Vodka takes a lot of flack, and often with good reason. But for dedicated cocktail types, we have to come to terms with vodka. It’s still the most widely consumed type of spirit in the United States, and each of us — whether as hosts or as bartenders — has friends or customers who prefer to drink vodka. Rather than simply shaking a vodka martini or pouring a vodka & soda and writing them off as lost souls, we can turn to vodka cocktails that show a little imagination and that introduce the flavors we’ve come to appreciate in cocktails, in hopes that the next step may be a drink that’s even more ambitious.
Which brings us to Mixology Monday: Vodka is Your Friend (kindly hosted by Felicia’s Speakeasy). And hey — why not? Sure, as cocktail geeks we all groan about vodka and the damage it’s done to contemporary palates and to the art of mixology, but c’mon — it’s not all bad. True, I don’t handle the stuff all that often, but vodka was my first mixing spirit of choice — before I discovered the beauty of rye, tequila, gin and rum — and on occasion I come across a vodka recipe that actually makes sense. That is, a drink that uses vodka’s neutral character to good effect, as a vehicle and softener for bold flavors, rather than simply as an alcohol-delivery device.
In some ways, vodka steps into the role formerly carried primarily by dry vermouth. In classic drinks such as the Chrysanthemum, that softens the flavor of Benedictine and absinthe by using a base of vermouth, the base serves to dilute the powerful flavors of the modifiers without interfering (much) with those flavors. There are a couple of contemporary drinks that use vodka in this way — the Drink Without a Name, with Chartreuse and Cointreau, and the Dreamy Dorini Smokin’ Martini, with Laphroaig and Pernod, spring to mind — but here’s something a little bit older that demonstrates vodka’s utility: the Gypsy.
I first came across the Gypsy several years ago while exploring the wilds of the Esquire Drinks Database, and while there are other drinks that share the name, the Gypsy is worth filing away for future reference. Flavored with a hearty ounce of Benedictine and a dash of Angostura bitters, the Gypsy uses vodka to form a neutral stage, both softening and spreading out the potent flavors of these ingredients. In other words, it performs in a cocktail exactly as vodka should.
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce Benedictine
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink and deploy as garnish.
There, that didn’t hurt, now did it? (And apologies for the lack of a photo — I’m currently vacationing several hundred miles from my liquor cabinet.) Now head on over to Felicia’s Speakeasy to see what everybody else has been up to.