Vodka once wore its flavour-free credentials like a badge of honour, but character and even terroir are pushing their way back into the conversation. Ladies and Gentleman’s Willy Borrell sees light at the end of the tunnel
Vodka often gets lost in the desired spirits lineup, regularly overlooked as a mixer or a tasteless way to get a buzz on. But that's something Vestal Vodka founder and owner of Kentish Town's Ladies and Gentleman bar Willy Borrell is looking to change.
‘Our customers are still in the great gin bubble but there are signs that the more adventurous among them are looking to try different spirits, a natural suggestion from our team is another white spirit with flavour and this seems to be working,’ reveals Borrell.
‘We have some barrel-aged vodkas that we are really enjoying playing around with, we were lucky enough to be given small casks that we have curing with different spirits before the vodka enters – currently Jack Daniels in a virgin-oak barrel is really interesting indeed, and makes a great Boiler Maker pairing.'
‘When it comes to understanding the nuances and flavour potential of vodka, Borrell relays his knowledge into his menus. ‘We are very much a potato-vodka bar as for us this is the king of vodka and we feel its creamy mouthfeel, viscosity and pleasant nose elevates any cocktail. We stock potato, rye and wheat at the bar as we feel all bars should have a variety-led selection on their back bars.’
Borrell believes shining a spotlight on vodka again comes down to education, and enlightening drinkers on the new-wave of vodkas now sitting on back bars. 'We try to educate customers who ask questions, but never launch into a “I know more than you conversation”, the best way has been to introduce vodka to our gin-making courses as this seems an easier, if not at times, life shattering revelation that gin is flavoured vodka,' he says.
So, what's next for the vodka category? Does it stand a chance of infiltrating the great juniper bubble?
‘Firstly vodka has to regain its pride and honesty to salvage its relationship with bartenders,' believes Borrell. 'It would also be great if other bars looked at stocking a wider range of varieties and not just the products from the larger companies.’