Dining Myths Debunked: Vodka Is Flavorless
Vodka, America’s most popular spirit, may also be its least appreciated.
“Vodka is by far the number one consumed spirit in the United States, but there’s this big myth that it’s tasteless,” says Tony Abou Ganim, who writes and lectures about cocktail culture through his company Modern Mixology and is the author of 2013's Vodka Distilled. “Vodka’s subtleties and nuances are just that — very subtle.”
Once drinkers are educated, Ganim says, they’ll note differences in acidity levels, finishes and mouthfeel, qualities nearly impossible to detect in vodka cocktails. “Part of vodka’s downfall is what led to its popularity — its mixability,” he says. For Ganim, the right way to drink vodka is by itself, straight from the freezer.
“It really comes down to the distiller’s art of retaining the character of the raw material. That sweet corn mash that goes into Tito’s Handmade Vodka is so different from the earthy, vegetal notes of a Chopin, as opposed to the spicy, robust feeling you get from rye that you find in Belvedere,” he says. “The character represented from the raw materials is the number one thing you should look for.”
Ganim hosts frequent blind vodka tastings to reintroduce drinkers to the spirit’s varieties, and suggests the same approach to vodka novices. “It’s amazing to see people’s faces when you reveal what was in each glass. Quite often the brand someone always orders wasn’t their first choice in a lineup,” says Ganim. “It’s important to take the brand perception out of the equation entirely.”
An expert on all matters vodka related, Ganim can spend hours discussing the spirit’s history, but in the end, he says, he’s motivated more by enjoyment than by scholarship. “Ultimately, when you sit back, are you smiling and did you really enjoy the vodka? Do you want another sip and to finish the glass?” he says. “Everything else is technical mumbo jumbo.”