I used to be a cruise ship musician. During one contract, there was an entertainment act that was a couple, their 12-year-old son, and Alexi. They were from Russia, and they did all sorts of crazy balancing feats in the style of Cirque de Soliel. Alexi was the strongman that anchored the bottom. He would often be holding all three of the others up in different configurations with his bare hands, standing on a stage bouncing up and down in 20-foot seas. Dude was big and strong.
Late one night, in the crew bar down in the depths of the ship, I challenged Alexi to a Vodka drinking contest. He said, “Jim, I don’t think that is a good idea. I learned to drink Vodka in the Russian Army when I was stationed in Siberia for two years.” I informed him that I wasn’t scared and that I could kick his Russian ass at a Vodka shot contest. Needless to say, he had to literally carry me back to my cabin a couple of hours later.
So, now I like to drink my Vodka a little more responsibly. Whether it’s for making a Sunday Bloody Mary, a refreshing afternoon screwdriver, or a Vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives, Vodka is a home bar staple that any self-respecting boozehound should have at his or her disposal at all times. If you’re going to make a gift of Vodka for your own Russian strongman friend, here are a few good ones to choose from:
Skyy: Skyy Vodka is American through and through. It was founded in 1992 by an engineer, Maurice Kanbar, who was somewhat of a mad scientist type with no experience in the spirits industry. He wanted to make the smoothest Vodka on earth, so he invented an innovative, state of the art quadruple-distillation, triple-filtration process that changed industry standards. Then, after a couple years in standard, clear bottles, Skyy turned the spirits industry on its ear again with their signature cobalt blue bottle. It is a premium Vodka at a fair price. Skyy also has flavored Vodkas, like the bottle of Blood Orange that’s on my shelf. These flavors are infused, as opposed to just being added as an afterthought. Kanbar later sold the company and founded Blue Angel Vodka, another San Francisco product.
Vox: A wheat Vodka, Vox is distilled five times and was one of the first super-premium Vodkas on the shelves. It’s ultra smooth and very clean tasting. Their bottles have won dozens of design awards and look great on your spirits shelf. Definitely a surefire hit if you’re looking for a premium Vodka to give as a gift.
Luksusowa: As we all know the Russians like to credit themselves as the creators of modern Vodka. However, the Poles have just as much right to stake a claim in the long-honored vodka drinking of Eastern Europe. Luksusowa is made in the old Polish tradition. Poland has rich, fertile soil that grows banging spuds, and by the 18th century, the Polish well-to-do were as into their potato Vodka as the French and Italians were into their wine. “Luksusowa” means “luxury,” and this traditional Vodka is indeed a luxury that any Vodka lover will enjoy. To make this vodka even more appealing, Luksusowa is including a couple of shot glasses in the package this holiday season.
Pucker: Brought to you by the folks that make DeKuyper, Pucker brings fun and whimsy into flavored Vodka. With flavors like Sour Apple Sass, Grape Gone Wild, Cherry Tease and Citrus Squeeze, Pucker obviously doesn’t take themselves too seriously. They’re 70 proof, distilled four times and flavored with real fruit. The Sour Apple Sass that I have tastes crisp and tart like an apple should. Great for someone who likes to experiment with fun cocktail recipes.
So enjoy your Vodka shopping, and stay away from Russian strongmen if you want to keep your bottle around for more than one night.