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Premium Vodkas?

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I'm curious what you think about all the premium vodkas that are coming out. People on this site (some quite handsome) have recognized a surreal anomoly in the premium vodka market where manfacturers are striving to produce the best vodka where "best" is defined as having no flavor or color. (Of course, anyone who's tried one knows that vodka's have taste, and some are quite bad.)

What do you make of the huge growth in vodka's popularity over the last generation (and the corresponding decline of gin)?

Do think it's strange for people to order a mixed drink with a premium vodka, when the vodka won't be tasted (although I'm sure you make a good amount of money from it)?

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Vodka surpassed gin in case sales in 1967 and it surpassed whiskey in 1976. I believe there were several factors involved in the rise of popularity of vodka but there were a couple really key factors.

First, the brilliant marketing of the Smirnoff brand. Smirnoff was produced in this country in Bethel, Connecticut in a tiny distillery just before the Second World War by a guy named Rudolph Kunett. Kunett had purchased the American rights from the Smirnoff family living in exile in France. In 1939 John Martin the president of Heublien purchased the brand from Kunett. The war intervened, but right after the war Martin started the legendary campaign to put this strange spirit on the map. Remember he did all this with a Russian spirit in the height of the cold war! He used the Bloody Mary, the Vodkatini (name never caught on but the drink did), the Screwdriver and the Moscow mule. Martin went to Hollywood to sell his product, his was the first and the longest of the vodkas to appear on screen in the Bond films, but before that he used an ad campaign that told the whole story in one line “Smirnoff leaves you breathless”

The second huge factor was the audience he was playing to…the first of the huge baby-boomer generation was coming of drinking age in the early 1960’s and they needed an entry level alcoholic drink. For their parents it had been 7&7 (Seagrams Seven and 7UP). Martin had an advantage with vodka - it was tasteless! No whiskey taste to cover with coke….so the screwdriver, the vodka tomato, the vodka cranberry were all entry level drinks for this huge group of young people entering the market place. One of the drinks that vodka rode to primacy on was the CapeCodder! Followed by the series of “breeze” drinks…Sea Breeze, Bay Breeze, and the Madras. The Christmas tree smell and the big flavor of gin did not appeal to these entry level drinkers…they wanted juice and vodka tasted like whatever it was mixed with!!

As for the taste of vodka and whether it can be detected in a mixed drink, I always urge people to mix with the best spirit they can afford for the best results…sure in a vodka mixed with cranberry and orange juice you can get away with a Value vodka but what if the next guest wants a vodka martini? That value vodka is not going to cut it naked, with a just splash of vermouth to improve the flavor.

Putting aside that some vodka companies do cheat and introduce a hint of citrus oil, etc (which is illegal by the way in the USA, but not really enforced) what we perceive as flavor in vodka is often lack of burn and good mouth feel…texture. Vodka made by a master distiller with premium grains and pure water will taste better than a factory produce spirit without the hand of a master distiller. That descriptive words we use for those super-premium brands are smooth, silky, clean and sometimes a hint of sweetness in the after taste (the glycerin) we are reacting to the lack of burn and heat that cheaper vodka will exhibit. It is hard to talk about the big flavor of vodka because there is no big flavor.

Dale

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