Flavored Vodka - Advantages vs. Disadvantages

Etymology: The name “vodka” is a diminutive form of the Slavic word voda (water), interpreted as little water: root вод- (vod-) [water] + -к- (-k-) (diminutive suffix, among other functions) + -a (ending of feminine gender).1  
The world's first written mention of the drink and of the word "vodka" was in 1405 from Akta Grodzkie recorder of deeds, in the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland and it went on to become a popular drink there. At the time, the word wódka referred to chemical compounds such as medicines and cosmetics' cleansers, while the popular beverage currently known as vodka was called gorzałka (from the Old Polish verb gorzeć meaning “to burn”), which is also the source of Ukrainian horilka (горілка).2

Unflavored Vodka
According to a legend, around 1430, a monk named Isidore from Chudov Monastery inside the Moscow Kremlin made a recipe of the first Russian vodka. Having a special knowledge and distillation devices, he became the creator of a new, higher quality type of alcoholic beverage. This “bread wine,” as it was initially known, was for a long time produced exclusively in the Grand Duchy of Moscow and in no other principality of Rus'. Thus, vodka became closely associated with Moscow.3
Traditionally, vodka should always be served chilled. It is recommended to drink it in small doses, from short liquor glasses or shot glasses. After every glass of vodka one should have a snack, and here Russian culture really amazes with a variety and abundance of snacks and meals intended specifically to go with vodka.4
  • Vegetables - Vegetables are preserved in different ways: steeped, soured or salted. The most popular of vegetables preserved in this manner are cucumbers, tomatoes,  and Antonovsky apples.
  •  Mushrooms - Salted or marinated mushrooms: milk mushrooms or saffron milk caps. They are covered with the sunflower oil and sprinkled with the green onions in a salad bowl before serving.
  •  Herring - Herring is one of the most popular fish that goes with vodka in Russia. Its pieces are thickly sprinkled with onion bulbs and chopped greens.
  • Caviar -  Caviar is usually served on small, white bread pieces with butter.
  • Russian pancakes - Russian pancakes are consumed only with vodka. The hot pancakes are flavored with melted butter, topped with sour cream and caviar, and sprinkled with finely chopped green onions. This is a traditional dish for the famous Russian holiday Maslenitsa, which celebrates the approach of winter’s end.
  • Dumplings - Siberian meat dumplings or vareniki. Vodka is the classic drink to accompany hot dumplings.
  • Borscht - This is a rich, thick soup. Essential components of borscht are beets and tomatoes.  
Flavored Vodka
Today, not many people in the U.S. follow traditional Russian drinking practices. It became more common to use vodka as an easy mixer.  However, in the 1990s, drinkers were no longer content to mix plain vodka with orange or tomato juice. Increasingly, customers are buying flavored vodkas to sip straight, on the rocks, or in mixed drinks. As the demand took off, the number of flavors rose exponentially.5 Eager to capitalize on the trend, spirits companies as a whole introduced more than 500 flavored vodkas in the US over the next five years. But, with so many variants being added, brands quickly exhausted the obvious options, and started reaching beyond mass-appeal flavors such as watermelon, citrus, cherry, and raspberry to those with a more limited appeal: coffee, marshmallow, peanut butter and jelly, root beer, chilli pepper and bacon versions found niche audiences, but they failed to deliver the returns of earlier flavor innovations. The category began to feel saturated.6
You can infuse plain vodka yourself, but it takes time, and the infusion time varies depending on the flavoring ingredient. The advantage of flavored vodka is that the distillery has gone through the infusion process for you. Charbay, in California, for example, starts with whole fruits, such as Meyer lemon or blood orange. Charbay then crushes the fruit, skin and all, and extracts the flavors using a proprietary process. The infused flavors are then blended into the clear vodka.
The disadvantage of flavored vodka is that it’s not versatile. A cotton candy-flavored vodka won’t work if you want to make a bloody mary. As a result, you will probably end up with several bottles of different flavored vodkas, collecting dust.  Although, if you like showing off your collection of flavored vodkas to guests, then go for it.

If you are the kind of person who prefers to have the usual drink after a long day at work or relaxing on the weekend, then a flavored vodka is probably for you.  On the other hand, if dally with a number of different cocktails and drinks, then you should go for unflavored vodka and buy a syrup or essential oil of a flavor to add to your unflavored vodka when you have the hankering for a raspberry martini.  Regardless of your preference, stop by Liquor 'N' Wine, and one of our knowledgeable staff will help you pick out the perfect vodka for you.  Happy Holidays!

1. vodka. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 5 December 2017.

2. “History of vodka production, at the official page of Polish Spirit Industry Association (KRPS), 2007” (in Polish). Archived from the original on 5 December 2017.

3. Pokhlebkin V. V. / Похлёбкин В. В. (2007). The history of vodka / История водки. Moscow: Tsentrpoligraph / Центрполиграф. p. 272.

4. Roganov, Sergei. “National Vodka Side-dishes.” Russian Kitchen. 10 September 2012.

5.  Fabricant, Florence. “Now, the Many Flavors of Vodka, the Flavorless Spirit.The New York Times.

6. Quenqua, Douglas. “Case study: The Steps Smirnoff Took to Revive its Flavored-Vodka Business.Campaign US. 19 October 2016.

Friday December 15th, 2017