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.