Vodka Distilled is Tony Abou-Ganim‘s first book since his brilliant 2010 cocktail guide, The Modern Mixologist. Naturally he chooses vodka for his subject, the most popular spirit in the world (a book about whisky will apparently be next).
Abou-Ganim built his reputation working for people like Steve Wynn at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and Mario Batali in New York, helping them develop their cocktail programs. He now has his own beverage consulting firm, and is the national ambassador for the US Bartenders’ Guild. With the help of his co-author Mary Elizabeth Faulkner and award-winning photographer Tim Turner, he’s now produced a beautiful book about vodka that anyone would want to have on their shelves.
“… in my experience purchase price is not directly or reliably correlated with quality – and quality is subjective. The good news is quality vodka is available at nearly every price point.”
The History of Vodka
Vodka Distilled kicks off with a history of vodka, and even if you know the story, it’s told in an entertaining way – and challenges some of the ‘facts’ reported in other accounts. It’s also full of entertaining snippets of information, like the fact that Smirnoff was not the first to bring vodka into the USA in 1934, as commonly reported. Wolfschmidt had done it decades earlier but unfortunately the enterprise hadn’t been successful. They were the first, though, not Smirnoff..
Vodka’s success only happened in the USA with the invention of the Moscow Mule, which combined two previously unsuccessful imports – vodka and British ginger beer – with the deliberate intent of promoting both of them. This time it worked and vodka had arrived.
The author encourages the use of top-quality ingredients: “a product is only as good as its weakest component” – and that includes cocktails as well as the vodka you make them with. Even down to the ice. Buy ice from the store or use distilled water, he suggests, as household water varies in quality and taste. Freeze the water into cubes and then take the cubes out of the ice cube tray and keep them in zip locked bags so they don’t absorb anything from the other contents in the freezer. “I don’t support drinking more,” he says, “but I do promote drinking better. Research and then select top-shelf spirits; remember, quality does not always mean pricey.”
Vodka Cocktail Recipes
Vodka Distilled includes 28 cocktail recipes, with a few variants and some sub-recipes for syrups, purées, flavored waters, and so on. They’re a mix of the author’s original recipes and lots of classic vodka cocktails – the Gimlet, Cosmopolitan, Martini, Harvey Wallbanger, and that original Moscow Mule. The look of some of them, like the Espresso Martini, and the sound of others, especially the Sgroppino (combining vodka, lemon sorbet, limoncello, and chilled Prosecco), had me wanting to try them immediately. The photos throughout the book by Tim Turner are excellent – cocktail porn – and will have you drooling.
See one of Tony Abou-Ganim’s cocktail recipes from Vodka Distilled: The Wizard
Vodka and Caviar
I was really pleased then to see several pages devoted to the most sublime combination since Romeo met Juliet – vodka and caviar. Not that I get to sample this very often, but when I have done – wow.
Hosting a Vodka Tasting
There is also a lengthy section on hosting a vodka tasting, covering subjects like how many vodkas to choose, which glasses to use, and including a sample tasting sheet for you to copy. The author then goes on to follow his own advice and explores 58 vodkas, one brand at a time. In fact the vodkas were all tasted by not just the author but a panel of tasting experts, making for a very comprehensive review of each vodka. The 58 are split into categories – rye, wheat, potato, mixed grains, corn, and others. Yes, there are others, including barley, rice, and maple sap. The tastings were done exactly as they are done on professional tasting panels, and the author’s keen to point out that he uses a descriptive method rather than say one vodka is better than another. ‘Better’ is a relative term, and it depends on your personal preferences and other factors. The vodkas are also rated for price, from $ to $$$$$.
Among the vodkas sampled are Belvedere, Sobieski, Absolut, Tito’s, Broken Shed, Finlandia, Chopin, Effen, Grey Goose, Ketel One, Russian Standard, Svedka, Van Gogh Blue, and both Stolichnaya and Stolichnaya Elit. The Stoli Elit is one of only two $$$$$ vodkas sampled, the other being Jean-Marc XO. In addition there are vodkas from Vietnam, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other places, alongside a healthy number from Poland and the USA.
The Vodka Guy’s Verdict
Vodka Distilled is definitely one of the best and best-looking vodka books to be published recently. Running to 208pp, it’s published at $22.95 by Agate Publishing. You can find it at Amazon USA, Amazon UK, and other Amazon stores worldwide.