The Vodka Martini, the Moscow Mule, the Cosmopolitan, the Bloody Mary and the Sea Breeze, the White Russian, the Black Russian, the Harvey Wallbanger and the Espresso Martini: these are the iconic vodka cocktails that we’ve come to know and love. The true classic vodka serve, however, is a 1960's favourite that is now being rediscovered, the vodka and orange, also known as the Screwdriver. And the light, subtle taste of vodka such as Smirnoff No.21 makes it the perfect partner for all fruit juices and every Highball mixer. The traditional way to enjoy straight vodka is chilled, in a frosted shot glass, although today many prefer their favourite vodka on the rocks, with a lemon twist.
Vodka's history is disputed, however. Both Poland and Russia claim to have created the spirit. True enough both have been making it for many centuries; both nations also flavoured vodkas with fruits, herbs and spices. But vodka was barely known outside those countries until Smirnoff No. 21 arrived in the US, sparking the “vodka craze” of the 1950s and 1960s. At this time too, the method of charcoal filtering, as used by Smirnoff, became more widely known and appreciated.
Traditionally vodka is produced one of two ways: by either using charcoal filtering or mineral filtering. Mineral filtering has a more minimal effect, with distillers relying upon distillation to remove any unwanted trace elements. Pioneered by Pyotr Smirnov, the founder of Smirnoff vodka, charcoal filtering involves passing the spirit through successive charcoal columns to absorb trace substances in the spirit, and thus create a purer, cleaner liquid. To get to this stage, the finest wheat – in the case of Smirnoff and Ketel One – is harvested and then blended with water to form a mash. This is fermented, and then distilled to produce a pure, crisp spirit. In the case of Ketel One, a portion of the spirit is then re-distilled in a traditional copper pot still, to add delicate honeyed notes to the final blend.
Charcoal filtering isn’t the last pioneering step, however, in the vodka sector. Contemporary fruit flavoured vodkas began to emerge in the 1980s. Today there’s Smirnoff Gold with edible gold flakes and Smirnoff Espresso made with Smirnoff No.21 and real coffee flavour extract. These can be used in a Collins, the martini cocktail, sipped or mixed with lemonade. Over the same period, small-batch, pot still vodkas, such as Ketel One, have appeared, rising to prominence during the 1990s. In the mid-2000s, the launch of Cîroc, the first grape vodka, added a new style, made from grapes.