Vodka has a special place in my affections, so strongly does it feature in my memories of two rather splendid holidays during my youth.
In 1989 I was one of a coach load of teens (under the supervision of just 3 brave teacher-drivers) on an adventurous road trip across Europe. To Ukraine and back again, we went. I can't even begin to describe to you how amazing these 5 glorious weeks were to us, how many unexpected, incredible experiences we shared, how widely opened were our young eyes. Even now, 21 years later, I could write pages and pages… but let me focus on the vodka:
It was the summer of vodka. In some places, the facilities in the camp sites we inhabited were so primitive that we brushed our teeth with vodka (and toothpaste) rather than risk the local tap water. We drank vodka morning, noon and night.
One evening, installed in a rather comfortable hotel for a change, I went to the bar to order 13 shots for my 12 friends and I. As the bartender argued vociferously against my order, I wondered if he was berating us for being too young or suggesting that vodka wasn't a suitable choice for us – in truth I had no idea. Speaking next to no Russian, I pointed repeatedly at the vodka listing in the menu, "puzhalsta, puzhalsta" and finally he conceded. I handed over a ridiculously paltry sum to cover the bill and a decent tip and went to sit down. Shortly afterwards, 13 large bottles of vodka arrived! A bottle each but don't worry, they didn't go to waste!
A couple of years later, I went to Moscow and St Petersburg in the company of fellow history undergraduates, from Warwick University. This trip too included many vodka moments.
The ones I cherish most fondly are from the long train journey between the two cities. We were kept boisterous company by other passengers, mostly Russian, with whom we found vodka and song to be a far more universal language for communication than English could ever be! I seem to recall that we supplied most of the singing and our Russian friends supplied most of the vodka. We had the most marvellous time together, though I recall needing some assistance walking by the time we detrained!
But since these long-ago days, I've drunk surprisingly little... In fact, my alcoholic tendencies have withered so dramatically that my current annual ingestion is less than what I could once consume in a single night of partying!
Until this year.
So early in the year did my rediscovery of vodka begin that one could almost consider it a new year's resolution. "I resolve to drink more vodka". Now that's the kind of resolution I could get behind!
Of course, Leonid didn't hook me back on any old voddie, oh no! I've now developed a taste for the expensive vintage Russian stuff - I even bought a bottle of Kauffman Special Vintage 2006 for Pete's birthday.
*cough* OK, I'm fully expecting to assist him with it!
The stoli that kept me warm during those long-ago drink-fuelled days tastes like lighter fuel in comparison.
Heck even the triple filtered stuff is as rough as a Russian's five o'clock shadow.
So, back to the present day.
I was approached by Babelgum, a new online mobile video channel thingy, with information about a 24-part documentary they are hosting called How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire.
It's a story about filmmaker, Dan Edelstyn, who travels to Ukraine to explore his ancestry only to discover that his great-grandfather once owned the town’s now nearly bankrupt vodka distillery. He decides to revive the business by launching a new vodka brand named after his ancestors.
Edelstyn has an odd style. I don't care for the arty reconstruction sequences in which his wife plays the part of his granny. But I did quite enjoy his exploration of family history and the former vodka empire. I haven't watched the whole series yet, though.
Well OK then. But what about the vodka?
You'll be pleased to know (though not as pleased as I was) that the PR approach about this unusual story came with the offer to send me a sample of the vodka in question. I quickly agreed.
I'm a sucker for rustic labelling!
Well... I discovered vodka mules for the first time only a few months ago and have been meaning to make my own ever since.
Kavey's Belvoir Moscow Mule
Some Belvoir Ginger Cordial
Some lime juice
The standard moscow mule recipe calls for vodka, ginger beer and lime juice but I decided to use some lovely Belvoir cordial I picked up recently and mix with lemonade.
I was a little heavy-handed with the cordial but it worked for me!