by Alex Turner
There has been a lot written about vodka in the past year so I’m not going to revisit the debate. Instead I thought I would reflect on what vodka has contributed to the world of cocktails and how many great drinks have been overlooked in the pursuit of vintage and forgotten classics made with gin and rye whiskey.
Growth of Vodka
Vodka became popular due to its excellent mixing properties especially after the dark years of prohibition, the great depression and the Second World War, this was a time when poorly made and often toxic spirits deterred younger drinkers from ordering gin, whiskey and rum. Vodka’s clean, crisp flavour livened up anything it was mixed with as well as gave mundane ingredients a much needed kick up the derriere.
The Go to Spirit
Post WW2 the humble orange juice became sublime when mixed with vodka and was christened the screwdriver and the apogee of the cocktail, the venerable Martini was transformed into a bright and delicate libation that delivered all the effects of a hydrogen bomb without the unpleasant fall out the morning after (bear in mind that the 1950’s was slightly obsessed with the atomic age). Throughout the 1950’s and all the way up until the 1990’s, vodka was the go to spirit when creating new drinks and it was these that guests in cocktail bars were ordering all over the world.
Right up until the start of the 2000’s any list of the top ten drinks would feature mostly vodka as its base; drinks such as the Cosmopolitan, White Russian, Sea Breeze, Moscow Mule and Bloody Mary to name but a few. Even these days, the Espresso Martini, Porn Star Martini and French Martini are certainly in the running for most popular cocktails ordered in UK bars. That said, with the slight disinterest even distain that many bartenders now have for vodka means we may be entering a period where there are no new ‘classic’ vodka drinks being created.
Before we read the last rites let us revisit some of the great vodka drinks you may have forgotten or overlooked when developing your new cocktail lists. The Espresso Martini is a mainstay on most lists, but how about another Bradsell classic?
Russian Spring Punch
A delightfully refreshing and joyous combination of Russian vodka, crème de cassis, lemon juice and left over sparkles (Dick was always maximising the margins).
35ml Russian Vodka
15ml Crème de Cassis
20ml Lemon Juice
1 bar spoon Caster Sugar
Top with Champagne
Build over lots of crushed ice in a sling glass and garnish with lemon slices and mint sprigs.
The Polish Martini was another of Dick’s priceless contributions to the industry; a decadent mix of Bison grass vodka, honey vodka and apple juice, bet you’d forgotten about that one!
25ml Bison Grass Vodka
25ml Krupnik Honey Vodka
25ml Clear Apple Juice (we didn’t have cloudy apples in the 90’s)
Shake over cubed ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple chevron.
The Sea Breeze was a mainstay of the early 90’s cocktail list and when made with cranberry and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice is a great sharpener to revive a flagging guest after a long day’s toil. Its siblings the Madras and the bay breeze are both excellent, easy going long drinks.
50ml Cranberry juice
75ml Fresh Grapefruit Juice
Build over cubed ice in a hurricane glass (or a tall wine glass) and garnish with a lime wedge.
Thankfully, a lot of bars are beginning to embrace some of the more frivolous drinks of the past, cocktails that eschew the worthiness of some of the recent staples of the cocktail list by chucking in cream, juices, liqueurs and garnishes that add appetite appeal to the drink. The great thing about vodka is it allows the other ingredients to shine by giving them a little nudge into the spotlight, unlike some more popular spirits that wrestle the mixers into submission and take all the glory!!
Here is a selection of crowd pleasers (not for the lacto intolerant).
The Flying Grasshopper
Its creamy, it’s greeny, and it’s dreamy. It’s basically mint choc chip ice cream in a glass, garnish with a cube of mint Aero for the perfect retro cocktail.
15ml Green Crème de Menthe
10ml Crème de Cacao Blanc
50ml Half and Half (25ml Milk, 25ml Cream)
Shake hard over cubed ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a cube of mint Aero.
Screaming Banana Banshee
Got a blender? Add half a banana, chocolate and banana liqueur and vodka, blend it all together and serve with a banana dolphin on the glass!
15ml Crème de Bananes
10ml Crème de Cacao
50ml Half and Half
½ a Banana
Blend with crushed ice and serve in a tall wine glass, garnish with banana dolphin.
One cannot list classic vodka drinks without adding the White Russian, the Dude’s go to drink and the cousin of the Black Russian (for even more frolics create an Annihilator by adding cola to your white Russian!!)
25ml Coffee Liqueur
25ml Half and Half
Top with Cola
Build over cubed ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a cocktail cherry.
I do admit many of the drinks listed would not look out of place on a 1990’s cocktail list, a period usually referred to as the ‘dark ages’ of cocktails but as a veteran of the 90’s cocktail scene we certainly didn’t take ourselves or our drinks too seriously…………