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Book Review: Vodka Distilled by Tony Abou Ganim

Book Review: Vodka Distilled by Tony Abou Ganim


*Review Written by Andrew Roy

Tony Abou-Ganim has done it again! Working with Mary Elizabeth Faulkner, Vodka Distilled is set to be the next big must-have in cocktail books.


1.) Quid Pro Quinoa-Based Vodka:

Breaking the trend prevalent in most modern cocktail books, Vodka Distilled puts the burden of discovery on the reader. Every recipe has proportions for the drinks, but the brand of vodka is never specified. The introduction summarizes it best:

Any quality vodka of relatively neutral character works beautifully in all of these  recipes. I do, however, offer suggestions of particular vodka types that will  enhance the recipe’s flavor combination. But do change them up and see which  one works best–as always, your preference rules.” (pg. 55, Vodka Distilled)

This idea allows the the reader to choose his or her preferred brand. Personalized service is the most important rule in the bar and Tony has found a way to carry this principle through written text. Brilliant!


2.) Let the Chilled Glasses Come to me:

If actions speak louder than words, vodka has clearly demonstrated its dominance of and control of the liquor industry. The sales of this clear, neutral spirit eclipse all other types of alcohol worldwide. If one were to simply listen to most bartenders these days, however, one would have a different impression of this spirit. It is included as an after-thought, a necessary evil, referenced only in conversations like the following:

“You know, gin is technically the first infused vodka. You take a neutral spirit, infuse juniper berries, and ta-da, you have gin. So, when I make you this gin cocktail, just imagine I’m using an infused vodka”

The disconnect between consumer and bartender (who are there to provide for the consumers’ needs, no matter how infantile and uneducated they might perceive those needs to be) has never been so divided on one subject. Order a beer, and the bartender will think ‘they must like beer.’ Order a screwdriver, and the bartender will think ‘this simpleton drinks liquor, why not try one of my delicious creations. What a buffoon.’ With Vodka Distilled, however, this ubiquitous spirit has a prominent defender in the bartending community. Tony’s voice carries weight, and his defense of vodka can help re-align facts with trends, removing the taboo behind accepting and promoting one of the worlds most celebrated spirits.


3.) It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…:

The drink section has irrevocably taken many sober moments and snap judgements from me. Drinks that I had at one time or another mocked and considered pedestrian (I’m human, I make uninformed decisions from time to time) emerge revitalized and improved. Tony’s devotion to quality products, fresh ingredients, and the delicious drinks that they can produce is infectious. Sipping on his Kamikaze recipe (I didn’t even know sipping a kamikaze was possible), downing too many mudslides while in the Arizona heat, and finding to my surprise that I actually like Cosmopolitans, I decided there must be something more to this vodka craze besides it’s irresistible parings with Red Bull. I even tried a drink I’d mocked more than any other: the ultra-dry vodka martini. While I still consider it just a giant shot of vodka, I had to admit it is a giant, delicious shot of vodka. (My brand is Stolichnaya, and I stirred it, just as Tony suggested).


4.) Something’s Fishy:

Caviar is important to the history and lure of Vodka. Tony’s treatment of caviar mirrors his treatment of vodka and drinks throughout the book; let the readers decide for themselves. At first, I found the inclusion of caviar ancillary and unnecessary. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that Tony wanted to present not just the taste and mixing of vodka, but its history and its unique appeal to the reader. Nothing could be more natural than a chapter on caviar. And he does deliver, breaking down the different types of caviar and naming categories of vodka that he found complementary. Again, no brand names and no specifics are given. It’s like Tony is giving us the tools for trying new things, thinking, and drinking, and he actually wants us to try out his ideas, think, and drink…but that can’t be right…

[Note for editor: I have all these receipts for expensive caviars and premium vodkas. Do I get reimbursed by you? How does that work?]


5.) A Rose’s Lime Juice by Any Other Name:

Tony’s Gimlet has Rose’s Lime Juice in it. But…he advocates fresh fruit and juice. It seems contradictory, but I don’t think it is. Order a Cape Cod from Tony, and I can bet you he will not be making fresh cranberry juice for you. While a commitment to quality and fresh ingredients is the right decision, there is the danger of taking that commitment too far. I was once warned by a bartender to never be artisanal for the sake of being artisanal. As a group, we bartenders could make our sodas from scratch too, but it’s telling that very few do. Honestly, we could make our own spirits too, but we don’t. Making components of drinks is only one dimension of drink-making, and an obsessive focus on making ingredients from scratch only hurts the other vital parts of drink-making: balance, enjoyment, ease, etc.

The gimlet is a drink that once called for gin and Rose’s, and it’s modern form calls for vodka and Rose’s. I’m with Tony on this one…


6.) On PB & J and Whipped Cream:

Sure, no one was expecting Tony to review PB & J vodka, or whipped cream vodka, or whatever new 50% sugar flavor is hitting the sorority houses today (cookies and cream vodka anyone?), but the complete lack of attention to this growing and important field of flavored vodkas is puzzling. If you’re writing a summary of cooking techniques, you probably won’t mention deep-fried oreos, but it would be strange to conspicuously leave out deep-frying entirely. Not even a brief breakdown of citrus vodkas? Why not a full section on infusions instead of his one lone recipe. How will we ever know what to do with this vanilla/cucumber/orange/blueberry/raspberry vodka without you teaching us Tony? We might even be forced to…once again…think for ourselves…*gasp*

Conclusion: Tony’s new book is entertaining, brilliant, and sure to influence many peoples’ idea of this important spirit, vodka. Both informative and fun, one cannot help learning (and drinking) after reading his book. Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; give a man Vodka Distilled,he’ll be able to pair delicious vodka cocktails with that fish for life. The only real criticism is that Vodka Distilled is too short. We want more! More wisdom and more drinks from this master mixologist. We can’t wait till his next book hits the shelves! We also have list of the famous chuck norris jokes, click the link below:

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