I recently became one of a lucky few to be inaugurated into a class of appreciation for the finer qualities of drinking vodka. Recently Russian Standard invited us to enjoy their range of vodkas in the hope of educating us to have more of an appreciation of vodka and its spiritual (excuse the pun) home of Russia.
They figured the best way to achieve this was to get us drunk as sailors on shore leave but with enough class to convince us we were proud members of a private yachting club. Our evening took place in the incredibly swanky Samarqand restaurant, a beautifully decadent space below ground located in the heart of London’s Marylebone.
Seated in tables of four with three large shots of vodka per guest, plus entire bottles of vodka in reserve, everything beared the signature Russian Standard branding adding a more exclusive and authentic touch to the Central Asian décor. However my first thought upon taking in what had been laid out before us was “Where are the mixers?”
Vodka consumed neat can be a foul mistress, and is usually only drank as the result of a dare, forfeit or the consequence of peer-pressure. A neat shot accompanies the temporary destruction of the inside of your throat and an after taste of dry fire.
So when faced with the prospect of three large shot glasses of straight vodka, I cannot have been the only one forced to stifle a wince, my second thought being “I haven’t eaten enough.”
The tour began with an introduction from the very articulate and enthusiastic Russian Standard Ambassador Tatiana, who talked us through the historical and cultural importance of vodka in order to ease us into drinking and enjoying it neat, as they traditionally do so in Russia.
Swirling neat vodka around your mouth helps savour the flavours and we were asked to distinguish between Original, Gold and Premium vodkas, the reactions initially being a chorus of groans amidst choking as our virgin pallets not used to such measured swigs.
It does take time to become accustomed to how strong vodka is, however after the first sips, you start to differentiate between the three drinks, the spices and sugars begin appearing on your tastebuds and you soon forget that it ever tasted like White Spirit.
If you decide to drink vodka neat it definitely helps to accompany it with good food. On this occasion, we were treated to Zakuski, traditional Russian bites or appetisers made up of fish, dumplings (Pirozhki), potatoes, pickled vegetables (Soleniya), salads (including Olivier salad, a creamy variation of veg, spuds and leaves), pancakes, cured meats and even salmon caviar.
The flavours of each vodka became accentuated after we ate, meaning they went down a lot easier, much to the encouragement of host Tatiana who could tell we were starting to understand the appeal. We learned about the science and lengthy process of creating the vodka, so it reaches the standard (excuse the pun) we enjoy today.
Terms such as pluralised water, winter wheat, black soil, purification, organic, nutrients and filtering were all mentioned but the really interesting link between science and vodka is that Dmitri Mendeleev, the genius creator of the Periodic Table of Elements also pioneered vodka! His achievements for mankind are justification that vodka is the thinking man’s drink, much more so than a “shaken, not stirred” Martini.
The evening was rounded off with a cocktail master class for all the guests, hosted by mixologist Paul Mant, delivering an informative and surprisingly fun interactive session that changed my perception of cocktail making. I will never again be impatient with bar staff going through the motions like we were.
Impressive and patient enough to deal with a room full of tipsy amateurs as we had the opportunity to make the drinks ourselves, Paul held our attention right past the third cocktail by which time I was fairly drunk. Very drunk, in fact.
I thoroughly enjoyed Russian Standard and trying something in a new way is often rewarding, especially when it doesn’t result in a bad hangover.
After all, the word “vodka” comes from the Russian “voda”, meaning water.
(Please note, neither Mondonomy or FTF received any payment for this feature, although he was given lots of free vodka.)
Please enjoy alcohol responsibly.