Give vodka a chance

Flavored vodka aside, the spirit can be the perfect canvas for a great drink.

click to enlarge The Weekender cocktail from Sidebern's in Tampa. - Sidebern's
The Weekender cocktail from Sidebern's in Tampa.

Here’s how you know your bartender is a cocktail geek.

Order a vodka drink. Does he (or yes, she) visibly sneer before mixing your drink or refuse to honor your request?

Congratulations! You’ve met a true cocktail nerd.

True, I’m one of the twits who hates vodka. Not that the stuff doesn’t deserved to be vilified as booze, it just seems that the effect (drunkenness) seems to be the center focus when it comes to vodka, instead of the taste.

But then, vodka is by definition a colorless, odorless spirit. And can be made from most anything — wheat, potatoes, even fruits such as Florida oranges, as is the Sunshine State’s own 4 Orange Premium Vodka brand.

My apathy to this alcohol probably has more to do with the marketing than with what is in the bottles. You see, the vodka world is a Vesuvius of bullshit. And in the booze industry, that’s saying something.

Many handcrafted vodkas are little more than bottles of industrial spirit festooned with fancy labels. And much of the bragging about how many times hooch has been distilled or elaborately filtered is meaningless.

Hell, some of these same techniques strip the spirits of interesting flavors or mask the use of crappy ingredients.

And where do you begin with the crime of charging 50 or more dollars a bottle for what is the cheapest spirit to make? Cheapest because, unlike whiskies, vodka needs no time to age in oak barrels. Even gin, which is basically vodka distilled with botanicals, requires, well, botanicals.

Yet I’m having second thoughts about being so virulently anti-vodka. I still cringe when I hear someone ask for a Grey Goose and cran. But the thing is that Grey Goose is, well, pretty good. Sure, it’s expensive. But having visited the distillery in France, tasted the stuff with the master distiller, I gotta admit it’s good vodka. Yes, even the flavored vodkas. Maybe even especially the flavored vodkas.

So in the spirit of tolerance, here are a couple vodka cocktails that are actually delicious.


from South Tampa’s SideBern’s Restaurant


2 ounces of Pellegrino Pompelmo Soda (Italian grapefruit soda)
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces vodka (they use Zyr brand)
3/4 ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (any sweet, red vermouth will do in a pinch)


In tall glass filled with ice pour all ingredients. Stir. Garnish with a small chunk of peeled grapefruit speared by toothpick.


The drink invented by the fictional character James Bond in Ian Fleming’s book Casino Royale.


3 ounces gin
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
Thin slice of lemon for garnish


Typically cocktails without citrus or other fruit juices would be stirred. But let’s bow to Bond and shake this one with lots of ice, hard. Then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon slice. Sip. Turn on rakish charm. Scan room for villains and/or babes.