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It is unclear whether vodka originated in Russia or Poland, but both countries claim it as their national drink. Some of the earliest recordings of this clear spirit can be found in both Russia and Poland in the 14th Century and its name is close to the Russian name for water – voda - and the Slavic mythological character Vodyanoy or Vodnik - a male water spirit. Russians in particular have favoured vodka over other alcoholic beverages, mainly because the raw materials for vodka – cereal grains – are grown easily in this area.
Vodka’s popularity was confined to Eastern Europe until after the Second World War when Americans realised that its clean, neutral taste made it especially suitable for mixing with other beverages in cocktails. Today, it remains one of the most popular spirits for these reasons as people look to make classic cocktails like the Espresso Martini, a Vodka Martini or a Moscow Mule.
Vodka is traditionally made by distilling fermented cereal grains like wheat and rye, but it can also be produced with potatoes, corn or sugar beet. It is a neutral, unaged spirit which must have an alcoholic strength of no less than 37.5% for it to be classed as a vodka, according to European standards. In recent years there has been a growth in flavoured craft vodkas and an emergence of botanical vodkas. The growth in craft vodkas has also seen a boom in exceptional English vodkas with a focus on provenance.
Our 1606 Vodka is copper pot distilled in England using a wheat-based spirit and passed through 18 distillation plates with Heart of England spring water for an ultimately pure taste. Silky smooth on the mouth, you can taste slight notes of anise before a cleansing black pepper finish. In contrast, we make our Two Birds Vodka with English barley and sugar beet. Equally smooth, this naturally sweet spirit is also the base for many of our flavoured vodkas like Two Birds After Dinner Mint Vodka with its notes of rich chocolate and refreshing peppermint for a perfect dinner party digestif.
In the vodka belt of Europe which includes Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania, vodka is drunk freezer chilled and neat from a shot glass so you can enjoy the intensity of the spirit and the depth of its flavour. If you prefer a longer sip, however, then you’ll be pleased to know that the neutral taste of vodka also makes it an excellent base when paired with mixers or in cocktails.
Just like gin, vodka can be enjoyed with tonic water, soda water or fruit juices such as cranberry, pineapple, grapefruit, orange, lime or lemon. The zesty citrus flavours liven up the vodka and taste all the better if the juice is fresh. We also recommend serving vodka with tomato juice or adding in a dash each of lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to turn it into a brunch time Bloody Mary. If you like your drinks with a bit of spice, then ginger ale topped off with a slice of lime will give you a two-ingredient vodka cocktail that’s an excellent at home option. Known as a Moscow Mule or a Vodka Buck, serve over ice in a copper mug to keep the cocktail nice and chilled.
Of all the vodka cocktails, the Vodka Martini is probably the most well-known, made famous by James Bond and his request for this drink to be ‘shaken and not stirred’. Unlike James, we’d advise against shaking so as not to dilute the spirit. Instead stir the vodka and vermouth together in a metal tin before straining into a Martini glass. The Cosmopolitan is another vodka-based cocktail made iconic by a screen character through the long-running Sex and the City series. Made with cranberry juice, vodka, Cointreau and freshly squeezed lime juice, this cocktail is synonymous with the 1990s and is fruity, light and bright, much like the escapades of the Sex and City ladies in New York.
Today, the most popular vodka cocktails in bars around the world are the Passion Star Martini and the Espresso Martini. Invented in the 2002, the Passion Star Martini is unlike the classic Martini creation, blending vodka with passion fruit liqueur and purée for an exotic sip with a shot of Prosecco on the side for added drama. Similarly, it’s the coffee that steals the show in an Espresso Martini, while the smoothness of the vodka provides the foundation for the cocktail. Characterised by its foamy top, this caffeine infused drink is bittersweet and delightfully rich, providing that extra kick that you might need on a night out.
What’s clear is that vodka reigns supreme when it comes to versatility. Standing proud on its own or seamlessly blending with other spirits and mixers to create a plethora of cocktail options that can be chosen to suit the time of year or occasion. It’s a must-have for any decent at-home bar or drinks cabinet.