Vodka, your worst best friend

19 01 2011

Despite the fact that this blog is barely three weeks old, I fear that this may be my last post. You see, I’m probably going to be murdered in my sleep (or at the very least, be removed of any capacity to operate a keyboard) by my partner, who is indeed a lovely and gentle human being, albeit one with a renowned affection for vodka. Not to the same degree that, say, Shane MacGowan has a “renowned affection” for Irish whiskey, but she’s nevertheless a staunch exponent of Boris Yeltsin’s ol’ cough syrup. I, however, believe it’s made from the tears of the puppy dogs that never made it to heaven, distilled deep within the bowels of hell by Lucifer himself.

I have a love/hate relationship with vodka. It’s the first spirit that most teenagers – myself, included, back in the day – reach for (or pay an older friend or relative in order to acquire) when getting fired up for a big night of loitering in the local park, throwing up in the gutter, and awkwardly fumbling around with some member of their fancied gender. Whisky tasted repulsive, gin was some old man’s drink, brandy was something you poured on the Christmas pudding, rum existed only in pirate stories, and tequila was too much of a nuisance as it required stealing mum’s salt shaker and the neighbour’s lemons. But vodka… well, that goes with just about anything, or so they say.

This brings me to my main quibble. For the most part, I don’t consider vodka to be an actual drink, but simply as some sort of tool to be used whilst charting a course for wanton bacchanalia. You mix it, you shoot it, swig it, unclog drains with it, whatever; this is its niche. As far as I’m concerned, there’s very little to savour when discerningly consumed as a standalone liquor. “Mmmm, yes, a slight whiff of ethanol on the nose, absolutely neutral on the way down, the finish tastes like nothing whatsoever. Brilliant.” You’re drinking vodka because you’re looking to give that juice or soda a little more kick, because the cocktail recipe prescribes it, or simply because you’re looking to get plain sauced.

Not to say that vodka doesn’t have its place. Aside from its aforementioned uses, it’s easier and cheaper to produce than most other spirits. And when you’re battling yet another miserable Slavic or Siberian winter day with an forecast high of -30°C, you can hardly be blamed for firing up the backyard pot still with a mixture of leftover potatoes and sugar beets, heating it with your last remaining scraps of furniture and the upholstery from your Trabant, and filtering the contents through a babushka’s scarf. Whilst there is apparently some sort of movement afoot to regulate what exactly can be called “vodka” in regards to the origins of its raw ingredients, the beauty of the drink is that it can be made from (almost) damn well anything and still be called “vodka”. Try pulling a stunt like that with your typical single malt aficionado, and they’ll shit their kilt. One of the few vodkas I’m particularly enamoured with is Polish bison grass vodka (Żubrówka is the only brand I’ve tried, admittedly) which we came across on a trip to Eastern Europe last year.

But back in the western hemisphere, we’re bombarded with advertisements over how “clean”, how “pure”, how “elite”, how “smooth” the various brands are. It’s endorsed by hip hop and R&B douchebags. (As a side note, Courvoisier cognac had a mercifully brief dalliance with hip hop culture following its titular appearance in a Busta Rhymes song… not one of his better moments, and the clip itself, a brazen plundering of cultures and eras, could not be saved even by the appearance of Mr T. Pity the foo’ who tries to partner single malt whisky in a similar manner… it’ll be over my cold, dead, peat-reeking, tweed-clad corpse). All digressions aside, if you’re not prepared to throw an extravagant amount of cash at your marketing and image – far more than you’d spend on making the actual bloody product, in all likelihood – then prepare for your vodka to bomb out, because the vast majority of consumers sure as hell aren’t paying for the taste of it.

In conclusion, I’d like to state that this post was brought to you by my completely unjustifiable sense of condescension towards everything I don’t really like all that much. Vodka? Yeah, I’ll still continue to drink it in cocktails, and probably resort to having shots of it when conditions are so dreadfully tedious (physics lectures, bar mitzvahs, job interviews, etc.) that it is entirely justifiable, in which case I’d be more than content to knock back a few in order to bear the unbearable. The love/hate relationship shall continue, it seems.

