Wednesday 28 September 2011

Beyond the Cosmo

The use of vodka in the higher tiers of the bartending world is widely frowned upon.  Seen as an easy way out of crafting a cocktail.  By definition vodka is odorless and tasteless.  Nothing more than boozy water.  Vodka adds nothing to a cocktail, but, it also doesn't take anything anyway for a cocktail.  Making a cocktail with an abundant amount of Campari, Fernet, orange bitters or any other powerfully potent ingredient can be slightly challenging.  Not wanting to skimp on the hard stuff your first reaction maybe to grab a bottle of gin or bourbon to balance things out.  One draw back to this is running the risk over complicating a drink.  Often do I see a drink on a cocktail menu with seven or more ingredients, only to have four of those ingredients contributing to the taste.  Vodka helps to avoid tangling too many flavors into one drink by acting as a support for other flavors to showcase their qualities

Here are three recipes that utilize vodka as a base to convey other flavors at the forefront of the drink.

High Fashioned
- 0.75 oz Vodka
- 0.75 oz Angostura Bitters
- 0.5 oz Fernet Branca
- 0.25 oz Honey

- Add all ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled rocks glass filled with ice
- Garnish with flamed orange zest

Fernet Branca and Angostura have enough complexity on their own that the addition of bourbon, cognac or any other spirit would just over cluster the flavor profile.  Vodka works in this drink to slightly stretch out the flavors of these two potent bitters without cutting back on the alcohol content.

Fatal Tragedy
- 1.5 oz Vodka
- 1 oz Rose Sparkling Wine
- 0.5 oz Regan's Orange Bitters
- 0.5 oz Lychee Liqueur 
- 0.25 oz Honey Cinnamon Syrup*
- 0.25 oz Lemon Juice
- 1/2 inch Cucumber 

- Muddle cucumber at the bottom of mixing glass
- Add all ingredients excluding wine to cocktail shakers
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Add rose sparkling wine
- No garnish necessary  

With six already present flavors, vodka's role in the Fatal Tragedy is to support the flavors and not outshine them.  A whopping half ounce of orange bitters is slightly dulled by the addition of vodka.  The remaining liquor and mixes make for a wonderfully refreshing cocktail.

Milan Sour
- 1.5 oz Campari
- 1 oz Vodka
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
- 0.5 oz Thyme Syrup**
- 10 Basil Leaves
- 2 Dashes Orange Bitters
- 1 Egg White

- Add egg white to cocktail shaker
- Add all remaining ingridents to cocktail shaker
- Dry Shake
- Add ice and shake extra hard to pulverize basil leaves
- Double Strain into Chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with one basil leaf

Milan Sour
Aside from cocktails, vodka does have other useful attributes.  Vodka's neutral nature makes for a blank canvas in which to create any spirit of your choosing:  Strawberry, lavender, jalapeno, cinnamon or any flavor you can imagine.  A full bog post of alcoholic infusions is planned for mid october.

High proof vodka is also perfect for creating your own bitters.  I suggest taking a look at Jamie Bourdreau's immersive guide to creating your own bitters.

Lastly I'd just like to say that this blog post is by no means law.  Try a Milan Sour with gin or a High Fashioned with bourbon, then, with vodka.  From there determine what works for you.  This blog post is merely to give people ideas of what to do with vodka.  Vodka should not be a bartenders nemesis, but nor should an entire cocktail menu be based around it.  Use vodka as a tool.  A tool to introduce people to gin, and a tool to showcase flavors not found in any distilled spirit.

Next month's blind tasting will include eight vodkas to once again, distinguish the differences between quality and marketing.  As well as a look into how vodka is traditionally drank.

Syrup Recipes

 Honey Cinnamon Syrup *
- 1 Cup Honey
- 1 Cup Water
- 6-8 Cinnamon Sticks (Or to desired taste)

- Simmer mixtures over medium heat for 10 minutes while constantly stirring
- Stir until even consistently until has been achieved
- Remove from heat and let cool
- Bottle in fridge for up to one month

Thyme Syrup **
- 1 Cup Water
- Hand full of thyme (rough estimate)
- Sugar (Amount will be determined after the first 3 steps)

- Add one cup of water and thyme to pot
- Boil on medium heat for 15 minutes until water is a light green
- Strain off water and discard thyme
- Add equal parts thyme water and sugar to a pot
- Simmer over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved
- Remove from heat and let cool
- Bottle in fridge for up to one month

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