October 4 is National Vodka Day! It’s also National Taco Day, but you won’t lose if you choose the booze. Really, there’s room for both around the dining room table!
Vodka comes from the Slavic word voda, which means “water.” Appropriate, given that many dismiss vodka for its lack of flavor. True, it doesn’t taste like a Christmas tree like some alcoholic beverages we know (I’m talking to you, gin!), but it sure does pack a punch. And really, isn’t that the point of a good spirit?! By definition, vodka is a combination of mostly water and ethanol, so if you’re out drinking in the middle of nowhere and run out of gas, fear not! Chances are good you’ll still make it home without having to call AAA.
There is some debate over the origin of vodka, with both Poland and Russia laying claim to its invention. The word first appeared in writing in a Polish court document in 1405, but Russians claim to have been distilling vodka since the 9th century. Not to be outdone, the Poles say they were producing vodka in the 8th century; this was called gorzalka and was used for medicinal purposes. Which just goes to show that getting sick back in the dark ages wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience. Both Russia and Poland have named vodka as their national drink, so it appears even centuries later this alcoholic cold war rages on with no clear winner.
Regardless of who actually invented vodka, it is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages around the world, praised for its universal ability to be used as a base for mixed drinks and cocktails. Or, you know, guzzled straight from the bottle if that’s your preference. We won’t judge! Vodka is usually made from either fermented cereal grains or potatoes, and in recent years, a wide variety of flavored vodkas have popped up. These range from the simple (cranberry, grapefruit, blueberry) to the unusual (whipped cream, cucumber, cola) to the what-were-they-thinking?! (gummy bear, peanut butter and jelly, bacon). It seems like everybody is trying to outdo everybody else in the crazy flavor department.
After being diagnosed with diabetes, I was in search of “healthy” cocktails, and discovered a simple vodka and soda isn’t too terribly bad, relatively speaking. It’s got no sugar or carbs and only 96 calories per 1.5 mL, the standard “pour.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much flavor, either. But last year I discovered a local Portland vodka distiller named Wild Roots. Their vodkas are infused with flavor, and they have some rather delicious varieties available. Their Northwest Red Raspberry infused vodka is my favorite, and this evening, that’s how I chose to celebrate the holiday. On the rocks with a splash of club soda, though really, this one is perfectly drinkable straight up.