When I was in high school, my girlfriend scored a pint of Absolut Vodka. Absolut! This is amazing! Why is it amazing? Oh, because it’s Absolut! Let’s mix some with a Sprite and go enjoy Vixen opening for a Paul Rodgers-less Bad Company!
Anyway, I had nothing but her usual self-assured word proving Absolut was high-end stuff, which was enough to conclude the fact it tasted like rubbing alcohol was the result of me being a rube and not that vodka just tastes like rubbing alcohol. Fast forward to college, where, the night before a Saturday baseball practice, I once drank three-fourths of a bottle of Aristocrat mixed with the Hi-C my mom used to bring me by the crate in lieu of tuition money. This was most assuredly not high-end stuff, which I could tell by the price tag, the bouncy plastic bottle and teammates recoiling from my 40-proof sweat the next day.
My dark secret was it didn’t taste any different from that Absolut, which I concluded was a deficiency in myself only correctable by drinking more vodka. So I made it a point from then on to embrace the vodka of the moment, happily paying more for the likes of Grey Goose and Ketel One because they said they were better and who was I to argue. Along the way, though, I read an article insisting that the average person – as in most – could tell no difference in taste between any kind of vodka. “Expensive” vodka was literally only that – expensive.
I was paying for bottles and logos and commercials, supposedly. But were people really that gullible, that easy to sway with nothing but marketing? The inevitable conclusion is yes, which is truth that is worth revisiting in this age of craft liquor.
Here’s the thing: Vodka is supposed to all taste the same. In fact, that’s the only way it can legally be called vodka. So unlike beer, wine, whiskey, gin, etc., where individual makers can add distinctive touches, there’s just not much anyone can do with something that must be distilled “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” And whatever subtleties in flavor it is possible to add are quickly eliminated by the 99.9 percent of people who wash them away with ice and mixers. Oh, and all that you heard about hangovers and purity through distillation? Sorry, but that’s nonsense too. If you don’t want a hangover, don’t drink too much – of anything.
So does that mean you should just stick to Popov at all times? Well, that’s up to you. Personally, I like the idea of local anything, especially local booze. Breweries, wineries, distilleries – bring ’em on. When I drink alcohol made by my neighbor while sitting with other neighbors, I’m helping my community. I’m not just getting drunk on the couch for no reason while lining the pockets of corporations based in Sweden. I magically become a good guy instead of a loser.
That’s why, as a resident of the Triangle in North Carolina, I’ll be thrilled if the vodka being made by TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill tastes exactly like a $40 bottle of Belevedere. The rest of the time, though, I’m going to use my head and stop worrying about pretense. That’s why from now on I’ll only drink Reyka, an Icelandic vodka made with Arctic spring water and lava rock filtration that none of you have heard of. I mean, lava rock filtration? Can you even put a price on that?
Actually, yes, yes you can – $19.95 in fact. That works.