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2 responses

22 01 2011
Holly

The fact that I am writing this response indicates that you have not expired at my hands during one of your sobriety-challenged slumbers. Such a quick ending whilst you were in a state of inebriated oblivion would certainly not do justice to the crime committed against good taste by your preposterous anti-vodka tirade. Rather, I shall adapt the Russian standard (no pun intended) of ongoing demoralization with paranoid inducing persistence until I feel you are sufficiently repentant for your crime against the Motherland…

As far as I am concerned (and I do feel a certain erudite aptitude for the subject), your post reeks as badly of ignorance as your breath frequently does of that cigarette-butt-in-nail-polish-remover smell you get when drinking the abomination known as Ardbeg…a drink so named as the first reaction upon imbibing is often a resounding “arghhhd” followed by persistent begging to remove the volatile violation inhabiting one’s mouth…

You see, whisky/whiskey drinkers love to rambunctiously rant about the complexities of their single malts and the so-called chorus of notes corralling for attention on their confused taste buds. They get excited about the cacophony of chaos in their mouth, with the underlying assumption that such composite concoction must indeed be the work of sheer genius. This is the equivalent of judging a Pro-Hart painting superior to one of Michaelangelo’s drawings on the basis of sheer volume of content with no appreciation for the aspects form, structure and vision that so define artistic talent…

Vodka, and here I refer to vodka of the proper and decent variety, not the shitty Smirnoff flavoured varieties, nor the Kirov cocktails favoured by unknowledgeable adolescents. But vodka as it should properly be- clean, clear, consistent, crisp and simply superb…

Vodka is a drink that symbolises an acceptance of the profound beauty in the simplicity of experience. It appreciates its origins and pays homage to the primacy of water as the most important substance in the formation of a spirit. Vodka carries to no air of pretension, tries to trick no unsuspecting drinker with bells and whistles, but instead delivers a clean, quenching and wonderfully warming flow of fluid to the discerning drinker. Drinking whiskey/whisky is like going on holiday to Las Vegas and getting bedazzled by the gauche neon lights. Drinking vodka is like travelling the Trans Siberian and getting mesmerised by the beauty of the snow-covered landscape…

Oh…and as an addendum, you forgot to mention that it was due to a bottle of the crystal clear, crisp and clean spirit two and a half years ago that you finally grew enough certain male appendages to forthrightly display your dubious intentions upon my unsuspecting self…but maybe that is what the bitterness towards vodka is about? ;)

25 01 2011
n0ndakure

My my, someone takes their vodka rather seriously!

Because I’m feeling awfully lazy today, I’m going to reply in point form. :P

* Given that whisky is such a subjective experience, as evidenced by the enormous variation in tasting notes for a single whisky even amongst experiences tasters, here’s no point trying to insult Ardbeg, or any other heavily peated whiskies, in such a puerile manner.

* And that brings me to another point – yes, whisky drinkers love to waffle incessantly about the nose and palate and finish of their favourite dram, because whisky affords you that pleasure. Both vodka and whisky are made from very simple ingredients, but the enormity of scents and flavours you can experience within a glass of whisky vastly outnumber those of the vodka world. An experienced Parisian perfumier managed to identify 26 distinct scents within a glass of Glenmorangie 10 year old; as I said, a subjective experience, but this nonetheless demonstrates the potential depth of whisky appreciation.

* “Vodka is a drink that symbolises an acceptance of the profound beauty in the simplicity of experience. It appreciates its origins and pays homage to the primacy of water as the most important substance in the formation of a spirit.” Exactly the same applies to whisky.

* Whisky is pretentious due to the voluminous number of styles, distilleries and expressions that exist, thus you’re bound to encounter pretentiousness amongst various circles of whisky drinkers. Vodka is pretentious on whole other level, akin to what I mentioned in regards to its overblown marketing. The idea that there’s some sort of exclusivity to premium vodka simply because of its price, when I doubt that most vodka “connoisseurs” could pick out their preferred brand in a blind lineup of premium vodkas.

* Vodka has a sense of provenance, but whisky even moreso, and it’s definitely not Las Vegas. You’re really clutching at straws if you have to use such a poor analogy with nothing to back it up. :P Whisky is inextricably linked to the glens, granite mountains and peat bogs of Scotland, even if places such as Japan are encountering success and respect in the worldwide whisky market. Vodka? Well… if you want to drink vodka like the Russians do, I doubt it’ll be fancy premium junk, I doubt it’ll be barely palatable – as I said, it’s a tool, not a drink. :P

* Final point – shochu is not vodka. I have far more respect for shochu. :P

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