Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Vodka Wheel of Flavor

To digress from whisky for one post:

For years, I believed what I'd been told: that the better the vodka, the less flavor it had. Under this principle -- call it the "Our filtering process goes up to eleven" principle -- the ideal vodka would be indistinguishable from pure spring water (until it hit the bloodstream).

To be fair, what flavor a lot of vodkas have is kind of nasty, and the goal of getting rid of that flavor is a noble one. But it's also a challenging one, so it's no surprise that few distilleries have succeeded at it.

Nor is it terribly surprising that a number of distilleries have decided that masking the flavor of their vodka with something else -- lemon or coffee or, God help us, cupcake -- is the way to go.

Still, I've recently tried vodkas from some craft distillers, who seem to think it's worth trying to make vodka that tastes like vodka.

It seems to me, then, that there are four regions on the Vodka Wheel of Flavor, four possibilities distillers may try to achieve:

If your vodka starts out tasting like turpentine, there's good reason to try to make it taste like nothing, or like food. A vodka with little flavor of any sort has its place if you're mixing cocktails. And food flavored vodka might come in handy, too, if you're having a bachelorette party or something.

But it seems to me that, since mankind has the knowledge to make good-tasting vodkas, we should stop thinking that the better the vodka, the less flavor it has.

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