Vodka to the Rescue: Back to Basics

How can you help when a patron wants to order a drink but isn’t sure what to get? Customers who like beer or wine may sometimes be in the mood for something new (or just be open for a pairing suggestion), but what about when the patron isn’t a beer or wine drinker and is just in the mood for some kind of cocktail? Face it: most liquors are very much an acquired taste – with their own, unique flavor that not everyone might appreciate. (Just ask anyone who’s ever had a bad night associated with tequila or whisky; they’ll never forget the distinct flavor). Wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing as a basic, unflavored alcohol that you could mix with almost anything to suit whatever mood your patron was in?

Bring on the Flavor

The answer, of course, is that there is: vodka. Think about it. What other liquor can can be mixed with vermouth and an olive – or coffee liqueur and cream (or just orange juice)? What other liquor would anyone try to bottle in such an insane variety of flavors, ranging from vanilla to bacon? You could collect them all!

Gasp. Should you? Thankfully, the answer is no. Unless you’re New York City’s Russian Samovar, with a “vodka gallery” featuring its own special tarragon, garlic, ginger, and horseradish varieties, there’s no real need to get quite so carried away. The whole point to begin with is that vodka mixes well with so many things that you might as well just start with regular old vodka and build your cocktail from there. Really, a well-stocked, basic bar is your best bet for satisfying whatever your indecisive patron is craving. From the salty bloody Mary to the pungent vodka martini or vodka tonic to the tart vodka gimlet – all the way to the sweet but spicey Moscow mule or the sweet-and-tart Cape Cod or screwdriver, to the “girly drink” cosmopolitan or apple martini, to the Long (or is it “Strong”?) Island iced tea, to the coffee-flavored black Russian (or its creamy sibling, the white Russian) – vodka has played a part in almost every flavor of cocktail one can imagine, if you just stop to remind yourself.

It’s All About the Mixers

When you break this wide-ranging list of cocktails down to the basics, then, you know you can make all of them if you have the right mixers and the right garnishes and twists. Your bar is pretty much set if you have tomato juice, hot sauce, vermouth, tonic, soda, ginger beer, lime juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, triple sec, light rum, gin, cola, green apple schnapp, coffee liqueur, and cream – along with lemons, oranges, olives, limes, and cherries.

Again, you can always mix things up by having some flavored vodkas on hand, if you choose, but there are so many available that this could quickly become a slippery slope. Vanilla is probably one of the most popular choices, as it mixes well with almost any type of soft drink and can also be combined with anything orange-flavored for the “orange-sicle” effect (for those who are so inclined). Remember, also, that vodka mixes well with any type of schnapps (not just apple), but the list of those is pretty much endless, too, so unless you really want to go all out, you might just stick with what’s the most versatile and leave the others alone. Other than that, having a large supply of whatever type of vodka you normally use for well drinks means you’ll be prepared to make many, many cocktails that suit almost any taste.

Premium Brands to Keep in Stock

Of course, upselling with a higher-grade vodka is always a possibility – or your patron may request a finer brand to begin with. Given that possibility, you’ll probably be able to handle almost any order if you have (in addition to your well liquor) the following ten vodka brands on hand: Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One, Stolichnaya, Belvedere,Van Gogh, Hangar One, Chopin, Three Olives, and Zyr.

Click here for a long, long list of more vodka cocktail recipe ideas to try.

Josh Saunders