Jeremy Pope
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The Comeback Kid: Vodka, We Missed You

The Comeback Kid

Courtesy of Ken Miller.

This past September, several decades after ushering in the über-’90s cocktail the cosmopolitan, the man credited with its popularity, Toby Cecchini, issued a belated mea culpa. In his new book, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World, he recalls how he’d stumbled upon a low-rent version of it in the gay bars of 1980s San Francisco and jazzed it up, switching out regular vodka for Absolut Citron, grenadine for cranberry juice, and Rose’s for fresh lime juice. “Years of bartenders saying: ‘You! You invented the cosmopolitan, you fuck!’ ” he writes. “And I’d be like, ‘I’m sorry, man.’ ”

That’s a little harsh. Made properly, the cosmo isn’t a bad cocktail (New York’s Temple Bar still does one of the best), but it grew to be so ubiquitous, and so often poorly made, that a fall from grace was inevitable. Immortalized by Sex and the City, the drink dominated the ’90s bar scene even as it became the most despised thing in the bartender’s repertoire. Responding to the uptick in sales of Absolut Citron, vodka distillers went gimmicky, distracted by endless experimentation in flavors. This led to such travesties as marshmallow, whipped cream, and cake vodkas (hang your head in shame, Smirnoff) at the very moment when bartenders were reverting to craft cocktails. Vodka was overtaken by bourbon. Even gin sales boomed. 

It was notable that no one thought it necessary to introduce bubblegum-flavored gin or cotton candy bourbon. Wisely, a few of the world’s more esteemed vodka houses also resisted the urge. This year, the Nolet Family distillery in Schiedam, Holland, celebrated its 325th anniversary, and although Nolet’s top-shelf vodka, Ketel One, has a (very good) citron-flavored vodka, the focus on simplicity has stood the brand in great stead just as mixologists are feeling more relaxed about their art. After all, who needs an uptight cocktail at a time of global anxiety and political dysfunction? Also, Mad Men wrapped in 2015. 

By staying true and not being distracted by fly-by-night trends, Ketel has emerged on top just as vodka looks sexy again. Smooth, clean, and elegant, Ketel One is perfect in a dry martini with a twist of lemon (an olive is too strong) or as a base for a gimlet. Or, hell, why not grab a bottle of Ketel Citron and go full-on Carrie Bradshaw with a cosmo, properly made? Like vodka, it might just be ready for a comeback. 

THE 325

Created by Ricky Gomez of Compère Lapin, New Orleans

1 ¼ oz. Ketel One vodka
1 ½ oz. coriander – , cumin – , and fennel-infused tea
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. crème de pêche liqueur
1 dash aromatic bitters
Prosecco

Directions for coriander–, cumin–, and fennel-infused tea: Add half a teaspoon each of coriander seed, cumin, and fennel seed to 3 cups of boiling water. Let sit for 5 minutes and then strain off solids and cool. 

Directions for cocktail: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Whip shake with only 1 or 2 ice cubes. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Top with prosecco. Garnish with lemon zest.

FATHERS & SONS

Created by Ariel Leizgold of 223 Bar, Tel Aviv

1 ½ oz. Ketel One vodka
1 oz. lemon juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 dash Bologna amaro
1 dash Sicilian amaro
2 drops orange flower water

Combine ingredients, shake well with ice, and pour into a sour glass. Top with lemon verbena.

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Tags: Liquidity

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