Vodka is a spirit that almost always divides opinions.
It’s easy to dismiss as a bartender because it is typically a spirit that is ordered for its “low-cal(orie)” appeal, as opposed to being appreciated for its nuanced flavors, but that is slowly beginning to change. With new, terroir-driven vodkas having entered the market, such as Belvedere’s Single Estate Rye series, and High West 7000 vodka, which is an oat vodka distilled from pure snow melt in Utah at an altitude of 7000 feet, enthusiasts and bartenders are beginning to take vodka a bit more seriously.
While a Vodka Soda made with one of these premium vodkas would be a bit more flavorful than other vodka options, opting for vodka tonic instead would be a cocktail genuinely worth exploring. With craft mixer brands such as Fever-Tree, and Q Mixers, producing top-quality tonics, you have a cocktail that is flavorful in itself, but also leaves room for some additional creativity in the flavor department. To get a better idea of which ingredients would be worth trying with a Vodka Tonic, we asked the head bartender of the Artesian at The Langham, London, Marco Corallo, for his thoughts on the subject.
Bubbles and bitters are always an excellent pair because the CO2 will open-up, or carry, the complex flavors of the bitters and make them even more aromatic than they typically would be. When adding bitters to tonic, as opposed to soda, the type of bitters and type of tonic should be thought about because there is a genuine opportunity to create a lively pairing, with vodka serving as the alcoholic backbone. Lavender, specifically, is an excellent flavor to consider adding to your vodka tonic because of its delicate aromatic appeal. “Adding lavender bitter to your Vodka Tonic, will make the drink not only floral, but will also enhance the botanicals of whichever tonic you choose,” Corallo says. “In this case a smoother grape or potato-based vodka would play great in this aristocratic Vodka Tonic.”
“If I feel like heading to the Disco with a Hawaiian shirt, I would probably ask the bartender to add a splash of pineapple juice to my Vodka Tonic,” Corallo jokes. “Jokes aside, the sweetness and tropical notes of the pineapple will soften the bitterness of the tonic, and will balance the drink, making this Highball even more dangerously easy to drink.”
When you think of a standard vodka highball, lime is always the default garnish, or flavor, to pair with its bright flavor, and wide accessibility. “Probably one of the first drinks I ever made behind the bar: vodka, lime, and tonic was widely popular,” Corallo says. “Vodka, being a very versatile ingredient, is very drinkable,” he adds. “But choose the right vodka, and this Highball transforms into a great combination of zesty, bitter, and refreshing liquid.”
Grapefruit has the potential to transform a drink in the simplest of ways. In a Vodka Tonic, where you have some bitterness from the tonic, the slight sweetness and acid from the grapefruit juice is a great ingredient to add to the mix. But, there is also the option of using grapefruit as a garnish, which is another form to consider. “When the lime is replaced with a more aromatic grapefruit wedge or peel, the vodka tonic becomes more sophisticated and needs a dryer grain vodka to make sure the bitterness of the tonic and the aromatic citrus notes of the grapefruit shine more,” Corallo says.