Vodka is one of the world's most popular liquors. Comprised primarily of water and ethanol, with traces of flavoring, it's the perfect ingredient for a cocktail - there are virtually no end of things you can mix it with (think: Bloody Mary, screwdriver, vodka martini, and those are just the basics). Vodka's popularity is likely based on two things: its ability to disappear into its surroundings, which makes it a perfect choice for people who don't generally care for the taste of hard liquor, and its reputation as a "safe" drink in terms of its after-effects (i.e. it contains fewer of the impurities and byproducts of distillation that lead to the dreaded "morning after").
Originally produced in Russia, vodka is popular throughout Eastern Europe, where it's been produced since the Middle Ages. It didn't really become popular outside of Europe until the 1950s, and in the U.S. it eventually outstripped bourbon in popularity. While the most familiar form of vodka is the clear (or unflavored) vodka, flavored vodkas are becoming increasingly popular.
I recently had the opportunity to sample a couple of flavored vodkas (and a clear one) sold under the Van Gogh brand. Van Gogh vodkas are hand-crafted in Holland at the Royal Dirkzwager distillery by second generation Master Distiller Tim Vos. The flavored vodkas I tried were the Acai-Blueberry and the Double Espresso. I also sampled their clear offering, Van Gogh Blue Triple Wheat Vodka.
The Double Espresso is very smooth, and tastes richly of coffee (it's also caffeinated, so beware if you're sensitive to the stuff), produced by infusing the alcohol with cracked espresso beans. This tasted very nice straight up, but it immediately inspired me to improvise a White Russian sans the Kahlua since I already had the vodka and the coffee in one shot. So I poured 1.5 ounces of the Double Espresso on the rocks in a short tumbler and filled the remainder of the glass with half and half. It was tasty. I'm not sure the Dude would approve, but it was a nice drink.
The next evening I tried the Acai-Blueberry vodka. This one is lovely to look at, a pale violet in color and made by infusing all natural ingredients with the alcohol. The aroma is fruity. Straight up, I found this to be a bit too medicinal for my taste, but I think it would make a superb mixed drink with the right blend of ingredients (for a great suggestion, see the recipe at the end of this article).
My last tasting was of Van Gogh Blue, which the distillery's press materials describe as "the first ultra-premium triple wheat vodka." Distilled from wheat grown in three separate countries (central France, southern Germany, and Holland), the appeal of this spirit plays on the notion of "terroir," the idea that the geography and climate of a region will bestow its own unique characteristics on the flavor of what is grown there. Straight up the Blue is smooth and has a subtle vegetal taste. While I'm not a gal who drinks her vodka straight, I would certainly enjoy this in a mixed drink; it would make a superb vodka martini.
If you're tempted to try a cocktail made with a flavored vodka (and I highly recommend that you do), this recipe from Van Gogh sounds like the perfect accompaniment to a quiet summer evening:
4 oz. sparkling rosé
1 oz. Van Gogh Acai-Blueberry vodka
Pour chilled vodka into a flute. Top with sparkling rosé wine and garnish with a starfruit.