While vodka ranks as one of the most popular spirits, its neutral taste and aroma cause some to consider it a boring choice compared to more complex liquors like whiskey or tequila. Yet vodka's clean, crisp flavor and natural simplicity make it the ideal blank canvas for creative mixology and endless possibilities.
Although it may seem a straightforward spirit, there's still much you may not know about the flavor of vodka. All it takes is a taste test between some of the best vodka brands to notice subtle differences in their taste, quality, and source ingredients.
From basic techniques that can improve your vodka experience to DIY-flavored vodkas full of fruity and herby flavors, vodka can quickly become an elevated staple for the home bar. Even if you only have a cheap bottle of vodka, there are many ways to get the most out of it -- and enjoy it too. This article guides you through how to upgrade your vodka and gain a newfound appreciation for the classic spirit.
Read more: 13 Liquors Your Home Bar Should Have
Chill For The Best Flavor
There's a reason why vodka is often served cold, and it's not just to make it refreshing to drink, whether you prefer it neat or as part of your favorite cocktail. In fact, chilled vodka can actually taste better than it does at room temperature.
Although vodka has a neutral taste, which is why it lends itself well as a base for a wide range of beverages, it can also be slightly sharp on the palate. Chilling vodka will help it feel smoother and more mellow, especially lower-quality varieties. Better-quality vodkas may require less chill time, as they're more likely already smooth and don't tend to cause such a burning sensation on the way down your throat.
While many find that chilling vodka improves the overall drinking experience, it's a matter of personal preference. But if you want to try it cold, the best place to store your vodka and keep it chilled is in the fridge, not the freezer. You shouldn't store vodka in the freezer, particularly quality vodka, because it will mask all its flavors -- both the good and the bad.
Pair It With A Chaser
Upgrade your vodka experience by alternating sips with a chaser. Typically, a chaser is something non-alcoholic. This is particularly useful if drinking your vodka neat or as a shot, when you may feel the vodka burn as it travels down your throat. A chaser masks the burn and also lets you enjoy a refreshing contrast.
The great part about using a chaser with vodka? The simplicity. It doesn't require mixing up a cocktail, and you can call upon a variety of liquids depending on what appeals to you. Even if sipping on vodka while spending time with friends, it's easy for everyone to use a chaser of their choice. A chaser can also help keep everyone hydrated between vodka sips.
You likely already have several ideal chaser options at home. Water is the least complicated option and helps cleanse the palate. Tonic or sparkling water are also good choices, so good that they are often combined with vodka in drinks. However, you can get more creative and use a chaser to take your palate in different directions. Try pickle brine for a salty chaser or lemon juice for a sweet and tangy alternative.
Experiment With Different Mixers
With such a neutral taste, you'd be hard-pressed to find a mixer that doesn't work well with vodka. The best drinks to mix with vodka are often a subjective decision and may also vary depending on the quality of your vodka. Like chasers, mixers can mask certain components of vodka, such as its harshness, or enhance the tasting notes of a particular distillery.
You don't need to spend extra money on store-bought mixers to enjoy with your vodka, as some of the simplest mixers work best. Fruit juices such as orange and cranberry are among the most popular options to mix with vodka. They create refreshingly sweet and fruity beverages while minimizing the taste of alcohol. If that sounds appealing, you may also want to try pineapple or grapefruit juice as your mixer. Pineapple juice creates a sweeter, tropical drink, while grapefruit juice brings more tartness.
Make A Martini
If you could only have one vodka-based cocktail, the martini would make an excellent choice. The martini is not only a classic cocktail but also one of the most minimalist vodka drinks -- where the spirit's quality can truly shine. Even though there isn't much to it aside from vodka and dry vermouth, and it's painless for just about anyone to make at home, a martini nevertheless exudes sophistication and never seems to go out of style.
