When it comes to the art of producing liquor, whiskey and his brothers, bourbon, scotch, and rye, get all the glory. The stringent rules (like what makes a spirit a whiskey vs. bourbon vs. scotch vs. rye), the complex aging processes, the culture around drinking it, and of course, where we envision it’s made (on idyllic farms in the Kentucky countryside or in storybook stone buildings in the Scottish Highlands), all draw drinkers into a romantic world.
Then there’s vodka, whose production process, taste and consumption is perceived by many as less interesting — without nuance and unworthy of whiskey-like passion. Basically, vodka can seem kind of boring and lacking in story. Plus, to plenty of people, it’s simply the liquor you drink to get drunk, especially for those with lingering memories of vodka shots poured from cheap plastic containers in college.
But vodka is so much more. The clear booze is the base for thousands of delicious cocktails (not to mention many of the classics), and for any human who enjoys a drink now and then, a basic understanding of what you’re drinking and what kind of vodka you like is essential. If not to satisfy your curious mind, then at least to impress a date.
Personally, I’ve been in serious need of a proper vodka education for nearly a decade, as was most apparent whenever a bartender asked me if I had a vodka preference for whichever drink I ordered — to which my standard response was, “Uhh, it doesn’t matter.”
Thankfully, the opportunity to finally understand vodka arrived a few weeks ago when Absolut invited me on a whirlwind trip to Southern Sweden to learn how their vodka is made, then to Ibiza, Spain to see how their vodka is consumed. Obviously, I said yes.