The French have their wine, the German their beer, the Japanese their sake. And the Russians have their vodka.
But whether Russia or Poland is the true originator of this drink, vodka or “little water” gets its name from Russia. In many ways this “pure and purposeful” drink, equally suitable for feasts or famines, was a real blessing for Russians, with their endless winters and short growing seasons. The fact that the best vodka resulted from filtering with birch charcoal (the tree of the Russian taiga) only served to endear it further to the Russians.
Contrary to popular belief, vodka owes its purity or clarity more to this filtering process than to its constituent grains. In fact, the best spirits are reputed to result from grains – rye or barley, and not potatoes, sometimes mistakenly believed to be the only source for making vodka. The Russians distilled their fermented grains by passing it repeatedly through a still to increase the stiffness of the drink.
Filtering the distillate is crucial. Each drop of Smirnoff vodka famously runs through seven tons of charcoal to be the crystal-clear magic that it is, while Absolut passes through a number of columns, each of which removes a different set of impurities.
The final step is the dilution of this extremely potent filtrate with purified water to the 80-proof level, at which it is sold. The result is the crystal-clear, potent but flavorless solution that blends flawlessly into almost anything and is as notorious in its martini avatar as its famous patron – the formidable James Bond.
But to drink it a la Ruse, drink it neat, and without the ice!
Here’s to Khorosha Chertovka – a damn good drink!