Because vodka features prominently in a martini, it's important to use a quality product. Selecting the right type of vodka for your martini doesn't have to put a massive dent in your wallet. Pick a vodka worthy of the occasion you may be celebrating, or if it's a casual evening at home, opt for something reliable and budget-friendly, such as Tito's or Ketel One. Keep in mind a number of other factors, such as your garnish and the base ingredients of the vodka, which will impart certain flavors to your martini.
Find The Right Food Pairings
It's not just mixers, chasers, and cocktails that can upgrade vodka. Food can also help elevate the spirit and take it in different directions. Deciding the menu to serve alongside vodka depends on several elements. Yet, considering the neutrality of vodka, you can't go too wrong at the end of the day, no matter what eats you put on the table.
Start by asking yourself if you want to pair vodka with similarly clean and crisp flavors or choose those that contrast and use the vodka as a revitalizing palate cleanser. Light salads, oysters, shrimp cocktails, sushi, and caviar are some good, clean, and crisp flavored foods. On the other hand, vodka could cut the spiciness of Thai dishes, the acidity of pickled vegetables, and the sharpness of strongly flavored cheeses. Consider the occasion and whether you want to serve appetizers or a main dish. It will also depend on how you present your vodka, as cocktails and mixers can influence the flavor and direction of your food.
Filter Cheap Vodka For Better Flavor
The hack of running vodka through your home water filter has been around for years -- and has been debated just as long. The idea is that pouring cheap vodka through a home water filtration system, such as a Brita filter, can improve the taste, remove impurities, and transform it into something better. It makes some sense because filtration is an integral part of making vodka but not everyone agrees on the effectiveness of this at-home vodka upgrade.
According to America's Test Kitchen, when less expensive vodka was run through a home water filter four times during a blind taste test, it held up against a premium vodka. However, the testers suggest that the best use for this filtered vodka is for cooking, baking, or mixing in a cocktail rather than drinking alone. McGill University, on the other hand, states that the difference is negligible and depends on several factors ranging from the particular brand of vodka to the age of your water filter.
Nevertheless, if you already have a water filter and some cheap vodka that could benefit from improvement, this sounds like an upgrade option that's worth a try.
Combine It With Cream For Creamy Vodka Cocktails
Incorporating vodka into creamy cocktails may not seem the most obvious method of giving this particular spirit a boost. Yet, how can you forget the White Russian?
The White Russian is a classic cocktail made with vodka, coffee liqueur, and heavy cream. It's perfect for those who enjoy creamy, boozy, indulgent libations. Vodka works particularly well in a White Russian because it creates a strong alcoholic base while its neutral profile allows for the flavor of the coffee and cream to stand out. It's easy to make a classic White Russian cocktail at home, as it takes just three ingredients and a quick shake.
Additionally, creamy vodka cocktails can help to offset spicy meals. Both alcohol and dairy have properties proven to cut the power of capsaicin, the chili pepper extract that causes the intense feeling of heat you experience when you bite into something spicy. Together, the vodka and cream create an extra-powerful antidote to the heat.
Turn It Into Limoncello Or Orangecello
Limoncello is an Italian lemon-flavored liqueur typically produced in southern Italy, which boasts an ample supply of fresh, beautiful citrus fruit. It's made by steeping the zest of lemons in a neutral-tasting, high-proof alcohol. Vodka provides a perfect base for classic limoncello, and you don't need to live in southern Italy to whip up your own version at home.
Leave lemon peels steeped in vodka for several weeks. After straining out the peels, combine the lemon-flavored vodka with a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar. Serve your limoncello chilled and enjoy it as the Italians do by slowly sipping it from small glasses as an after-dinner drink. It can also be used in various sweet and savory dishes where you want to add a burst of lemon flavor. If you prefer oranges over lemons, you can just as easily make orangecello liqueur at home employing the same method but with oranges rather than lemons.
Infuse Herbs To Create Earthy Cocktails
Herb-infused vodka melds the clean and crispy flavor of vodka with the aromatic and earthy essence of various fresh herbs. The result is invigorating and also versatile for adding depth and unexpected flavors to your favorite cocktails.
