Top Shelf Vodka Makes a Splash
by brian freedman
Vodka served straight lets serious drinkers appreciate the nuances of different brands
In a lot of ways, the spirits world isn’t all that different from the middle-school cafeteria: What’s popular one day is irrevocably uncool the next, and there’s no rhyme or reason for the shift. For a long time, vodka was the king of spirits in this country. Then the tides turned, and we were all told that gin was the white spirit of choice for serious drinkers. But the pendulum swings yet again, and vodka is seeing a comeback. This time, it’s not just being used as a component in standard cocktails. In Miami, vodka is being served straight, so as to appreciate the nuances of different brands, but also presented in ways that we haven’t seen all that much before.
In terms of which vodka appeals most, the sophisticated drinker cannot go wrong with premium brands like Russian Standard and Grey Goose, as well as Ketel One and Stolichnaya Elit. Reyka, an Icelandic vodka, is phenomenal. Cîroc is a smooth French vodka, made from grapes and preferred by Sean “Diddy” Combs. There also has been an uptick in Florida-produced vodkas such as Cane, 4 Orange Premium Vodka, and, most recently, Lust Vodka, with flavors of anise cookie, confectioner’s sugar, and marzipan. But personal preferences differ, depending on whether you like a vodka that’s more spicy, citric, or smooth. In general, Russian wheat vodkas have a softer mouthfeel, and Polish potato vodkas have a richer, fuller texture. And there’s no shortage of options.
Luke Mathot, director of food and beverage at the SLS Hotel South Beach, works with one that confounds nearly every vodka assumption. “We have a variety of vodkas, with Le Grand Saint as the most unique, as it is a sparkling vodka,” he says. And as if that weren’t different enough, The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel has updated a beloved standard with the Clean & Dirty Martini. “The martini is made clean,” he explains, “and then we add ‘dirty air’ to the top with a spherified olive as a reward for reaching the bottom of the drink.”
Artisanal garnishes and accompaniments of all sorts, in fact, are seeing a revival, and the classic Russian partner for vodka—the pickle—is receiving some serious love lately.
“We are using house-made pickles and vegetables as accompaniments for vodka,” says Tony Zamoshchik, general manager of Jelsomino Miami. “If you have a table and you order a bottle of vodka, we offer you a plate of our pickled items to help enhance your vodka drinking experience.” Right now, those include spicy carrot, escabeche, and a ginger-beet infusion, but the possibilities are limited only by the imagination of a creative food and beverage team.
Of course, Miami has put its own twist on this trend. Bernard Waters, mixologist at Rose Bar at the Delano, notes that he has seen a movement toward small-batch vodkas in the Russian and Polish style. “In New York and Chicago, I have seen garnish accompaniments ranging from briny to acidic,” he adds. “We here in the tropics crave flavor and spice, like wild orchids or tropical fruits. Vodka really highlights a lot of those fruits, herbs, and spices very, very well.”
Think of it as a unique twist on a great Russian tradition, right here in Miami. Budem!
photography by ivan mikhaylov/getty images
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.