*Recent ruminations from LUPEC Boston, originally published in the Weekly Dig.
As you’ve probably noticed, LUPEC doesn’t devote much time to vodka cocktails. “It’s the predominant spirit on most cocktail lists,” you may be thinking, “so what gives? What do you broads have against vodka?”
It’s not that we have anything against vodka. We are egalitarian imbibers, after all, and we knocked back our share of Cosmopolitans in the ’90s. Our issue, really, is that vodka didn’t take root as a popular American tipple until well into the 20th century. Our mission is to “breed, raise and release cocktails that are endangered” into the wild, and there are precious few of these that use vodka as a base.
To paraphrase the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s definition, vodka is a neutral spirit distilled from any material reduced to 80-110 degrees in proof, “to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste.” It was a tough sell when Rudolph Kunett first bought the rights to produce Smirnoff in North America in the 1930s. Americans favored strong-flavored spirits, like our native whiskies and the gin that kept the country wet through Prohibition. Our fore-drinkers hardly knew what to do with a product “better known for what it didn’t taste like than by what it did,” as Anthony Dias Blue writes in The Complete Book of Spirits. An aggressive, clever marketing campaign fabricated by Smirnoff eventually spun vodka into the vogue new spirit, and it hasn’t looked back since the 1940s.
While vodka cocktails may be nowhere near endangerment, vodkas that champion flavor over neutrality are a rare find. We were recently introduced to Karlsson’s, a brand that does just that. A Swedish vodka made with seven different kinds of virgin new potatoes (little baby potatoes harvested so young, they don’t have time to develop skin) distilled only once to carefully preserve the flavors of its base.
So, how does it taste? It has a vegetal, slightly briny aroma and a nutty, sweet taste with hints of cocoa. It feels rich, silky and weighty on the palate. We look forward to playing around with it and developing some modern classics with this new-old style spirit. In the interim, we quite enjoyed sampling Karlsson’s on the rocks with freshly cracked black pepper. And we’ve heard it sings in one of these, created by New York barstar Jim Meehan:
THE GOLD COAST
2 oz Karlsson’s Gold vodka
0.25 oz Carlshamns Flaggpunsch (Swedish punch)
0.25 oz simple syrup
1 pinch fresh dill
Muddle dill and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add vodka, punsch and ice, then stir and strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with two spritzes of black pepper essence.