“Ahh, I really love vodka; this is my drink,” he says each time, losing himself in the moment as he waxes romantic after that first taste. This statement always comes with a deep sigh of delight and an almost imperceptible shudder of ecstasy, convincing everyone else in his company that, yes, indeed, this man does love his vodka.
I noticed, though, that unlike most Filipino and American vodka drinkers, he takes his “neat” (no mixers) and on the rocks and only towards the end of the evening. He very seldom starts the evening off on vodka.
“Why is this?” I asked him.
“Because vodka is a pure, clean drink; it is tasteless. So I switch to it when I’m sawang sawa na with drinking other drinks all night. Let’s say I spend most of the evening drinking wine or champagne. When I switch to vodka, that clean, pure taste is pure pleasure. There’s nothing like it. It is a good respite from everything else.”
He added: “You remember what I taught you about making sundot with vodka after drinking wine most of the evening? Vodka reenergizes; it wakes you up. That’s the pleasure of it.”
I told him that for someone who loves vodka so much he sure drinks a lot of beer. So he began to educate me by enumerating the nuances of beer drinking as opposed to vodka drinking. “Drinking beer or vodka has its conditions and they have to be perfect. First of all, beer has to be really, really ice cold for it to be enjoyable, otherwise, it is useless. Second, the setting has to be ideal; it has to be outdoors and under hot weather conditions like at a parking lot, when the beer comes straight from the cooler, or on the beach, or on a racetrack. It doesn’t quite work if the setting isn’t right. Plus beer hydrates you and gives you a buzz at the same time on the cheap. (Editor’s note: Actually, beer, like all alcohol, is a diuretic so it dehydrates you.) For a hundred pesos you can have around five beers. It’s a kanto boy drink or an American redneck drink. It’s something you drink when you’re in a T-shirt and rubber shoes.”
I was raised believing that beer is not a proper drink for ladies so the pleasure of it has been lost on me for most of my life. I never imagined that beer drinking had all these ritualistic preconditions attached to it.
Sebastian continued: “Vodka, unlike beer, must be taken indoors because you need ice in this country. In Europe or Russia they don’t take it on the rocks because it’s cold. You can’t drink it outdoors or at a picnic — it’s stupid. You can’t drink it from a plastic cup; it has to be from a shot glass or a low boy. You drink vodka when you’re in a proper bar. Let’s say you go out at night and you’re dressed, then you should order vodka. You can’t have it when you’re in rubber shoes and a T-shirt; it’s pretentious. It’s a sosyal drink (pronounced with that Filipino accent).”
At a party last night, I was at a table with seven men who were all vodka drinkers. They were drinking three different brands of vodka: Absolut, Grey Goose and Belvedere. Seated next to me was my cousin, Danny, who is known to be a liquor connoisseur. I interviewed him about the different brands of vodka and he indulged me.
“To my mind, the best vodka brands are Belvedere, which is Polish, and Grey Goose, which is French, in that order. Other brands such as Absolut and Stolichnaya and the rest are in a different league — lower — because of taste, smoothness, etc. Although some are Russian or Swedish, they mostly come from potatoes so the taste is different. The good ones are made from rye or wheat and you can really tell through taste. Other brands are good mixers but the best ones must be taken straight — unadulterated.”
And so, Raz, a good friend from Vancouver, poured me what seemed like a double shot of Belvedere on ice. I took that first sip and — indeed — it definitely was worthy of Sebastian’s gushing pronouncement.
Off to the Internet I went the following day to read up on everything vodka-related and here is some trivia according to the website www.ginvodka.com.
Vodka originated in Eastern Europe and the name stems from the Russian word voda, meaning water. The first documented vodka production was in Russia at the end of the 9th century. Although Poland lays claim to having had the first distillery, theirs was more of a wine distillery. Polish vodka supposedly appeared only in the 11th century.
The spread of vodka happened in the 19th century because of the presence of Russian soldiers in many parts of Europe during the Napoleonic wars. After the Russian revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated all private distilleries in Moscow causing a number of Russian vodka makers to emigrate, taking their skills and recipes with them.
