It might not be as hip as bourbon or come with the same aura manly sophistication of a single-malt scotch, but no home bar can be considered complete without a bottle vodka on the shelf. The clear spirit’s lack of a distinct flavor means it often gets short-shrift from cocktail snobs, but it’s those same neutral characteristics that make it so popular with many people. Vodka is easy to mix and easy to drink, which is why it’s the starring liquor in such a wide variety of cocktails. And while there’s nothing wrong with a classic vodka tonic or Moscow mule, why limit yourself to those old standbys when you’re working with such a versatile liquor?
Still not convinced vodka is worth drinking? Here are six essential vodka cocktails that might change your mind.
Can’t decide between a gin or vodka martini? Split the difference and make yourself a vesper, a cocktail popularized by James Bond, who orders one in Casino Royale. This potent variation on the martini calls for both gin and vodka, along with Lillet Blanc instead of vermouth. Recipe from Bon Appétit.
- 3 ounces Plymouth Gin
- 1 ounce premium vodka
- ½ ounce Lillet Blanc
- 1 lemon
Directions: Holding a large (preferably 1-inch) cube of ice in the palm of your hand, use the back of a stirring spoon to crack it into large pieces; place in a mixing glass. Repeat with enough ice to fill glass. Add gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc and, using a bar spoon, rapidly stir 50 times in a circular motion (the outside of the shaker will become very cold and frosty).
Strain martini through a Hawthorne strainer (or a large slotted spoon) into a chilled coupe glass. Strain any excess cocktail into a sidecar (or a small glass in a bowl of ice) set over ice.
Using a small knife, remove a 1-inch piece of peel from lemon. Twist peel over drink to express oils, then rub around rim of glass. Drop peel, yellow side up, into the glass. Serve.
2. Bloody Mary
Whether you need a little hair of the dog or are just looking for something to wash down your bacon and eggs, you can’t go wrong with a classic bloody Mary. This version of everyone’s favorite brunch cocktail is from the Food Network’s Ina Garten and serves 6.
- 3 large stalks celery from the heart, including leaves, plus extra for serving
- 36 ounces tomato juice
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon grated yellow onion
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce, or to taste
- 1½ cups vodka
Directions: Cut the celery in large dice, including the leaves, and puree in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until finely minced.
In a large pitcher, combine the rest of the ingredients except the vodka. With the food processor running, pour ¼ of the tomato juice mixture into the food processor through the feed tube. Then pour the contents of the food processor into the pitcher with the remaining tomato juice mixture. Add the vodka and chill. Serve in tall glasses over ice with a stick of celery.
3. Vodka Tonic with Mint
A vodka tonic is one of the simplest vodka cocktails you can make, but it doesn’t have much pizzazz. This variation from the New York Times spices things up with the addition of red pepper flakes. Fresh mint leaves also add dimension.
- 2 ounces vodka
- 8 to 10 mint leaves
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 4 ounces tonic water
- Juice of one-half of a lemon
Directions: Fill an 8-ounce glass with ice cubes, add all ingredients and stir gently, taking care not to bruise mint leaves.
4. Rosemary Greyhound Cocktail
You can make a traditional greyhound cocktail with either vodka or gin and grapefruit juice. This version calls for vodka, along with a homemade rosemary simple syrup. The resulting drink is light and refreshing, perfect for sipping on warm evenings. Recipe from Tastes Lovely.
For the rosemary simple syrup:
- 2 cups of water
- 2 cups of sugar
- 6 sprigs of rosemary
For the cocktail:
- 2 ounces vodka
- ½ ounce rosemary simple syrup
- 4 ounces grapefruit juice
- Sprig of rosemary for garnish
Directions: Combine the sugar and the water in a small saucepan and turn heat to medium-low. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a syrup forms. (Be careful not to let the mixture boil.) Add the rosemary to a heat-proof container. Pour the syrup over and let sit for at least 1 hour. Once prepared, the rosemary simple syrup will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
To prepare the cocktail, fill a highball glass with ice. Add the vodka, rosemary simple syrup, and grapefruit juice. Stir to combine. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and serve.
5. Black Russian
It might be Jeff Lebowski’s favorite drink, but the creamy flavors of a white Russian aren’t to everyone’s taste. If you like the combination of vodka and coffee liqueur but aren’t a fan of dairy, try a black Russian. With only two ingredients, it’s is one of the easiest cocktails to make, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying to drink. Recipe from Chowhound.
- 1 ounce vodka
- 1 ounce Kahlúa
Directions: Chill an old-fashioned glass. Add ice, then pour vodka and Kahlúa over. Serve.
6. Blood Orange Martini
Consider this citrusy drink the grown-up cousin of that college party staple, the screwdriver. Fresh-squeezed blood orange juice is combined with vodka and a little Campari for a vibrantly colored cocktail that’s perfect for picnics and brunches. Recipe from A Healthy Life for Me.
- 2 ounce vodka
- 1 ounce fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
- ½ ounce Campari
- Lemon wedge
Directions: Combine the vodka, blood orange juice, and Campari in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice. Shake, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon wedge and serve.
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