Did you know Finland is very serious about its mustard? I only became aware of this myself last autumn, when Finnish pals Alec and Ville were visiting. We’d met in a bar in London and became fast friends. These fellows are of sturdy Nordic stock, and they arrived at my home bearing two types of traditionell mustard and a 50 centilitre bottle of Koskenkorva vodka. “It’s in a plastic bottle, so you know it’s good,” said Alec of the vodka.
The label of the bottle reads, “In the village of Koskenkorva, life isn’t complicated,” and that sounds like my kind of place (minus the Finnish winters). The bottle sits in my freezer, frosted over and awaiting a special occasion, like some random Saturday when I feel like relaxing with a chilled martini on the back porch. I am certain that drink will be magnificent. Perhaps I’ll stuff an olive or two with blue Stilton for the second martini. The point is, I’m thinking about those two martinis right now, and I don’t even know when I shall partake of them.
Part of the fun of drinking is to anticipate future drinks beyond the one you might have later today, and this time of year, as spring speeds toward summer, I am wondering about go-to cocktails in the sunny days to come. In Virginia, where one of my brothers is a member at a joint called Westwood, the Westwood Lemonade features vodka on ice, with club soda and a splash of lemonade to suit one’s taste. It is a superb summer go-to in a plastic cup. As a rule, summer go-tos must perform well in to-go cups.
In the summer of 2017, I crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, and the Westwood sitch was dicey since on a British ocean liner “lemonade” means Sprite, and Corcoran’s eleventieth rule of drinking states that no adult of either sex should ever mix Sprite and spirits. This is when I discovered that an ersatz Westwood could be concocted using San Pellegrino Limonata, forgo the club soda and long live the Queen. A less appealing version for the calorie conscious is to marry vodka with Fresca, but there’s a reason Fresca is best known as a punchline in Caddyshack (“Are you my pal, Mr. Scholarship Winner?”).
In August, at Whitemarsh, a club outside of Philly, I will tee it up in a member-guest with one of my nephews. I am looking forward to the drinking, and the go-to that week will be the Transfusion, made with vodka, ginger ale and grape juice. Some at the club substitute cranberry for grape, but the grape version is more popular, according to another nephew who is a member. A third nephew who is a member opts for the Westwood, which has marched steadily north from Ol’ Virginny.
About 10 miles from Whitemarsh, my boy Vinny is a member at a club called Commonwealth, which once considered banning me from playing in its member-guest with him because I described the membership, in print, as a cross between Animal House and The Sopranos. (That’s a story for another day, but the board voted and allowed me to play, and Vinny and me, well, we won the whole damn thing.) Vinny is a very fine player and, with the exception of a dodgy back, is in excellent shape by all outward appearances. I mention this because one of his summer go-tos is the Moscow Mule, made with vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. In Vinny’s case, it’s diet ginger beer, because of the calories. (I’m told by fellow professionals that Goslings ginger beer is tops, and there is a diet version.) Vinny is a sometime vodka and Fresca man, and says he’ll sometimes just drink the diet ginger beer and vodka, hold the lime please. Recently, Vinny sent me a text that claimed he’d “found a protein health drink that’s good with vodka.” The health drink is zero calorie Isopure, and Vinny likes the Icy Orange.
I can say with absolute confidence that I will not be joining Vinny for a round of IsoIcyOranges, as I have too much respect for my palate and too little for my body. But I am giddy at the prospect of those Transfusions come August, and those Koskenkorva martinis when the summer wind comes a-blowin’ in.
That’s a Fozzie Bear reference in the headline, which doesn’t remind me at all of the time I spent a sunny English day in Herefordshire, at Chase Distillery, where the potatoes used in making their vodka are harvested on site. The smell of potatoes undergoing whatever it is they undergo to become vodka is indescribably horrifying, but Chase is the best vodka I have ever tasted. Not all vodka is potato-based — in fact, most of it isn’t, but vodka is the basic ingredient in a good many summer go-tos. Here’s a list of go-to vodkas for when you’re rarin’ to get your go-to on.
(1) Grey Goose (France): La oie gris was developed specifically to appeal to U.S. drinkers, using ingredients from a region recommended by French pastry chefs. La vie est belle!
(2) Belvedere (Poland): The fancy building on the bottle is Belweder, the Polish presidential palace. The wodka in the bottle is wery good. Na zdrowie!
(3) Ketel One (Netherlands): They’ve been making vodka since 1691, and the brand is named for the original copper pot they used, Distilleerketel #1. Proost!
(4) Chase (UK): You can’t buy this in the U.S., but if you’re ever in Heathrow, grab a couple of bottles from the duty-free stores. Cheers!
(5) Tito’s (U.S.): America isn’t known for its vodka, but a lot of the cool kids are drinking this “handmade” version these days. Here’s mud in your eye!
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