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Although true connoisseurs of vodka can distinguish between different brands by their aroma, weight and texture, most consumers merely enjoy it for its clean taste and smooth, silky character. Vodka is also noted for its refreshing bite, which makes it a good partner to oily and smoked foods, like caviar and smoked salmon.
Although vodka does not have as long a history in America as its counterparts bourbon, scotch, gin, or rum, it has nevertheless become the best-selling spirit, accounting for nearly one out of every four bottles of alcohol sold. For vodka drinkers, the choices are enormous. At some restaurants, more than 150 different vodkas are displayed behind the bar and new labels appear every year; truth is, if you want to enjoy it to its fullest, there's a lot need you need to know to about vodka to avoid putting in a reckless drink order. Take advantage of vodka's versatility, and put a new spin on all your tried-and-true cocktail classics.
One of the earliest vodka drinks, introduced in the late 1940s, was the Moscow Mule - vodka and ginger beer served in a copper mug and garnished with a wedge of lime. Though no longer quite as fashionable as it once was, the drink is no less refreshing.
It was in the late 1950s that vodka sales increased dramatically, with Smirnoff leading the way. Its popular slogan, "It leaves you breathless," was welcome news in the days of the three-martini lunch.
Surely, the main appeal of vodka lies in its versatility. Easily substituted for gin in such popular drinks as Gin and Tonic and the Martini, vodka also successfully holds together more complex mixtures, like the Bloody Mary and the Bullshot (vodka and beef bouillon). Further, that vodka mixes especially well with fruit juices is obvious from the popularity of the Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) and the Sea Breeze (vodka plus grapefruit and cranberry juices).
The serving styles of vodka itself are similarly versatile as its pairing possibilities. Some people keep vodka in the freezer, where it acquires a very distinct texture - viscous and almost syrupy; the Danish vodka label Fris–pronounced "freeze,"–leaves no doubt about how the sellers intend it to be served. Alternatively, many Vodkaphiles simply keep their vodka chilled in the refrigerator so that whatever drinks are made with it will need less ice and are apt to be less diluted.
Infuse It or Lose It
Vodka also lends itself to infusions galore. Fruits and vegetables can be added - in a small bottle at home or in a large glass jar in a restaurant - to produce a variety of flavored vodkas. Jalapeño peppers, for example, are steeped in vodka to produce the base for the spicy Cajun Martini or an extra-hot Cajun Bloody Mary.
Most bars take advantage of the many flavored vodkas now available, rather than making their own unique infusions. Absolut Peppar, for example, is infused with green bell chili and jalapeño pepper and widely used as a Bloody Mary base in commercial establishments. Actually, introducing flavored options was a boon to the vodka market across the board. One of the first drinks to popularize flavored vodkas with its best-selling Kirov lemonade: a mix of Stoli Limonaya, lemon juice, and sugar and club soda. Absolut similarly marketed their Absolut Kurant by introducing a cocktail to go along with it: The Kurant Affair recipe calls for a mix of Absolut Kurant, lemon juice, sugar and a splash of cranberry juice, to be garnished with three dried cherries that have been soaked in a black currant liqueur.
An unusual garnish also plays a role in the Eros cocktail; vodka and a dash of Godiva chocolate liqueur, served in a Martini glass and garnished with a raspberry marinated in Grand Marnier. There's also the Watermelon Martini - Absolut Citron and fresh watermelon juice; this is not to be confused with the Pear Martini - Stoli vodka and a dash of Pere de Brillet (a pear liqueur) served in a martini glass whose rim has been coated with cinnamon-ginger sugar.
The Cosmopolitan is a fairly recent addition to the vodka repertory: vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime juice are the basic ingredients. An updated version of the Negroni–originally a gin drink–requires vodka, Campari, and sweet vermouth, garnished with a burnt orange twist. Similarly, the festive Western Fizz, a variation on the gin-based Western Sling combines vodka, champagne, framboise liqueur, and pineapple, grapefruit, and lime juices.