by Mike McHugh
Here’s a question for you: who has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins? If you guessed Coke, it was a nice try. Sure, Coke comes in lots of flavors. There’s New Coke, Classic Coke, Ancient Coke, Coke Zero, Coke Infinity, Vanilla Coke, Hot Blazin’ Coke…oh, sorry, now we’re getting into Buffalo wings, which is a whole other story. But you get the point.
Still, there’s one product out there that comes in more flavors than the offerings of all the soda companies combined. I’m talking, of course, about vodka.
When I first reached legal age, vodka came in only one flavor—none. That was fine with everybody, except, apparently, the vodka producers. All brands tasted exactly the same, which is to say, like lighter fluid. A producer had no way to distinguish his product, except for to put more hard consonants in the name, to the point where only Finnish-speaking people could pronounce it.
This put the vodka makers in desperate need of a new marketing angle. And thus, the flavored varieties were spawned. It began innocently enough, with modest, unimaginative offerings like cherry and citrus. These, they figured, would gain easy acceptance among the world’s hard-core vodka drinkers, and they were right.
But that was just the beginning. Once they got their foot in the door, the floodgates crashed open. Cherry and citrus were quickly followed with every imaginable fruit flavor, including pineapple, mango, guava (whatever that is), and kumquat. Suddenly, bar owners were forced to allocate more of their limited shelf space to all of these new, wildly popular vodka offerings, at the expense of other potables like Kentucky bourbon and rye. It was a stroke of genius.
As it turned out, they were not done. It’s become evident that there is no end to the amount of flavors that work in vodka, which is understandable given what the stuff tastes like in its natural form. In fact, the most popular flavor these days turns out to be pepper. Yes, that’s the same pepper that my mother used to put on my tongue whenever she caught me saying a bad word.
So now, and this is no lie, you can buy vodka in flavors that run the gamut from bacon to bubble gum, from pickles to peanut butter and jelly. I have not personally sampled any of these; so I can’t vouch for their palatability. But I can say that if they’re anything like the king cake vodka, which I did have the misfortune of trying, there’s no need to bother. King cake vodka is one of those things that might sound good in theory but doesn’t work well in practice. It’s a similar idea to guzzling a bottle of Tabasco to get rid of nasal congestion.
My only good experience with flavored vodkas occurred when I visited Russia. That would make sense, as the Russians drink so much vodka that you’d think the Volga River was flowing with the stuff. Where I visited, horseradish-infused vodka was the local specialty. I attended a dinner there one evening where we kept going round and round the table making toasts (apparently, this is what Russians do for fun). Waiters stood at the ready, flasks in hand, making sure your glass never ran dry.
I thought to myself, “If these guys fight like they drink, it’s no wonder they turned back the German blitzkrieg.” The Germans have great beer, for sure, but that’s no match for horseradish vodka.© 2014 by Mike McHugh