Drink Me: Vodka

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Fri, May 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM
click to enlarge Lucques Gimlet with fava bean purée, green olives, feta and grilled bread - BEN CALDERWOOD
  • Ben Calderwood
  • Lucques Gimlet with fava bean purée, green olives, feta and grilled bread

First in an occasional series of spirit lessons where Squid Ink picks up the tab.

The etymology is a dead giveaway. Vodka originates from the Slavic voda, or water, which illustrates just how fundamental this spirit is to the pursuit of intoxication in its motherland of Russia and Eastern Europe and around the globe. Most countries have established ABV (Alcohol By Volume) minimums for vodka; otherwise, the constraints applied to other tipples are nowhere to be found. Vodka is distilled from virtually anything that will ferment--typically grain or potatoes--but beets, rice and sugar cane are not uncommon. The result is aggressively filtered to remove all traces of color and flavor.

It's no surprise then, that most vodkas have all the appeal of a bottle of unscented Febreeze, and need to be masked, mixed and adulterated until rendered palatable. Top-shelf vodkas like Chopin and Ciroc allow a little character to seep into the mix. They might taste sweet or dry, astringent or spicy, even oily and voluptuous, but few would be willing to consume even these $30-plus distillates without a chaser, usually swirled right into the glass.

Enter Hangar One, the offspring of master liquor craftsmen Ansley Coale of Germain-Robin and Jorg Rupf of St. George Spirits. Handmade in a derelict naval air facility jutting into the San Francisco Bay, Hangar One straight vodka is soft and feathery, expressing a whispered, crystalline sweetness derived from the Viogner grapes that exclusively compose the distillate. Hangar One is effortless. Hangar One is unprecedented. Ansley and Jorg assert that it's "insanely great."

You must sample Hangar One neat, at room temperature with a knob of ripe cheese or green olives for a sort of spontaneous martini. Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne offer a magisterial gimlet at both Lucques and Tavern, featuring Hangar One muddled with fresh mint, lime juice and a dash of simple syrup. The finished cocktail is a pale, milky green, not unlike absinthe after the ritual of the louche, flecked with chlorophyll and blooming with aromatics from the crushed herb.

And a toast to Squid Ink's next Drink Me: Gin!

Lucques: 8474 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90069; 323-655-6277.

Tavern: 11648 San Vicente Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049; 310-806-6464.

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