Thursday Night Loaded: The Problem With Vodka, Part One

Here’s the thing: Despite what I may have suggested in earlier posts, I don’t hate vodka. But I do resent it.

What can I say? When taken side by side, a shot of Smirnoff and a shot of Beefeater, the gin is a more compelling spirit. It lays hold of the senses, sends them off to explore the juniper forest, elephant guns at the ready. The vodka, on the other hand, simply goes down. Served cold (as it must be), it’s as featureless and desolate as the prairies in winter. And there’s a good reason for that. Let’s let Thomas Mario explain:

By federal definition, vodka must be so treated “as to be without distinctive character, aroma or taste.”

Later on in his Playboy’s Host and Bar Book (1971), he continues:

Vodkamen have two ways of eradicating flavor. The first is to distill it with such artful care that only the smoothest, purest fraction of spirits from the still is accepted for vodka; the balance of the run is rejected. The second is a finishing process wherein the liquor is sent through columns of charcoal until it emerges clean, satiny and as tasteless as technology can make it.

Leached of flavour. Sterile. Neutral. Subtle to the point of being inconspicuous. Vodka is the beige of spirits — a damning label to lay on anything. Despite this, in any liquor store you visit, vodkas will occupy an entire wall. Gin, on the other hand, will be lucky if it’s granted a couple thin shelves.

As a gin fancier, therein lies the source of my resentment.

None of this is to say vodka (like beige) is without its uses. In cocktail making, when you want a weaker ingredient — a liqueur or a vermouth — to take centre stage but you still want that alcohol kick, then vodka is the ideal base spirit. It functions well in the background and here is a perfect example of vodka doing its job, minding its own business….

Kretchma
1 oz vodka
1 oz crème de cacao
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp grenadine
Shake well with ice. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.

If you built the Kretchma around brandy or gin, you’d have a hopeless muddle on your hands. Too many flavours would be vying for your attention. With vodka, you taste chocolate blending with citrus alongside a hint of pomegranate — it’s a surprisingly agreeable combination. The worst response I’ve had to it is, “It’s interesting but I think I like it.” Most say it reminds them of a Cherry Blossom, but in a good way.

As for the name, turns out the Kretchma was a New York nightclub back in the 40s and 50s that catered to Russian emigrés; it was later renamed the Two Guitars. Theodore Bikel (who you might remember as Worf’s adoptive human father in Star Trek: The Next Generation) sang a song about it.

And, because the pop-culture blender that is the internet leaves nothing unscathed, here, to play you out, is Worf’s dad’s song performed by Peter Tork, the most mournful of the Monkees….

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5’10” tall and he was born in a place. He’s not there now. He’s sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It’s “Girl From Ipanema”, thanks for asking.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

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