Vodka might not seem that sexy or interesting when you’re behind a bar with so many different spirits, but the craft vodka revolution is here, and maybe it’s time to reconsider your prejudice.
We chatted with Lex Poulsen, distiller at Hippocampus in WA about why he enjoys vodka, what you should be looking for when you taste it, and how he takes his after a hard day slaving over the stills…
What makes vodka an awesome spirit?
It’s an exercise in subtlety which makes it wonderfully versatile. I didn’t really care much about it until I started trying to make it myself and I understood how challenging it is to make.
What should bartenders be looking for when tasting vodka?
Vodka exists on a spectrum with character on one side and cleanliness/neutrality on the other. I like it when I can pick some character of the base, sweetness from wheat, a spice from rye, a nutty character from barley, maybe a starchiness from potatoes.
There should be a balance between this flavour and still having it without any higher alcohol character (burn). It needs to be relatively delicate as well else you stray into white dog territory.
The vodka we make at Hippocampus Distillery is definitely on the bolder end, it has a wonderful rich mouthfeel and sweetness from the wheat we use to make it.
What are some markers of bad vodka?
A burning sense of regret down your throat once you’ve swallowed it. (Phrasing). Any solvent character or unpleasant mouthfeel is no bueno.
The current excise regime means that a bottle of 40% spirit is taxed at about $23 a bottle. If you’re buying a bottle at the store for $25-30 you have to wonder how they are making and packaging a bottle for $3.
Why should the bar industry stop overlooking vodka?
There are some small producers doing some amazing spirits that aren’t just highly rectified ethanol and water. I like to think of the spirit in a similar way to pilsners or a Riesling, delicate but still very interesting. It’s not just alcohol for alcoholics.
What’s your favourite classic vodka cocktail?
I am a big fan of drinking by itself, chilled. Maybe a twist of lemon if I’m feeling fancy. Also, I can’t really get enough martinis, vodka or gin. Maybe both in a Vesper.