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Vodka
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.2
The word vodka is a diminutive of the Russian word "voda," which means water.

What's in that colorless beverage that makes you feel oh so good the next day? Well, here's the skinny.

HISTORY

Vodka's been around since medieval times, its homeland Eastern Europe. (The Poles and the Russians have heated debates about its origins.) While vodka was prevalent in Eastern Europe, it didn't gain popularity in the United States until the 1940s, when a clever bartender created the first Moscow Mule -- a mix of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer. The Moscow Mule must've done wonders, because today vodka accounts for up 20 percent of the U.S. liquor market.

HOW IT'S MADE

Producers start with a neutral spirit (alcohol), which is usually distilled from grain (wheat preferred) or potatoes. After the initial distillation, the spirit can be redistilled and/or charcoal filtered. Ketel One and Grey Goose use a pot still method similar to that used for cognac or single-malt scotch, while others pride themselves on the type of wood used for charcoal filtering (Smirnoff using maple, birch and beech).

After the second distillation and/or charcoal filtering, the spirit is blended with water to reach "bottling strength." Different companies of course tout the quality of their water (Smirnoff touts its spring water, for example, while Absolut uses water from a Swedish well.) After that, voila; it's bottled, labeled and poured in your glass.

Fruit-flavored vodkas start with, oddly enough, fruit. The fruit's put in a tank with regular vodka and left there up to six weeks. That liquid is then siphoned off, new fruit replaces old, and the infused vodka is poured back in for yet six more weeks. Finally, the liquid is filtered and diluted to a drinkable alcohol level, then bottled. This method is used by Vincent Van Gogh Vodka, for example. Eastern European vodkas are known for adding other flavors beside fruit - usually herbs and peppers.

TASTING

Our motto at Wine X is that we'll taste anything that comes through the door. (We've scared off a few visitors over the years, but that's another story.) So here are our notes on recently submitted vodkas.

XXX Boru
Here's a cool idea: three 200ml bottles (one orange-flavored, one citrus, one regular) that stack to form one big bottle. All three are excellent. Warm and cuddly, smooth and tasty, these are must buys.

X Finlandia
Floral, a little rough on the palate and needs to be cut with a mixer.

XXX Grey Goose (Orange-Flavored)
Don't get much better than this. Like a slice of fresh orange in a killer vodka. Sip straight up so you don't dilute the quality.

XX Ketel One
Like James Gandolfini on the Sopranos, this has a smooth and powerful presence. Great straight up (or on your back, if that's your thing). Close to XXX.

XX Nord
The nose is a bit funky, but the palate proves smooth, warm and tasty. The perfect choice for a long cold night.

XXX Stolichnaya
Reminds us of a freshly waxed bikini model -- smooth, floral and very well balanced. Serve straight up or over light rocks.

XXX Stolichnaya (Lemon-Flavored)
Joe Bob, I do believe this one's a keeper! Beautiful citrus nose, just enough lemon flavor and a rich finish.

XX Stolichnaya (Orange-Flavored)
More like a kitten than a lion, this one's more subtle and soft than the lemon version. Still, it's quite good. Close to XXX.

XX Stolichnaya (Coffee-Flavored)
Stylistic. On its own it's tough to stomach. But mixed with coffee (or Kahlua) and it's a whole new way to enjoy your morning eye-opener.

XX Vincent Van Gogh
Floral and vibrant, smooth and luscious...a great sipping vodka. We recommend a bottle of this, a significant other and body paint. Close to XXX.

X Youri Dolgoruki
Like a used car salesman in the middle of summer, this puppy's smooth but a bit hot. Needs to be cut with something to control the heat.


RECIPES

Bingo

2 shots vodka
2 shots mandarin napoleon
2 shots apricot brandy
1 shot fresh lemon juice
club soda

Shake first 3 ingredients with ice and strain into ice-filled Collins glass; top with club soda.

Bittersweet Pill

1/2 shot vodka
1/2 shot Campari
1/2 shot mandarin passion syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into shot glass.

Coslandia

1 1/2 shots Finlandia lime vodka
3/4 shot Cointreau
2 shots cranberry juice
1/4 shot fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Blue Champagne

1 shot vodka
1/8 shot Cointreau or triple sec
1/4 shot Bols Blue Curacao
1/4 shot fresh lemon juice

Shake first four ingredients with ice. Strain into flute and top with Champagne.

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