Perhaps bartenders were still wincing from the days of poorly made Cosmos and calling-everything-a-martini, perhaps there was an urge to show folks that there are more interesting things to drink than a vodka-soda, but the past decade has seen vodka pulled off craft cocktail bar shelves and wiped from the menus.
I think that's slowly changing, though, and vodka drinks are creeping back into the cocktail scene—especially those featuring vodkas from small-batch distillers. Maybe it's a decision that good service includes pouring whatever the guest feels like drinking, maybe it's a desire to support local distilleries, maybe it's that some drinks actually work well with a vodka base. Whatever the cause, I've seen more and more vodka cocktails at good bars lately: savory drinks with potato-based Karlsson's Gold, a tongue-in-cheek White Russian variation made with amaro, and a tart, refreshing concoction made with Hangar One vodka, watermelon, lime, Lillet Rosé, Meletti, and Galliano.
That last one made me think: maybe we should all give vodka cocktails another chance. Here are five drink recipes that will help you get started.
The Phil Collins
A classic Tom Collins is made with London dry gin, sugar, lemon juice, and club soda. This cool variation from The Hawthorne in Boston features Square 1 cucumber flavored vodka instead, mixed with herbal Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lime, and simple syrup (along with a dash of bitters.) If you can't find the cucumber vodka, you can muddle fresh cucumber into some unflavored vodka and strain it through a tea strainer before serving.
We may think of brown spirits when autumn begins, but this drink is an argument to stay diversified: vodka keeps things fresh and bright so that some of fall's best produce can truly shine. Deep purple Concord grapes make a wonderful fresh puree that colors and flavors this simple vodka cocktail, balanced with a little fresh lime.
The Sunny Getaway
Made with fragrant Meyer lemon juice, coconut milk, slices of lime, and ginger beer, this drink is a tropical vacation in a glass. Vodka cuts through the richness and latches into the ginger beer's spice, rounding out the drink without letting it get too heavy.
The Great Gatsby
This one's as easy as 1, 2, 3: vodka, Lillet Blanc, and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice are all you need for a morning-friendly cocktail with vivid citrus flavor and plenty of puckering acidity.
This cocktail from Lucy's Fried Chicken in Austin, Texas may not be super complex, but it does one thing right: refreshment. Made with fresh basil leaves and blackberries, tart lemon juice and honey to sweeten, it's spiked with vodka and lightened with fizzy club soda. You'll need this one as long as the weather stays warm.