2010 marks the 7th year I’ve held a Dean Martini party. Dean Martin’s birthday is June 7, so I hold a party each year in his honor. This is really where my love of vodka was born.
I have Keith to thank for this, in a roundabout way. He likes theme parties – he has a killer Halloween party every year, and has also added an annual Crab Boil and Burns Night Supper to his repertoire.
I wanted my own party. We were laying in bed one night trying to come up with an annual party I could hold. It had to be small, as I live in an 882 square foot condo, so dinner parties were out. A cocktail party seemed ideal.
Suddenly I said, “When is Dean Martin’s Birthday?”
Being the über geek he is, Keith looked it up. June 7. A PERFECT time for a cocktail party, especially as I have a damn good sized deck.
The Dean Martini party was born, as was my discerning taste for vodka.
I know my vodkas. I know cheap, I know expensive, and I know what I like. Price and taste do not necessarily have anything to do with…well, anything. It really depends on your personal tastes, although I will say that really cheap is…well, really bad. This should be a no-brainer.
I’ll give you some of my favorites, in order from okay to HOLY HELL I LOVE THIS STUFF!!!
First of all, let me say this with the utmost sincerity: IF IT COMES IN A PLASTIC BOTTLE, IT’S CRAP.
Think about it. There are only two reasons for a plastic bottle. One, it’s cheap crap vodka. Two, they know the only reason you’re drinking it is to get drunk, and they don’t want you to cut yourself on broken glass when you drop the bottle. Either way…NO.
This is what I would consider the cheapest thing I would buy. It’s not cheap by any means, (it’s probably on par price-wise with Absolut) but what I am saying is, anything less than this is NOT worth drinking, IMHO. Three Olives has a tiny bit of the Stoli motor oil aftertaste (more about that later) but is affordable and mixes well with, well, anything. Three Olives is my go-to all around mixing vodka – you can drink it straight (if you like a strong flavor) or mix it, which this vodka does really, really well. For the price, this vodka wins the all-around. This is the one I keep as a staple in my bar.
Often referred to as Stoli, this is the stuff Journalists and English Majors are made of. It has a strong motor oil aftertaste (which, personally, I enjoy, when in the mood) and is a kickass vodka for a kickass martini. This vodka is not for pussies. You will either love it or hate it. Again, let me say the “creative” folk among us tend to like it, possibly because it’s some sort of rite of passage. I really don’t know. All I know is, when I want to get totally fucking wasted and write a novel, Stoli is my drink of choice. Do what you want with that information. I believe some of my ancestors are Russian, which would explain why I love the in-your-face taste of this vodka. Seriously, this is not for the faint of heart. DO NOT start your vodka journey here, or you’ll likely be turned off. For the rest of us, this is a strong taste that, if you appreciate it, is reminiscent of flag-waving and protesting. Seriously, I can’t make this up. I LOVE my Stoli. When I want to get my drink on, I go to my Russian friends. Stoli says “FUCK YOU” in a big way, which is why I love it so.
This is my mid range, love it love it love it vodka, but mainly because it has just a hint of Stoli’s motor oil aftertaste (yes, I’m biased, sue me). Good for mixers but it’s kickass as a martini. Smooth taste, very stable, very predictable. A nice feisty vodka that I will admit makes me dance around and clap when it goes on sale at my local liquor store.
This one is on par with Level I, but is usually a buck or two cheaper. Nice, smooth taste, really nice mouth feel, and my all-around pic for a mid-level vodka that can do it all. I love this stuff. It doesn’t have the motor oil quality, which I’m guessing a lot of you might appreciate. I’m continually torn between this and Level I when they both go on sale. If I were stranded on a desert island with only one vodka, though, I’d totally pick this one. Smooth, mixes well, serves up well with a sniff of vermouth and some olives. If you can only have one brand of vodka in your bar, I totally recommend this one. It kicks ass everywhere it goes.
I have yet to taste their rye vodka (I cannot WAIT) but the potato is VERY mellow and VERY potato. Since I’m a student of the Atkins diet, potato doesn’t do it for me personally. However, if you like a high quality, mellow vodka, this is it. If you like the taste of potatoes, this is REALLY for you. I wouldn’t spend the bucks as a mixer, but in a martini, you’re good to go.
Grey Goose is, IMHO, the be-all and end-all of vodkas. It is so freaking mellow you don’t even know it’s there until you try to get off your barstool and fall on your ass. EXCELLENT stuff – smooth, VERY smooth. I love this stuff, especially if I’m feeling fancy and actually, you know, put pantyhose on for the occasion.
I have been sorely disappointed in the commercial flavored vodkas out there. Most of the time, they smell great, but have no flavor. If you want a flavored vodka, I seriously recommend you make your own. It’s not hard. Start with the vodka of your choice (too many of these flavored vodkas start out with cheap vodka, which becomes painfully evident in the end result) and add flavor. Two weeks steeping in the bottle, strain, and you’re good to go. Keith made some pepper vodka that burned my lips off. I loved it. YMMV. Vanilla, pepper, horseradish (I know, sounds gross, but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), coffee, and lemongrass are popular. Experiment!
Let's talk vermouth.
I am NOT a fan of sweet vermouth in any form. You like sweet vermouth, you'll have to find someone else to work it out for you. That said, it seems the major competitors are Noily Pratt and Martini and Rossi.
I prefer Noilly Pratt. It's less sweet, IMHO, and therefore doesn't get in the way of your drink. If you MUST use vermouth in your martini (I like a sniff in mine) go with Noilly Pratt. Trust me on this one.
Now, olives vs. lemon twist – your preference. Personally, I enjoy olives. They lend a bit of briny taste and you get a delicious, vodka-soaked snack. Win-win!
I will also point out there are many nice variations of stuffed olives on the market these days – garlic (LOVE!), Blue cheese (also LOVE!), halapeño, you name it. The possibilities are endless. Explore!
So, the rule of vodka is, there really aren't any rules. Your personal tastes will drive what you like. I will say, if you're making mixed drinks you can pretty much go with whatever – the taste of whatever you're making will negate your vodka.
For purists, (my preference is shake it until there's a thin layer of ice on top, a drop of vermouth, three olives: YMMV) go with one of the higher end vodkas, depending on your taste. Just remember, you like what you like – try other brands but if you have a favorite, then go with it.
The perfect martini is what's perfect for you. I hope I've helped you out with some suggestions, but the road to the perfect martini is always evolving. I've got seven years of experience and I'm always finding new things to try. Be adventurous! You never know where you'll find the perfect vodka for you.