A New Wave of Vodka
Vodka is one of the most popular spirits in the drinks industry due to its versatility but what are the next trends for this spirit? We caught up with bar owner and UK World Class winner 2014 James Fowler to find out what is new in the world of Vodka.
Vodka is a key flavor
“Vodka is flavorless” is a term I used to hear a lot around 10 years ago. Luckily times have changed dramatically for this spirit in terms of customer knowledge and bartenders' use of Vodka.
Vodkas are not only a core product for bars these days – they are a key flavor. Peppery, smooth, silky, citrus and grassy are just some of the common flavor and texture profiles to mention when talking about pure Vodka.
Vodka may have less flavor notes and perhaps best to be described as having more subtle flavors compared to other spirit categories, but this means Vodka can be used successfully in lighter and more delicate drinks.
Vodka knowledge is growing
Discerning consumers are seeking greater understanding of distillation and filtration methods, which has tended to put a focus on the more premium or craft Vodkas. On the bar we are talking more about the type of still, the water source, and the raw materials such as wheat when describing to customers about the differences in Vodka. It sounds more like we are talking about Whisky at times!
The heritage and story behind the Vodka brands is also of more interest to consumers. Ketel One® Family-Made Vodka’s distillery, Nolet, recently celebrated its 325-year anniversary with a lot of interest and celebration from bartenders and customers. To celebrate, the bartenders in my bar delivered Ketel One® Family-Made Vodka’s cocktails to local residents that shared a house number with 325. Certainly in my bar, customers seem to be talking more about brands like a friend rather than just a product. Respect for the industry has definitely improved, be it for the knowledge, the production to the families behind the brands.
Flavored Vodkas are still on the minds of customers. In my bar, The Larder House we tend to do our own infusions, particularly with foraged ingredients. It’s a great way to lock in and preserve specialized flavors. I have created a Vodka infused with Black Perigord truffles to be added to a cocktail listing soon.
For high volume bars there are some interesting flavored Vodkas. Flavored Vodkas can add dimensions to simple mixed drinks with little fuss or skill required. We are definitely seeing a change towards drier and sometimes savory cocktails, so flavored Vodkas offer a clean flavor rather than the sweetness qualities of flavored syrups.
Vodka cocktails and serves are increasingly being presented in theatrical ways. The styling of a cocktail can tell much about how the drink was conceived or the spirit was created. It can be as simple as serving a Smirnoff Moscow Mule in a copper mug (when this cocktail was first invented in the USA they always served it in copper mugs) or perhaps serving Cîroc Vodka in a ceramic bunch of grapes (this Vodka is distilled from French grapes). One trend I have seen a lot recently is the use of fine ground charcoal as an edible ingredient in cocktails. Smirnoff actually pioneered charcoal filtration in the 1870s, so surely there is an opportunity for a great nod to the brand there—perhaps a charcoal-dusted glass?
One of the greatest Vodka cocktails is the ever-popular Bloody Mary. This serve is one of my bar’s biggest sellers and it works fantastically well with Ketel One ® Family-Made Vodka. Not only can the drink look great and be presented with such variety but the inclusion of ingredients can also be vast. It’s almost a food dish! It’s simply one of those drinks that a bartender can have a lot of fun with. I organize and judge “Dorset’s Best Bloody Mary” which is sponsored annually by KETEL ONE®. We have seen Bloody Marys with many a wild ingredient—snails, cream cheese, pickled eggs, asparagus, bubble tea balls. The diversity is great. It's definitely a drink all bars should have a signature serve for.
Vodka on the rocks
Beyond the cocktail world, we shouldn’t forget that Vodka is great to sip on its own. Drinking it straight up with a cube or two of ice is a great way to enjoy the quality of the liquid. If pure Vodka isn’t to your preference, then there are some great mixers that allow the signature of the Vodka to be expressed. I enjoy making hydrosols (flavored waters), which are then carbonated to create a flavored soda water. Herbs work great as do citrus flavors from the peels.
Unusual vodka serves
I’ve mentioned a lot about the fresh and citrusy side of Vodka cocktails. Don’t forget to try some more typically heartier cocktails with Vodka. I find that Vodka mixes really well with darker spirits and aromatized Wines too such as Brandy, Whiskies and Amaro! Texture of drinks is something to play with too. I’ve been playing with fresh whey, which is typically very silky and saline—great in a twisted dirty Martini!
Have a look at one of my favorite Vodka cocktail recipes:
CHERRY – PIPPIN SMASH
- 1.75 oz. SMIRNOFF Apple Vodka
- 10 cherries, pitted
- .75 oz. Sweet Madeira Wine
- Fresh Pippin apple juice to top up
- Fresh rosemary twig and apple for garnish
Muddle cherries with SMIRNOFF in the bottom of a sling glass.
Add the Madeira Wine.
Fill the glass with crushed ice.
Pull through to mix flavors.
Top with crushed ice cap.
Add apple juice top.
Garnish with fresh rosemary twig and apple.
KETEL ONE is a trademark of Double Eagle Brands B.V.
(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)