A Clear Classic
St. Louis mixologists speak up about the classic spirit thats anything but neutral.
By all accounts, vodka is one of the top-selling spirits in the US, if not the world. Despite its popularity with the masses, though, many mixologists and spirits aficionados write off this venerable liquor as a bland, flavorless bore. Fortunately, there are several area bars and distilleries that are working to get vodka some much-deserved respect.
Flavored vodkas have dominated store shelves in recent years, replicating everything from sugary breakfast cereals to carnival confections. But many top-notch watering holes eschew such overthe-top concoctions in favor of quality, natural flavors created on-site. Robin Schubert, co-owner and mixologist at Absolutli Goosed, says she has moved away from pre-flavored vodkas and is concentrating instead on making her own infusions— though she still carries a couple of pre-flavored favorites, like Pinnacle Whipped. Most of her custom creations are based on Pearl and Pinnacle vodkas, which tend to take on other flavors easily, she says. Currently, Goosed has 19 house-made infusions, including strawberry, cucumber and garlic/pepper.
Though making her own infusions doesn’t save her money or time in the short term, Schubert says the quality of the drinks she’s able to create with them more than makes up for it.
For those who think all vodkas tend toward tasteless, Dustin Parres, bar manager and all-around vodka guru at Sub Zero Vodka Bar, begs to differ. “There really is a terroir of vodka,” he says, noting that a variety of distillates are used to create vodkas—potatoes, rye and wheat, to name a few—and they all produce vastly different spirits. “Potato vodka will be more viscous than a clean wheat vodka, and rye vodka will have more of a lingering spice to it than wheat,” he says. Different regions produce different styles as well. “For example, Russian vodkas usually have a kick, whereas Ukrainian vodkas are really soft and clean.”
Though there was a time when many vodkas were being distilled and filtered multiple times, resulting in a virtually odorless and tasteless spirit, Parres says the current trend is to let the character of the distillate come to the forefront, and some vodkas being made in our own backyard are proof of this fullflavored trend. Cardinal Sin vodka, out of St. Charles, is made from three different grains, much like some whiskeys, while Crown Valley Winery in Ste. Genevieve is making vodka out of the same Norton grapes used in some of its wines.
The bottom line: With so much diversity out there, vodkas are well worth a second look from any serious spirits fan.
One of the most famous vodka cocktails, the Cosmo, is both delicious and easy to mix up at home.
1.5 oz vodka
1 oz cranberry juice
.5 oz Cointreau
.25 oz fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.
Photo credit: Christopher Gibbons