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Purity is Boring

Dispatches from the Vodka Wars:

To some of you this might come as news, but there is a war raging and every bar worth its salt is a battleground. On one side are craft spirits & cocktails, along with mixologists in the trenches battling for flavor, balance, harmony, interest, and to take back the traditional spirits and cocktails of our glorious, pre-prohibition past. 

And on the other side? Vodka.

Yes, when you come into my bar and order vodka or a vodka-based cocktail, or ask for one of our house creations with vodka subbed in place of the spirit the recipe calls for (the horror! the horror!) then I know that you have fallen - Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-style - to vodka. Where once there was a human being, now there is an alien who denies the pleasure of the pursuit of drinking and opts only for something cold and boozy. You have taken up arms against those that would liberate you from the tiny little box in which vodka has you trapped.

The first step is to know the enemy.

Anything can become vodka. If yeast can eat it and piss out alcohol, then I can distill it until it is flavorless, odorless, and colorless. You see, that's the definition of vodka: an absence of character on the palate, delight to the nose, and beauty to the eye. When I lay it out like that, I always get a little sad.

Vodka doesn't bring anything to the party. Sure, it brings alcohol, and sure there was a time in our lives when that was all anyone needed to get into a party. But those days are gone. Now you crave character, depth, and something to delight the senses, right? So, if you get an invite to a party bring your 'A' game, and don't consort with the aggressors and bring vodka. For me, 'the party' is a cocktail. Generally, the foundation of the cocktail is your whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, etc...something with flavor that will affect the final outcome of the recipe with its presence, absence, or even the amount one uses. This base spirit works with the other ingredients in the cocktail to create balance, harmony, and an experience that is greater as a whole than the sum of its parts.

Beware the propoganda of the enemy (and your own mind).

"I like the way vodka tastes."

  • No, you don't. Unless you fancy toenail polish remover.

"I don't like the way whiskey tastes."

  • I don't believe you.
  • And there is a world of difference between how a whiskey and a whiskey cocktail taste.

"Vodka is pure and doesn't give me a hangover." 

  • Distillation is a purifying process... all spirits are pure.
  • You have a hangover because you drank. TOO. MUCH. Period.

"I had a bad experience with x, y, or z when I was younger." 

  • Nut up, Buttercup. We have all had bad experiences in the past. The human race would have gone extinct long ago if we weren't stupid/brave enough to not let the past rule the present. Find a bar you trust and trust them to make you a great drink.


Fortune Favors the Bold

In order to win this war, I go grassroots. I brandish whatever charm I can muster. I give rallying speeches with my face painted blue while going commando with a kilt. I give thanks that I have a boss who will let me bring a soapbox behind the bar and I talk, cajole, plead, and even give a pledge that if after three sips the drink is unacceptable, I will take it back and make you that vodka & soda you ordered. I also teach about cocktails that don't contain vodka, and write about cocktails that don't contain vodka, and drink cocktails that don't contain vodka. That last one is a lead-by-example method that I have honed from years and years of experience.

What any good Traveling Yeti knows.

Appreciating vodka in a cultural/social setting is great. When in Eastern Europe, never pass up an opportunity to raise a glass of vodka with the locals.

Never begrudge a gracious host's sense of taste. If invited to a party bring your wit, a bottle of something interesting, and if their cocktail du jour is a caipiroska... enjoy the fuck out of that lime, and don't forget to say 'Thank you'.

There is a time and a place for ascending the soapbox. Make sure you know your audience. We can lose a few battles, but it is the war we must win, one cocktail at a time.


And the proof can be in the pudding:

How to make a great scotch whiskey cocktail, The Scotch Blossom:


-Michael Cecconi

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