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 & UK World Class winner 2014, James Fowler to find out what is new in the world of vodka.

Vodka is a key flavour

“Vodka is flavourless” 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 & bartenders use of vodka.

Vodkas are not only a core product for bars these days – they are a key flavour. Peppery, smooth, silky, citrus and grassy are just some of the common flavour & texture profiles to mention when talking about pure vodka.

Vodka may have less flavour notes and perhaps best to be described as having more subtle flavours compared to other spirit categories, but this means vodka can be used successfully in lighter & 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. 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™ 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™ 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 and the families behind the brands.

Flavoured vodkas

Flavoured vodkas are still on the minds of the customer. 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 & preserve specialist flavours. 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 flavoured vodkas. Flavoured vodkas can add dimensions to simple mixed drinks with little fuss or skill required. We are definitely seeing a change towards drier & sometimes savoury cocktails, so flavoured vodkas offer a clean flavour rather than the sweetness qualities of flavoured syrups.

Vodka presentation

Vodka cocktails and serves are more 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™ 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 organise & judge “Dorset’s Best Bloody Mary” which is sponsored annually by KETEL ONE™ vodka. We have seen Bloody Mary’s with many a wild ingredient – snails, cream cheese, pickled eggs, asparagus, bubble tea balls. The diversity is great. 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 (flavoured waters), which are then carbonated to create a flavoured soda water. Herbs work great as do citrus flavours 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, whiskys and amaro! Texture of drinks is also something to play with too. I’ve been playing with fresh whey, which is typically very silky & saline – great in a twisted dirty martini!

Have a look at one of my favourite vodka cocktail recipes:

CHERRY – PIPPIN SMASH

50ml SMIRNOFF® APPLE

10 Cherries destoned

20ml Sweet madeira wine

Fresh pippin apple juice to top up

Fresh Rosemary twig and apple for garnish

METHOD

Muddle cherries withSMIRNOFF® in the bottom of a sling glass.

Add the madeira wine.

Fill the glass with crushed ice.

Pull through to mix flavours.

Top with crushed ice cap.

Add apple juice top.

Garnish with fresh rosemary twig and apple.

(2.2 standard drinks*- 2.2 units per serve)

KETEL ONE is a trademark of Double Eagle Brands B.V.

(*One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol)

What vodka trends have you seen? Tweet us at @diageobarac, on Instagram @diageobarac or like us on Facebook – we love to hear from you!

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