Shake some pepper onto the vodka’s surface and let it slowly settle to the bottom of the glass. Dab the remaining grains still floating with your finger and then drink.
In Moonraker James Bond did this in front of his crusty boss M, who looked at the super spy as if he were a fancy nancy.
“It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,” apologized Bond. “There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff – at least, there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bathtub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit.”
So when I interview Bob Nolet, who creates the premium Ketel One vodka from the Nolet Distillery in Holland, I can’t help but ask if he heard of this habit.
“No,” he says firmly, adding (and possibly thinking I’m slow witted) that vodka’s purity has continually improved by leaps and bounds over the past century.
“Quality has changed a lot,” Nolet says. “Nowadays we have equipment at the distillery that measure impurities up to parts per million, parts per billion – it’s almost ridiculous but that’s how far it goes these days, and that wasn’t available years ago.”
He adds that the taste and mouth feel of a good vodka come from the distillation and that it’s important not to freeze the vodka.
“Taste it at room temperature – you’ll see the difference,” Nolet says.
He adds that Ketel One can be served on the rocks but that most people drink it neat and when it comes to martinis he suggests making them purely with vodka and to not put any vermouth in it.
In the interests of investigative reporting I decided to try this out and made two martinis with Ketel One. I found that when I made a martini with no vermouth at all it was good but I have to say that when I then made a martini with two and a half shots of vodka and half a shot of vermouth it became beautiful and makes for a decent alternative to a classic gin martini.
In addition to Ketel One there’s also Ketel One Citroen, which has a fresh citrus aroma and is made from lemons and limes around the world, from West Africa and Spain to the Caribbean – although Nolet says that “the main taste profile is from a lemon from Sicily – it’s more of a sweet lemon, which is why Ketel One isn’t so harsh.”
What happens is that the oils from the various lemons and limes are combined and blended into the vodka and the result is surprisingly flavoursome. Not surprisingly, Nolet believes the Cosmopolitan – which requires a lemon vodka such as Ketel One Citroen – is one of the best cocktails invented: click here to see our Cosmopolitan recipe.
Disclosure: I did, in the interests of drinking free alcohol (and I’ll defend that right to the death!) receive some bottles of Ketel One vodka so I can research vodka recipes thoroughly. Hey, someone has to do it …