Vod-ka, noun: An alcoholic spirit of Russian origin made by distillation of rye, wheat, or potatoes.
After a sleepless night, a particularly ridiculous day at the office, and arriving home to a cat with explosive diarrhea, last night seemed like as good an evening as any to begin my build-a-bar challenge, starting with number 10 on my list - vodka.
With the challenge’s only rule in mind - spending no more than $30 on a bottle - I popped over to my local liquor store to begin perusing the vodka selection. As vodka is my alcohol of choice (I started collecting Absolut ads at age 12), I figured this purchase would be simple. Not the case. Although $30 isn’t a ton of money, it’s still more than I would typically spend (as I often buy mickies on an as-needed basis), and enough that it left only about 20% of the vodka selection out of my price range. My liquor store is robust - offering an impressive vintages section - so culling the vodka options by only 20% off the bat still left me with more bottles than I knew what to do with.
I started by ruling out all the brands that I might have purchased in my university days. Essentially, if I could recall shooting a particular vodka directly from the bottle and subsequently chasing it with a gulp of Old Milwaukee, or pouring bottle after bottle of it into a garbage can as the base for jungle juice, it didn’t make the cut. Next on the chopping block was anything flavoured. The point of vodka, as I’ve always understood it, is to have a neutral taste. By the time I’d ruled out everything watermelon, raspberry, or bison grass flavoured, I was left with a tighter, tastier, and much more manageable selection.
The next challenge I faced was quantity vs. quality. Ideally, I wanted to walk away with a 750ml bottle. Though $24.95 could get me a bottle of Grey Goose, at that price the bottle only held 375ml - half the volume I was looking for and not nearly impressive enough in size to be the inaugural member of my liquor cabinet. So, I did what any logical person who couldn’t find a store employee to ask the opinion of would do - I pretended I was as the Keg.
About once or twice a year I’ll go to the Keg, and I always order the same thing to drink - a Keg-sized vodka soda, light on the soda. In an attempt to seem classy (as classy as a chain steakhouse can get) the servers always rattle off a host of vodkas for me to pick from. Inevitably I choose something that I know I couldn’t normally afford a bottle of, like Belvedere or Roberto Cavalli. However, I always let the servers go through the whole schpeal of what’s available. One brand that usually comes up but I’ve never tried is Ketel One, and at $29.95 for a 750ml bottle, it’s this week’s build-a-bar winner!
A quick scan of the Ketel One website teaches me that this particular vodka is made from the finest European wheat, and that its name is derived from the fact that after initial distillation, it’s re-distilled in small batch copper pot stills, including the original coal-fired Distilleerketel Number 1 (that hand-drawn illustration on the front of the bottle? Yeah, that’s the namesake). Apparently, each final production run is approved by a member of the Nolet family - the Holland-based clan who have been churning out Ketel One since Joannes Nolet started the whole gig back in 1691.
And now, for the taste test - a shot on the rocks for sipping.
It’s crisp with a sort of citrusy aftertaste and coats my tongue nicely, but the most important thing is that it doesn’t make me want to screw my face up and chase it with a gulp of cheap beer. Ketel One, you’re a-ok in my books. Congrats on being the first bottle to grace my grown-up’s liquor cabinet (physical cabinet still required…)