I plead ignorance on the vodka soda. I didn’t know it was a thing anyone regularly ordered until the people I drank around (or who drank around me) and I became calorie conscious.
It seemed like a joke. Two, clear neutral liquids mixed together with a small bit of lime thrown in for what seemed like strictly cosmetic purposes. The vodka soda is for those noncommittal to taste. It’s for anyone who fears flavor, eschews adventure and would rather not learn to like the bitter bite of even the weakest mass-market tonic. It was a Bland Alcohol Delivery System for drinkers who wanted a buzz but lacked patience and taste. It’s a cocktail designed for refreshment and sold to people who won’t compromise by just not having a drink in the first place.
But the things that make the vodka soda so milquetoast are also what make it worth drinking from time to time.
Let’s turn the criticism around. The vodka soda is mildly-flavored, easy to make and refreshing. Its gossamer qualities make it easy to forget a bit later. It’s the drink for when you want a drink, but you don’t want to drink.
Here’s the example. It’s afternoon on the first tolerable Saturday of a harsh winter. A friend asks if I want to meet quickly to catch up on a few things. The cafes are packed with undergrads on laptops. The beer bars are full of sports fans. My apartment is a mess. A bar after brunch is the only place we can talk. So we meet. But the options aren’t good. The Bloody Mary is a pre-mix. The beer list is mostly stouts. It feels unsavory to have a whiskey at two in the afternoon. We’ll be here for a bit, so I need something tall. And even though it’s above freezing, there’s too much snow on the ground for a gin and tonic to make sense.
A club soda didn’t feel right. I tend to drink a lot of seltzer, and the waitstaff at this place could be very attentive, leading to constant refills and frequent trips to the men’s room.
So I ordered a vodka soda and cringed.
But I had compromised nothing. The flavor of the vodka came through the soda clearly. I was refreshed. I went home.
I’m not turning to the vodka soda as a preference. It’s not something I’ll be making a home. Like all cocktails, it’s situational. The criticism of the drink’s biggest fans shouldn’t be that they lack taste, but that they seek to make all situations the same kind of situations, but that’s a criticism that can be levied at the consummate neat whiskey drinker or the APA aficionado. Sure, the situation for a vodka soda may not come often, but it’s a drink that shouldn’t be written off as something for those lacking imagination.