I remember hearing once that the purpose of Vodka is that it have as little color or flavor as possible, and that those qualities made it “perfect” for mixing with other ingredients for a cocktail. As someone who enjoys deep, complex, and/or strong flavors, that seemed to me to be a bit of a contradiction. If an ingredient isn’t bringing some of its own character into the mix, why is it there?
Some vodka that I’ve tried had a tantalizingly faint flavor way in the background as an aftertaste, which would frustrate me. That taste was usually pretty good to me, so I thought “why doesn’t it just taste like that? Why is there so little flavor?”
What’s more, whenever I’ve had vodka in the past, I was surprised that instead of tasting like something meant to be consumed by a human being, it tasted like rubbing alcohol. Since it tasted so bad, I certainly wasn’t going to drink it straight, so if it was in my fridge, it was damn sure getting mixed with something just to cover up the taste. Whenever I had vodka in the past, it also wasn’t smooth at all. It didn’t just taste like rubbing alcohol, it burned like it too.
So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up a bottle of Ketel One. I don’t know much about vodka, I usually avoid it. But I’ve had conversations with a few people that really liked Ketel One. The people who drank Ketel One didn’t drink any other kind of vodka. and I’d now say I understand why.
Like other vodkas, the flavor that Ketel One has is very faint, but its is even more subtle that others; there’s really just a hint of a taste. While that might usually upset me, this vodka’s other traits more than make up for it. Ketel One is very, very smooth. As I told one person whom I recommended it to (which is not something I do often,) it’s almost like you’re not drinking alcohol.
As a sipper, it’s usually three or four sips into a glass Ketel One before I start to feel that gentle tingling burn on my lips and tongue. While I this vodka with the intent strictly to mix it with other things, to my surprise I found my self just drinking it on its own. In fact, I bought some soft drinks specifically to mix it into, but haven’t really done so.
I like Ketel One best served straight at room temperature. It’s got a little bit of a thick texture to it and is pleasant just to drink on its own. Serving it over ice doesn’t really do much; when my tastebuds become numb I detect less of its flavor, as the ice melts it waters down what little taste there is to almost nothing. The water also takes away some of its smoothness, so it burns a bit iced. Chilled in the freezer its taste is a little stronger, but there’s also a bit of bitterness that comes out. Again, it’s also a bit less smooth chilled.
When it comes to mixing, I would advise against putting it an anything sweet. I was going to go out dancing, and mixed it in with some Gatorade so that I could be relaxed but also stay hydrated. The bitter flavor that peeks its head out when it’s cold comes out in force when contrasted with something sweet, and actually overpowers it. I had the same experience making a screwdriver: it just tasted like juice from an underripe, bitter orange. But, when I added a bit of milk and vanilla to that screwdriver, the bitterness went away and it was sweet goodness again. I didn’t make a Bloody Mary with it, but I suspect the savory tomato juice would go well with Ketel One.
There was also one other little snaggle that bugged me, but it was an issue with the packaging, not the spirit: I found that the cap to the 1.75 liter bottle that I bought is actually kind of hard to reseal. After opening it, I laid the bottle down in my refrigerator. When I came back about an hour later, I was surprised to find that it was slowly leaking. When recapping it, I found I really had to make an effort to get the lid on just so as to make sure it made a flush seal with the bottle. I’m not sure if this is a regular issue with the cap design that the Nolet Distillery uses, or if it is just a one off issue with my bottle.