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Spirits Articles

The Geezer Pleaser
Gray Daze of Vodka

Posted: November 11, 2013

By Terry Sullivan, Very Special to BTI

Well, vodka, no pun intended. I’m older than vodka, so it’s never been on my preferred potable list. OK, I’m not actually older than vodka, but when I was first bellying up to assorted bars on the west side of Chicago, it wasn’t on most people’s lists and the vodkateers were marketing it as having "no taste, no smell," which struck me at the time as, well, dumb. I’d been raised making Manhattans for my mother, gin martinis (when the word "gin" in that phrase was redundant) for my father, and assorted “Bourbon ands” (water, ginger ale, soda) for my aunts and uncles. For special occasions, those were; the quotidian tipple in my family was a shot and a beer--Beam and Yusay Pilsen for the old man, Early Times and Schlitz for me, which was my way of rebelling.

Fast forward half a century and I’m still inclined to prefer things I can taste and smell, but vodka is now everybody’s favorite. And everybody seems to have a favorite vodka. Me, I’m taking a "tingle and mouth-feel" position. Yes, there’s some slight taste in some vodkas, particularly rye-based distillations, and yes, there’s a little aroma to whiff, but I think most folks are judging the stuff not on taste but on the alcohol tingle and the oiliness or dryness in their mouth. And reacting to advertising. I see people ordering super-premium vodka with cranberry juice in upscale boites. (It doesn’t seem to happen in the downscale boites I frequent.) This is just foolhardiness, I believe, so I usually suggest that I can save them two dollars on their order and then wish them good luck with the bladder infection. Sometimes I have to duck, but that’s just the price of offering the wisdom of my years to strangers.

But that was then. I’m now a major vodka fan, at least of one particular Polish vodka. Careful readers of this and many other hooch blogs and magazines will be well aware of Sobieski vodka, a staple once described as Poland’s Smirnoff, that took the professional tasting community by storm a couple of years back, blowing almost every other vodka away in blind contests here (including BTI’s 2007 vodka competition) and in France. Took off like Whirlaway, not least because it was priced like Windex. Saved a lot of folks a lot of money, it did, and to their credit the people who made it only cranked up the price by a dollar to two.

All of which is interesting, but what did it for me was the news that the U.S. marketer of Sobieski is about to introduce Sobieski Silver. No, not a premium version with a slicker label and a new price tag, but a "go-to vodka for the Baby Boom generation." Yes, Senior Citizen vodka. The retirement tipple. They’ve already started the program with seminars in The Villages, one of Florida’s largest retirement communities, with 70,000 seniors. Plans are set to expand to geezervilles in California and Arizona and then it’s Katy bar the Lazyboy

It was only a matter of time, actually. The boomer pig in the demographic python made the record industry rich in the 60s and sold a whole lot of bell bottoms, Boone’s Farm and, not to put too fine a point on it, weed. Now they’re all lining up at the Social Security office (I say, they, because I’m not, thank you, a baby boomer--I’m a war baby, conceived when it wasn’t so easy) and buying Centrum Silver. And, frankly, they’re so used to being marketed to that the idea of a Special Senior Vodka is just a natural. They’ll be happy to sip a little something made just for them while lounging in those Cocoa Beach cabanas.

In fact, I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg of that pig in the python, and no, I’m not ashamed of that metaphor. There will be many more special senior Slurpees to come. Just watch the shelves: Absolutely Retired, Ketel 65, Stoli Senior, Increasingly Grey Goose, Hangar Up. And that’s before the rest of the beverage industry jumps into the category. Could pre-mixed Tequila Sunset possibly fail? Van Winkle with Viagra? I’m thinking Glen Ensured, Old Over Coot, Macallan Metamucil and Jack & Calcium. (All names are available right here at a bargain price for one easy email.) The big winner, by the way, is Ancient Age, who won’t have to change a thing.

Meanwhile, I’m all in for Sobieski Silver. I could very well find myself locked up in a Sunset City one of these days, and for once in my life I may be in the market for a little something odorless and colorless. Those nurses can get mighty nosy, I suspect, and I might just need something to fool them when they bring the supper trays around. "Bottle? What bottle? Oh, that--that’s just my original Poland Spring water, nurse."

Below are the vodka results from this year’s Tastings - Beverage Testing Institute competition. Pay close attention to the "Best Buys" for your basic cocktail needs.

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