By Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef

Not so long ago, the mixology community shunned the sale of cocktails made with vodka. Even though vodka ranks in the top five most consumed spirit globally and number one most consumed spirit in the USA, , it has taken the mixology world a minute to catch up to this unending consumer trend. Though once shunned for its simplicity and lack of flavor, today’s mixologists have turned to the “craft” vodka movement as the perfect reason to get back on the bandwagon of vodka slinging. Though personally, I think the fact that people still ordered vodka cocktails regularly in their “anti-vodka” establishments had much to do with its sudden acceptance. 

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Though “better late than never” does come to mind, I am glad that the mixology industry is finally embracing this insanely versatile spirit. I always looked upon vodka as a blank canvas that can be used to highlight seasonal ingredients and flavors. There are times that you need an ingredient to be the star of the drink and vodka provides that perfect outlet. Even chefs across the world turn to vodka to boost aromas of their cuisine as it is naturally volatile and neutral in flavor and aroma.

Though neutral in flavor, calling vodka “flavorless” is far from the truth. Since vodka can be made by anything that can ferment such as sugar cane, apples, grapes, potatoes, milk, maple, honey, and grains such as wheat, rye, quinoa, amaranth…I do need to be mindful of the final flavor and mouth feel of each product when creating cocktails. Vodka itself and can vary in mouthfeel from metallic to creamy and can range in flavor from herbal to earthy so creating cocktails with vodka can just as easily range from herbal to sweet and be used to create cocktails as varied from apéritifs to dessert cocktails.

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I do enjoy using vodka to create my own liquors or infusions as it lends itself so well with its unbiased flavor. When I have time and means, I will create one-of-a-kind liquers with events I do, or when people are willing to make things in house such as small cocktail bars in the city. I will also use high-proof vodka to create in-house bitters and tonics.  But when budget, consistency, speed and time are factors in creating cocktail menus, then I will turn to reputable flavored vodkas in creating menus. There are some amazing flavors out there and there is no shame in the flavored vodka game!

Spiced Mule Cocktail by Junior Merino

One cocktail I created as a twist on a classic is:

The Spiced Mule

2 oz infused vodka (see below)

1/2 oz Dainzu Agave Nectar

1 1/2 oz Regatta Ginger Beer

3/4 oz fresh lime juice

To make vodka infusion: In a separate container, pour 1 liter of vodka (for this I use a grain vodka). Break 12 green cardamom pods and add to vodka with 18 whole allspice and 2 cloves. Allow to sit for 24 hours before use.

To make the cocktail: Add the infused vodka, agave and lime juice in a mixing glass. Fill mixing glass with ice and shake well. Double strain over ice in a rocks glass and top off with ginger beer. DO NOT mix ginger beer in the mixing glass as the glass may explode. Stir lightly and garnish with candied ginger and lightly grate some fresh nutmeg over the top.

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