Richard Ehrlich's beverage report: From Russia with lime

If you think flavoured vodkas are kids' stuff, you should think again

FLAVOURED VODKAS are sitting ducks for ridicule. You only need to hear some of the flavours - Mars Bar, coffee, vanilla - to sniff with disdain. "Kid's stuff", you think. "Fodder for fools seeking instant inebriation." It all sounds rather like alcopops by another name.

There's ample support for that view in a recent article by William Grimes in the New York Times: "Flavoured Vodka: A Revolution the Romanovs Missed." Grimes points out that "while the world was preoccupied with Dolly the sheep, a team of scientists quietly introduced ban-ana flavour into vodka." Their success, he suggests, "poses the same moral question as human cloning: just because scientists can do it, must they?"

It's a good question, but they've done it whether you like it or not. Flavoured vodka has been a growing market for some time now: the New York Times quotes 1996 figures for the USA of 650,000 cases, that's around 5 per cent of total vodka sales and an increase over 1995 of 8 per cent. Much of the impetus seems to have come from Stolichnaya's launch of vodkas flavoured with the likes of raspberry, strawberry, peach, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee. The company hasn't brought them over here yet, though they plan to at some point. In the meantime, you can read about them at the company's breezily enjoyable website: www.stoli.com.

In Manhattan, cocktails made with the stuff seem to be all the rage. The Billy Holiday cocktail served at the Time Cafe in Greenwich Village is five parts Stolichnaya orange, three parts blue Curacao, and one part each of pineapple juice, cranberry juice and lime juice, shaken and strained and served with a twist. And here's the surprise: William Grimes actually says it's good. He doesn't always approve. The ultra-swanky Le Cirque 2000 makes a house martini with peach vodka, blue Curacao, lime juice and Cointreau whose taste he locates somewhere between "a slice of peach pie and a fresh stick of Juicyfruit."

Tempting though it is to condemn flavoured vodkas as a marketeer's hook for novelty-crazed yuppies, some of them are, in fact, pretty good. What's more, the drinks have been with us almost since vodka itself was invented. Nicholas Faith and Ian Wisniewski, in Classic Vodka (Prion, pounds 9.99), point out that there are actually fewer varieties today than were in the 18th and 19th centuries.

They're certainly a part of the UK drinking scene - and a part that appears to be growing. I couldn't get any reliable sales figures for the increase, but anecdotal indicators suggest the growth rate compares with that in the US. Kamy Sheikh, who sells flavoured vodkas to wholesalers, restaurants, bars and off-licenses, says that he's selling 1,000 times more than he sold five years ago. At the popular Dogstar bar in Brixton, according to manager Matthew West, they sell twice as many flavoured vodkas as they sold a year ago - though that may have something to do with the bargain- basement price of pounds 2.80 for a double.

Flavoured vodkas are best known here in their Absolut incarnation: the Swedish troika of Peppar, Kurrant and Citron. I have tried hard to love these incredibly successful drinks, but without success. I've made Bloody Marys from the Peppar, as the company would have us do, and have always found raw pepper and raw vodka burning my throat. I've drunk cocktails made with Kurrant by great barmen and not got much further. Only the Citron variety has the ability to make me want to proceed past a second sip.

Not all London bartenders like flavoured vodkas. Grant Collinson, of Bank (London WC2), says that their selection of flavoured vodkas stops at Absolut Citron and Kurrant - "and there isn't that much demand for those." The even cooler Alphabet Bar sells nothing at all beyond the Absolut range. There's no demand, no freezer space, and no interest.

But there is more to flavoured vodkas than the Absolut range, and better uses for them than wild and wacky cocktails.

Next week: I survey some of the alternatives. And I hold on to lunch while doing so.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before