One such exile revived his brand in Paris using the French version of his family name — Smirnoff. Together with another émigré from the US, they set up the first vodka distillery in France in 1934, which was later sold to an American drinks company. From this small start, vodka began to achieve its wide popularity in the western world in the 1940s.
Vodka is made from wheat, rye, potatoes, or a mixture of grains. It is considered odorless, colorless, and tasteless — much like water from which its name comes. In the US, however, vodka is mostly taken as a cocktail — mixed with other liquids to become more flavorful. The average non-European drinker does not drink it straight. Just as the Russian locals take caviar “naked,” meaning they simply put it on blinis or on buttered toast, the Europeans take their vodka straight with no ice. When caviar reached the western world, people started adding minced hard-boiled eggs, onions, or a squeeze of lemon, just as they have added different kinds of juice and fruit to vodka for the same purpose — to add flavor.
Most brands of vodka have 40 percent alcohol or are 80-proof. The best ones undergo four to five distillations for purity and smoothness. The fewer steps in the process of production involved, the cheaper the price of the vodka.
Calories in vodka differ in relation to brand and type. But as a general guideline there are 100 calories for every 1.5 fluid ounce shot of 80-proof vodka straight. Flavored vodkas have five more calories per shot.
According to Wikipedia, this is how vodka is made:
1. Raw material is crushed and dissolved in water. This process is called mashing.
2. The mash is heated to 60 degrees centigrade wherein all starch breaks up into sugar.
3. Yeast is added and the mash vessel is closed tight with airlock. The yeast ferments sugar into alcohol.
4. Fermented mash is distilled several times to remove any foul-tasting or poisonous impurities.
5. When the resulting product comes out with very high contents of alcohol unsuitable for drinking, pure water is added to lower alcohol contents to desired level. This is called dilution.
There are only two types of vodka: clear vodka and flavored vodka. Unlike other types of liquor, vodka is not matured in barrels. It is bottled immediately after distillation and is ready for drinking.
Here are several brands of vodka as enumerated by www.brandsofvodka.com.
Belvedere: Luxury vodka from Poland, supposedly the first luxury vodka in the world. It is often regarded as one of the best brands of vodka along with its fellow polish brand, Chopin. It is made from pure Dankowskie gold rye. It is distilled four times and must pass 30 quality control checks before it is sold.
Chopin: Named after the famous Polish composer, Frederic Chopin. It is made from potatoes — seven pounds of potatoes for every bottle. It is distilled four times. It has won many awards and in considered one of the best brands in the world.
Grey Goose: Made from wheat in the Cognac region of western France. It is made with natural alpine and still spring water and it goes through a rigorous five-time distillation process.
Absolut: Made from winter wheat and is Swedish. It is popular because of its aggressive advertising campaign and stylish packaging.
Ketel One: A Dutch brand made from wheat, the company prides itself on its distillation process: the first thirds and the last thirds of every batch of their vodka are thrown away. Only the center — the best vodka — is bottled.
Armadale: Made from a combination of wheat and barley and is Scottish. Very popular in hip-hop culture. It is often seen in hip-hop music videos. It is distilled three times and is in the same price range as Belvedere and Grey Goose.
Stolichnaya: Made from winter wheat, it is produced in Russia’s oldest distillery using pure glacial waters.
Smirnoff: Made from a mixture of grains and triple distilled, this British-owned brand is the best-selling vodka in the world. Recommended for mixing purposes.
All this may be too much information for people like me whose main concern is how to have a pleasurable drink on occasion. Does it really matter what one sips as long as it delivers the happy buzz that the ingestion of all alcoholic beverages provides? Does it really matter how pure or smooth it is? Does it really matter where it is made and from what materials?
I can almost hear my three vodka aficionado friends — Sebastian, Danny and Raz — scream in outrage: “Sborishe dolbaebov!” (if only they could swear in Russian). But perhaps the crisp, crunchy Filipino, “P***!” works just as well.
Lilles, C. (2010, April 28). Vodka 101. The Philippine Star. Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/men/569975/vodka-101