How to Drink Vodka
No one is born an expert. Learning about alcohol—its history, its cultural importance, how to drink it, or how to mix it into drinks—takes time, tasting and a little light reading. If you’re new to drinking vodka or just want to learn how to drink the spirit beyond taking room-temperature shots that make you cringe, you’ve come to the right place. Here, all the delicious ways to correctly imbibe vodka.
How to Drink Vodka Shots
The first thing to consider when drinking vodka straight is the quality of spirit. Unless you want to forever ruin vodka for yourself, it’s best to opt for higher quality vodka when you’re sipping it solo. You should also take into consideration what base ingredient it was distilled from. Vodka is most commonly distilled from grains like wheat, rye or rice, but it can also be distilled from things like potatoes, corn, beets, fruits (like apples or grapes), or even milk or maple syrup. Vodka made from potatoes, like Chopin or Luksusowa, tends to have a creamier body and mouthfeel, and a subtle earthy taste. Corn-based vodka, like Tito’s, tends to be sweeter with more alcoholic heat. Wheat vodka, like Grey Goose or Absolut, is creamy and viscous, with a clean flavor. Rye-based vodka, like Belvedere, has a piquant pepperiness. But most vodkas on the market use a blend of grains to achieve a consistently neutral product. Blended grain vodkas of note include Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Skyy.
The next step to drinking vodka shots is the most important: Chill it. The best way to chill a bottle of vodka is simply to store it in the freezer (don’t worry, vodka can’t freeze). That way you’ll always have it at the ready. Freezing vodka removes any harsh flavors in the spirit and softens the burn of the alcohol in both the aroma and on the palate. If you don’t want to store your vodka in the freezer (or don’t have room for a bottle) you can chill it by stirring it in a mixing glass or pint glass with ice, and then strain it into a shot glass with a Julep strainer.
While vodka shots are primarily taken to get the party started, the ice-cold shooters are also great with food. In Russia, straight vodka is always served with a meal or snacks called zakuski, which include noshes like smoked fish, pickles, fresh cucumbers, meats, sausages and olives. If you want to drink vodka like they do in Mother Russia, take bites of food in between sips of vodka—and repeat until the sun comes up.
How to Use Vodka in Cocktails
If you don’t want to drink vodka straight, you can easily mix it into a variety of cocktails that will hide—or enhance—its inherent flavors. While most vodka cocktails include fresh juice or citrus and are shaken with a cocktail shaker, there are vodka cocktails for every type of drinker. To make drinks like the Cosmopolitan, Vodka Gimlet, Lemon Drop or French Martini, you will need ice, a citrus press and a cocktail shaker. This style of vodka cocktail hides the alcohol flavor and is bright, refreshing and extremely drinkable. Vodka also works as the base in a variety of sweeter dessert-tails, like the White Russian, Mudslide and Chocolate Martini. These cocktails don’t taste like alcohol at all and will totally sneak up on you if you’re not careful. If you enjoy drinking vodka straight, though, there are also plenty of more alcohol-forward vodka libations to concoct. Classic stirred and strong vodka cocktails include the Vodka Martini, Vesper or Dirty Vodka Martini. One of our favorite ways to drink vodka is in Highballs like the Vodka Soda and Vodka Tonic, which manage to be boozy, minimal, food-friendly and refreshing all at once. But the most iconic vodka cocktails are the Bloody Mary, which has become a standard at brunch, and the Moscow Mule, known for its shiny copper mug.
When making vodka cocktails on the fly, start with an 1.5 ounces of the spirit until you develop a taste for it. More advanced vodka drinkers should use a standard two-ounce pour.
How to Make Your Own Flavored Vodka to Drink Straight
Another way to make vodka more palatable is to infuse the spirit with fruit, vegetables, herbs or spices. Making your own flavored vodka is a great way to create an incredibly vibrant and flavorful spirit that can be easily sipped straight or used as a substitute for straight vodka in cocktails. Making your own flavored vodka at home is extremely easy: All you need is a bottom-shelf vodka (think anything in a large plastic bottle), a 32-ounce Mason jar and your choice of infusing ingredient. Some of our favorite flavored vodkas to make at home are jalapeño vodka (which works wonders in a Gimlet, Martini or Bloody), strawberry vodka (which is phenomenal in a Sex on the Beach, Gimlet or Lemon Drop), rosemary vodka or celery vodka.
All you have to do to create your own flavored vodka is combine the prepared ingredient with vodka in a Mason jar, wait at least 24 hours (or just one hour, if you’re using something particularly potent like jalapeños), strain it through a fine sieve to remove any pulp, seeds or unwanted solids, and pour it back into the jar or bottle. While there are a million different flavored vodkas readily available at your local liquor store, none of them compare to the fresh, additive-free, DIY versions. Making your own flavored vodka is also a great way to put seasonal ingredients to good use and preserve their flavor—and it’s way easier than jam.