selected markets.
Ultra premium vodkas are always marketed in exquisite bottles. Some are frosted, while others have distinctly clear embossed bottles (Absolute). Finlandia invented its square, uniquely designed, eye-catching bottle that contributes to sales.
Russian distillers have so far resisted this trend and continue to ship in regular, unadorned bottles but their vodkas are always smooth because most are slightly sweetened by running the distillate over rock candy sugar.
Vodka’s versatility contributed to its popularity and all indications point to continued success. All “clear “ alcohols (vodka, gin) have gained market share at the expense of “brown“ distillates (rum, whiskies and brandies) in the past decade.
Restaurateurs and particularly nightclub operators cannot afford to miss the opportunity to increase sales.
NEW VODKA COCKTAILS
1 2/2 OZ. ABSOLUTE CITRON
1 ½ OZ COINTREAU
A FEW DASHES OF BITTERS
SHAKE WELL WITH ICE AND POUR OVER
ICE INTO A FOOTED HIGHBALL GLASS
1 OZ STOLINICHNAYA VANIL
1 OZ CRÈME DE CACAO, WHITE
STIR WITH ICE, STRAIN INTO MARTINI GLASS.
GARNISH WITH A FEW COFFEE BEANS.