To make herb-infused vodkas, steep fresh herbs in vodka for several weeks. Over time, the alcohol will extract the herbs' flavor and aroma. Of course, the longer you let the herbs steep, the more flavor will be extracted. After a few weeks, taste the vodka; if it doesn't pack enough flavor, continue steeping and tasting until it reaches a level you like. Lightly bruising the herbs before adding them to vodka will help to release their natural oils and impart their flavor more quickly.
Basil, rosemary, sage, mint, and thyme are a few herbs that work well for an infusion. You could then use this herb-infused liquor to craft cocktails such as martinis and Bloody Marys. Consider adding it to your marinades or dressings as well.
Infuse With Cranberries For Winter Cocktails
If you savor a vodka cranberry or a Cape Cod cocktail, you'll want to give homemade cranberry-infused vodka a go. It only requires some chopped fresh cranberries, orange peel, a few spices, and a week of waiting for everything to infuse until you have a beautiful cranberry vodka.
You can enjoy this fruity vodka chilled or as part of another cocktail recipe, such as a cosmo, martini, or sangria. The crimson color and warm spices of the infusion are ideal for celebrating the holiday and winter seasons, especially when you garnish your cocktail with a sprig of rosemary or pine. A jar of cranberry vodka would also be great for the gift-giving season.
Remember that fresh cranberries may be hard to find outside of the holidays, so consider readying a large jar of it to have on hand throughout the year. Fortunately, after straining, cranberry vodka will store indefinitely and make a good addition to your liquor cabinet, no matter the season.
Use Vanilla Beans To Make A Versatile Vanilla Infusion
If you've ever used vanilla extract when baking, you've used a vanilla and alcohol infusion. For a homemade version, the clean and pure nature of vodka is a smart choice for steeping vanilla beans and extracting their flavor. Just split open a few vanilla beans to expose the seeds, add them to a bottle, and submerge them in vodka.
But is this vanilla extract or vanilla vodka? You may be surprised to learn that there isn't much difference between the two. Vanilla extract exhibits a more concentrated flavor made with a greater amount of vanilla beans that have steeped for longer. The extract needs to be potent so that it can stand out in food.
Vanilla vodka, on the other hand, doesn't need to be quite so powerful. A few beans and weeks are all it takes to create a distinct taste for your beverages. Use vanilla vodka to warm up winter drinks and make boozy coffee beverages.
Infuse With Jalapeños For Spicy Bloody Marys
Jalapeño-infused vodka adds a spicy and creative kick to your home cocktail game that's sure to impress your friends. Start by slicing up some fresh jalapeños. Leave the seeds if you like things extra-spicy, or remove them for a milder result. Place the jalapeño slices in a clean container and pour over vodka. As explained in this homemade infused jalapeño vodka recipe, you can add simple syrup to the jalapeno vodka, or if you'd rather sweeten your cocktail than your infusion, you can leave it out.
After a few days of infusing, strain out the peppers and start putting your spicy vodka to use. The result makes a fantastic way to add heat to your favorite Bloody Mary recipe, though it would also be welcome in a margarita or to cut some of the sweetness and add some excitement to fruit-based cocktails.
Create Homemade Coffee Liqueur
If you can't seem to get enough coffee in your life, how about a homemade coffee liqueur ... with vodka? Sure, you can buy coffee liqueurs like Kahlua but many people find the mass-produced options too sweet and artificial-tasting. You can select your favorite coffee roast and beans while also controlling any additives, just as you would when preparing a cup of coffee the way you like it.
A clever way to make coffee liqueur is to cold brew the coffee directly in your vodka. This will produce a stronger and smoother liqueur that isn't watered down. Consider adding flavorings such as vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, or crushed cardamom pods. If you crave a bit of sweetness, stir a simple syrup into the mix. Then, use your coffee liqueur to fashion delicious espresso martinis and after-dinner drinks, or maybe even as a component of desserts such as tiramisu.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.