The Juice on the Juice
Unlike all other liquors, which are made in specific places with local ingredients according to age-old traditions, vodka can be made anywhere out of anything—grain, potatoes, beets, grapes, even sugarcane. You could probably wring it out of your favorite old sweater. It’s nothing but watered-down ethyl alcohol, and it can flow straight from the still to your glass, no aging necessary. Hang around bars enough and you’ll find old men who remember when vodka was introduced to this country from Russia in the 1930s. Smirnoff was the first (slogan: Smirnoff White Whiskey—No Smell, No Taste). Today vodka is America’s most guzzled spirit. It’s the denim jeans of liquor—easy to slip into and goes with almost anything (especially your favorite old sweater). Answers to a couple of FAQs: Yes, quality vodka contains fewer esters than whiskey, which means less Advil in the morning. No, it doesn’t work well in a Molotov cocktail.
You never know when a friend, or an enemy, will stop by. We recommend keeping a vodka bottle and two shot glasses in the freezer at all times. For a smooth, velvety throwback, spend the extra few bucks on Stoli Elit ($60). It’s made in Russia from wheat and rye and distilled four times.
When it comes to mixed drinks, the pros agree: You need quality booze but not expensive booze. We use Sobeiski ($12) from Poland, the birthplace of Vodka. The finest mixers—fresh juices, high-end tonic—result in a drink that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Our Vodka Martini
Cheap vodka in a martini? May as well stir it with a hot dog. We like Ketel One ($25), straight up with olives or even a Tomolive (a pickled green tomato). Special occasion? Try a martini with Kauffman Vintage ($250), a Russian vodka made only in years when the wheat crop is deemed superb.
The Last Buzz
A unique bottle is always a good icebreaker. She’s never heard of Reyka ($26)? Well, it’s grain vodka made from pure glacial water, distilled using geothermal heat in the tiny Icelandic village of Borgarnes and filtered over 4,000-year-old lava rock. Splash of tonic?
For him: Bloody Mary
Recipe from New York’s St. Regis Hotel, where this staple was first served in the U.S.2 oz. vodka4 to 5 oz. tomato juice3 to 4 dashes Lea & PerrinsWorcestershire sauce2 to 4 dashes Tabasco sauce1/3 tsp. celery saltPinch black pepperPinch white pepperJuice of a quarter of a lemonPour vodka over ice in a highball glass. Shake the remaining ingredients with ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
For her: Vodka Peach Iced Tea
Created by Jason Ashe of Ava lounge at the Dream Hotel, New York.2 oz. fresh-brewed unsweetenediced tea1 1/2 oz. peach vodka1/2 oz. peach liqueurPlace all ingredients in a shaker and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh peach slice.
For the party: Vodka Punch
Courtesy of Jonathan Pogash of the World Bar at Trump World Tower, New York. Serves 15 to 20.1 750 ml. bottle vodka12 oz. passion-fruit juice12 oz. cranberry juiceJuice of 5 lemons1/2 cup superfine sugar12 oz. Moët & Chandon WhiteStar ChampagneLime, lemon and orange slicesCombine all the above in a punch bowl with ice cubes. Stir well, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. Serve in punch glasses.
How the Russians Do It
“No cocktails. Straight up. Neat. No rocks. Bottoms up. After finishing the vodka, put the shot glass upside down on the table to show that not a single drop has been wasted. Russians never pour vodka into their own glass; pour it for your friends but not for yourself. If you pour a glass to overflowing, you will have a full life. Russians never drink without a toast. We say, ‘Za zdorovye’ (‘To health’). Russians never leave any vodka on the table. They finish it, and all the empty bottles go under the table.”—Roman Kaplan, owner, Russian Samovar, New York