In case you didn’t know, Oct. 4 was National Vodka Day. To most people, vodka is simply a wallflower of a spirit, an insipid clear liquid that is merely a vehicle for Red Bull or juice. The reality is that vodkas can be made from potato, corn, winter wheat and rye.
I recently visited Distilled Resources Inc., a certified organic distillery in Idaho.
I wanted to learn about vodkas, and I blind tasted a dozen from across the globe. I discovered distillation techniques, unique flavor profiles and charcoal filtering.
Mixologists in Las Vegas and London are creating hip cocktails using vodka and funky ingredients like sage, lavender and absinthe. The cocktail is returning as a sophisticated, innovative beverage. But in Ventura? Not so much.
The tour of the distillery, led by Master Distiller Bill Scott, was illuminating. Distilled Resources makes 12 different vodkas and liqueurs. Their flagship vodka, called Blue Ice, is a potato vodka that goes from farm to bottle in seven days.
“It takes almost 10 pounds of potatoes to make one bottle of vodka,” Scott said. The local potatoes have unique flavors due to their alluvial soils. Scott forgoes traditional pot distilling in favor of a four-column distillation to capture the complexities and nuances of potato vodka.
Therefore, I was certain Ventura County bars would be excited about something new.
“People don’t care,” said Stacy Green, bartender at Victoria Pub & Grill in Ventura. “They have their preferences, and that’s what they order. Origin isn’t important.” Green pours a lot of lemon drops and Red Bull mixes.
At trendy P6 in Westlake Village, the big seller is the Bon Bon Martini; a pineapple infused vodka with limoncello and a house made vanilla-sugar. Head bartender Tricia Alley prefers cocktails that \”don’t mask the flavors of vodka.” However, the majority of people who order vodka drinks \”don’t want to taste the alcohol,” she noted. She would love to see people try more creative cocktails using diverse vodkas, but people are creatures of habit, getting their same cocktail made the same way, ad nauseam.
“I don’t think there’s a difference in vodkas,” Robin Frazier, bartender at Outlaws Grill & Saloon in Camarillo, admitted. “People want something smooth. Other than that, they don’t think about it.” She mixes a lot of vodka tonics and screwdrivers.
All three bartenders suggested that patrons have vodka preferences, but patrons don’t know why they like a particular one. It was clear that how and where vodka was made was irrelevant. But my blind tasting showed me there were vast differences in vodkas including taste, smell, harshness and type of grain. Perhaps Ventura isn’t ready for National Vodka Day.
Therefore, visit your favorite bar and try two or three different vodkas side by side, something made from potato, wheat or corn. Order them straight up, chilled but not cold, to maximize the inherent flavors, then taste. You’ll realize there are noticeable differences and you might just start respecting that clear, innocuous liquid.