Vodka Cocktails – shaken or stirred?

Vodka cocktails – shaken, stirred or simply slurped?

We examined in a previous article how vodka’s centuries-long international history has left it with multiple, seemingly contradictory images. Starting with the sophistication of the vodka jelly shot.At the one end, it is beloved of students looking for a cheap night out or spicing (spiking?) up the punch at a house party. At another end, it is served in the swankiest of Manhattan or London cocktail joints. And at another end (how many ends does this thing have?), for several hundred years it has been the staple drink of pretty much all Russians, from agrarian peasants to Tsarist aristocracy. And we haven’t even got onto that epitome of suave, Mr James Bond, and his affinity for the overly quoted vodka martini – shaken not stirred. But maybe we now should.

You see, while vodka is indeed the very demotic, cheap and cheerful alcohol delivery system it is so often seen as these days –little more than the easiest and least interesting/challenging vehicle to carry ethanol from a bottle into your brain – and is also the classy, elegant and underrated spirit with subtle flavours and variations to delight true connoisseurs who are prepared to give it the necessary time and consideration, there is no doubt that one of vodka’s biggest strengths – if not the biggest, in the current UK market – is its near universal applicability to pretty much any cocktail.

Mixing the mix

While it is of course an ill-informed myth that vodka has no particular taste or aroma, beyond the alcohol, it is also fair to say that it broadly speaking has a fairly subtle, generally quite neutral taste and aroma. This means you can mix it with pretty much anything mixable. You like coca-cola? No problem. Full fat milk and coffee liqueur? Have a white Russian. Oh go on then, have two (actually with a white Russian the fat of the milk lines your stomach somewhat, slowing the alcohol absorption, so having two is not such a bad idea). What’s that, you don’t want to mix your vodka with coke, milk, coffee or orange juice, and you wondered if there were other options – well how about tomato juice, Tabasco and lemon?

You see where we’re going here: there is pretty much no drinkable liquid known to man or woman that is not eminently mixable – and frequently improved – with a shot of vodka.

Vodka’s part in the space race

And it’s not just liquids; vodka turns up as an ingredient in pasta sauces, showing that it matches something as very much non-liquid as durum wheat semolina. It even pops up in vodka jelly recipes – and jelly being neither a liquid nor a solid, according to latest NASA-backed research, it’s fair to say that vodka ticks almost all the boxes when it comes to what it mixes with: solids, liquids and even semi-solids such as wobbly jelly. In fact, the only matter state vodka can’t really mix with is gas. Oh hang on… attempts have even been made to mix vodka with pure oxygen and make the whole thing breathable. So in truth, we are probably looking at the most mixable substance in the world here outside of water and oxygen – and of the three, vodka is the only one that gets you drunk.

Does that mean it “wins”? I’m sure you know the answer to that – there are no winners here my friend. Or are there?

Horses and courses – odd bedfellows, but darned good ones

Well, in answer to the previous question it’s horses for courses. If you were stuck on a desert island for five years, you’d probably choose a good supply of fresh water if you had the option (let’s accept that the oxygen is a given). But if you were stuck in a Shoreditch cocktail bar for five hours, you’d probably pick the vodka option, would you not? After all, it mixes so, so well. Meanwhile if you were stranded at your niece’s sixth birthday party, you’d be well advised to plump for the jelly (but not the vodka jelly, of course).

So where does this leave us? Well let’s start with the tricky and contentious subject of the vodka martini. There are more than two schools of thought on this. (Yes, the fact there is even one school, let alone several, is somewhat arresting, but there you go. Read on and let’s try to sort through this wicked morass.)

Some real sticklers like to say that the vodka martini is not even a martini! For real. They claim that a “true” martini is a gin-based cocktail, not a vodka-based one, and that the latter is a bastardisation popularised by that mischievous pretender Ian Fleming.

Well, they’re half right; Fleming certainly was a mischievous pretender. And he found his literary brand and nailed it – and you can’t really knock that on commercial grounds; that is essentially the point of the game.

But what the sticklers miss is that a gin martini IS a vodka martini. Gin is arguably (in fact let’s say more than arguably: let’s say factually) a vodka martini, for the simple reason that gin is – and this takes some getting your head around – just a form of flavoured vodka. Yes it is. It is vodka infused with a blend of juniper, sage, nettle – whatever you want. But it’s still just, in essence, flavoured vodka.

Mary bloody Mary

This whole bloody mary subject could occupy a whole blogpost in itself, and rightly so; it is the drink of queens. And it probably will occupt a whole blogpost in due course – so we can only hope to scratch its surface here. What makes a perfect bloody mary? Celery stalks, celery salt or no celery at all? Vodka alone, vodka with sherry or vodka and sherry with a soupcon of vodka jelly on the side? Lemon, lime… or is citrus just an abomination? And if it’s not (and trust me, it’s not), is grapefruit a step too far?

This is evidently a vast subject so let’s start with the basics. First, it has to hit the spot. I mean hit. the. spot. For the uninitiated, this may take some explaining – but I hope this has whetted your appetite. Read on, dear hearts, for the bloodiest and mariest of bloody mary rundowns…