Vodka: Still Kicking
Vodka mightn’t be the trendiest category at the moment – but as Sacha Delfosse explained in our recent Autumn issue, it would be foolish to neglect it entirely.
It’s no secret that vodka has never been the most popular spirit with bartenders, and plenty have been dancing on vodka’s juniper-soaked grave over the past few years, as gin has risen as the preferred white spirit amongst local drinkers.
But the fact that most local bars still sells a ton of Espresso Martinis and Vodka Rickeys (A.K.A vodka, lime and soda), and the market is flooded with a plethora of vodka products encompassing all styles – from mass marketed major brands to boutique crafty creations – the truth is, whether you love or hate the category, you can’t afford to ignore it.
“There will always be those guests asking for vodka-lime-soda or saying that they ‘like vodka’ when searching for a recommendation on a cocktail – which usually indicates more that they don’t like the taste of alcohol,” Christian Blair, owner of Annata in Sydney, states.
His venue carries a small vodka range, with Absolut in the rail and Hippocampus, Ketel One, Belvedere Unfiltered and Nikka Coffey on the back bar, which cover “the main bases in terms of base ingredient, process and flavour profile”.
“There’s a place on every list for a soft, fruity, sour style vodka drink and ours is one of our biggest sellers. Others on the list include a sort of herbaceous French 75 with lemon myrtle-infused vodka, and a swizzle that puts Absolut Citron next to Rhum JM, Chartreuse and strawberry.”
For Jill Kady, co-owner of Alfred’s Pizzeria in Perth, her preferred vodkas tend to be Polish ones, due to their “creamy and almond elements”, with Zubrowka’s bright and fresh flavour making it one of her favourites.
Alfred’s Pizzeria also ranges a unique selection of vodkas, chosen for their different country of origin and style. These include Old Young’s Smoked and Pavlova, Hippocampus, 666 Autumn Butter, Belvedere, Grey Goose, Chase Potato Vodka, and Wyborowa, which is the house pour.
Kady says the bar is seeing a “huge spike in vodka and aperitif combinations”, and usually serves up Vespas, smoked Vodka Martinis and Bloody Mary’s made with Old Young’s Smoked Vodka infused with roasted garlic and chilli.
Former Alfred’s bar manager who is now working with the Coates Group, Tim Sponberg, believes that while most customers tend to take the cheapest option when it comes to vodka, he has started to notice “a select few that are going above and beyond the good ole fire engine”.
“They are equally looking for a soft spirit on the palate, and the hips. Something easier to consume than a stiff boiler maker, and hopefully something with longevity for a big night out.
“Vodka, to me, gets a nasty name mainly due to association; running in tight circles with energy drinks, sweet and fizzy pops, or anything in juice form. At least there will always be a classic Vodka Martini,” Sponberg points out.
Over at Sydney’s Ovolo Woolloomooloo, they currently range Grey Goose and Beluga as house pours, as well as upselling Grey Goose VX, Firedrum, Wyborowa Exquisite, Beluga Allure, Sky 90 and Stoli Elit, bar manager David Green says.
While classic-style Martinis are still the main call, Green has started a push for reverse-style Martinis – 40:20 vermouth to spirit – which due to the lower ABV, allows people to enjoy more of them.
He has also been experimenting with “an ultrasonic Soundwave machine to combine some unique flavours in drinks”, including a smoked salmon-based vodka, a natural cacao vodka, and even a bee pollen vodka. “Vodka still matters to bars as it is easy to work with, adds boosts to cocktails without adding extra flavour, and is a huge money maker,” Green states.
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