There is an outstanding article in today's New York Times titled "Dispatches From the Front Line of the Great Vodka War" by SERGE SCHMEMANN.Â I recommend that anyone who has ever indulged read this article, because he makes some outstanding points.
One of the points is that the European Union has way too much time on its hands and busies itself writing regulations about how much curve a cucumber may have (Class I cukes are allowed a bend of 10 millimeters per 10 centimeters of length, according to Commission Regulation No. 1677/88).Â
There is also a great debate over what constitutes vodka.Â Technically it's dilute ethanol.Â The Poles claim to have invented the drink and the Finns had an ad campaign a few years ago claiming "the real Russian vodka comes from Finland"...yeah, right!
Different countries use different materials to produce the drink, but the traditional vodka (which is the diminutive of the Russian word voda -- water; in Ukraine, their word is "horilka" from the root "to burn") is produced with grain and potatoes in the "vodka belt" around the Baltic Sea.Â I have had a good Polish vodka, an excellant Ukrainian version, but the very best I've had were local brands inside Russia (the Finnish stuff might be ok for my Zippo and we all know Americans can't brew anything palatable...they actually think Budweiser is a beer).
The best vodka has ABSOLUTELY NO TASTE.Â Russians consider there to be only two classes of vodka: pure and impure.Â If there is no flavor, it's pure.Â If it tastes like rubbing alcohol, it's impure.Â As Serge writes in his article, "if it tastes like brake fluid, it probably is and you will die".
A word of caution.Â Never try a vodka contest with a Russian.Â They have centuries more practice at it.Â The traditional Russian "shot" is sto gramma -- 100 milliliters or a tenth liter.Â This is downed all at once followed by a spoonful of caviar.Â