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By Harriet Leigh, Head of Hospitality ISSUE #015 CULTURE & COCKTAILS | Education

How to Drink Vodka - The Minimalist’s Gin

Vodka may be the palate cleanser of the spirit world, but it's also a great sharpener in cocktails and can hold it's own neat—trust me.


There is a mistruth universally acknowledged that vodka is flavourless and therefore pointless. This misconception is probably borne from our most common interactions with vodka being distorted by accompanying flavours. But take the time to revisit the concept of neat vodka - and if you can come down to our bar in Rosebery the Archie Rose bar team would be delighted to talk you through a flight of vodkas, lovingly curated from the best brands in the world. There are vodkas from all corners of the globe, made from organic material as diverse as wheat, grape, corn, sheep’s whey and yes, potatoes (but potato is very much a minor player in the source material for vodka in the world - your guess as good as ours why potato seems to be the one that sticks in the common psyche). In theory, vodka is an unflavoured, unaged spirit. Does that mean that there is no flavour in vodka? Absolutely not. Our Original Vodka has subtle botanical notes. We aren’t trying to deceive anyone - the botanical accents are something we’re very proud of. Orris root, blood lime, orange, Dorrigo pepperleaf, river mint and apple all feature in our Original Vodka. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we are reinventing the wheat. Our base spirit is made from 100% Australian wheat, which delivers a clean foundation on which we’ve built this bold, modern twist on the age-old staple.


The first time I fell in love with vodka, I was celebrating New Year's Eve with some Russians. They put a bottle in the freezer with a couple of fine-lipped shot glasses to drink alongside some classic Russian hors d'oeuvres. To recreate this experience at home, make a little pancake mix, spoon some dollops into a frying pan and fry up some chubby little blinis. Plop some sour cream on top, smear with caviar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Do not eat. Pour a measure of vodka into a frozen glass in one mouthful squeeze the laden blini into your mouth and close your eyes. The rich dairy coats your tongue, the saline spheres of caviar pop on the roof of your mouth and the slight graze of citrus cuts through the lactose. Your mouth is full of utter joy. The only thing you can possibly drink afterwards is a neat slug of frozen vodka. The vodka eats away at the fatty, unctuous dairy coating of your mouth. You’ve rinsed, now repeat. This is a very classical approach to vodka – to use it in the true Russian sense you’re warding off the cold, invigorating the insides, as well as washing down savoury and saline.


If we look at vodka through the ages we jump forward a few hundred years of neat imbibing and we get to the arguable home of modern cocktails – America. Vodka was launched in America in an odd time during The Space Race and The Cold War, a time when Russians and Americans were certainly not allies. And yet, they were certainly fascinated with one another. Smirnoff launched in America with a catch-phrase very much of its time: ‘Leaves you breathless’. It wasn’t intended as a commentary of the spirit astounding drinkers, though it’s clarity and crisp, sharp, neatness would most likely have been a pleasant surprise. The slogan was intended to appeal to husbands – have a three Martini lunch and return home to your wife who will not smell the consumption on your breath the same way she might bourbon. This approach probably wouldn’t go down too well in the 21st century, but it made an impact on drinkers 70 years ago. As did the spirit itself.

Vodka started to steal the market from other spirits. Gin, with its distinct Englishness, became stuffy. Scotch and Bourbon started to phase into the memories of parental partaking. Vodka was all the rage. Vodka brings backbone to cocktails when you want other flavours to do the talking. In a Bloody Mary, there is so much going on you don’t need anything else to try and compete. In an Espresso Martini, the coffee is what you want. You want a drink that will wake you up – you don’t need anything else getting in the way (though we highly recommend trying variations with rum and whisky - the rich caramel notes will complement the espresso beautifully). Then, of course, the Vodka Martini. Occasionally called a Kangaroo Cocktail – and not because it harks from Australia – maybe because it’s upside down? Maybe because the word Kangaroo is rad. Who can say? In a Dirty Vodka Martini what you really want is brine and lots of it. You don’t want pesky vermouth or gin getting in the way of the salt mouthwash but you do want spine. So enter, stage left, Original Vodka. The deliverer of flavour, the minimalist’s gin.