1. Like so many young men, my first experience with vodka concerned half of a 750 ml bottle of Fedco brand vodka mixed with orange juice, along with a similarly sized bottle two-thirds filled with equally cheap whiskey topped with Coke and two six packs of Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor.  Although there were five of us, I polished off one of the six-packs, roughly a third of the whiskey-Coke concoction and over half of the vodka-orange juice cocktail.  I remember the drinking, I remember a brief flash of having been abandoned in a cluster of bushes by my dear friends who wanted to go to the bowling alley to play some pinball for a while, I remember two of them dragging me across a street and spending the better part of two minutes trying to get me to negotiate a five inch tall curb, and I remember waking up peeing on a rose bush in the middle of the night some hours later.  Understandably, the rest of the night was a blur, at best.

    That was how I celebrated my 16th birthday.

    Needless to say, that brush with alcohol toxicity put me off hard booze for a number of years.  I haven’t even been able to look at a bottle of Mickey’s Big Mouth since. 

    It’s true that as we grow older, our tastes become somewhat refined.  For instance, I used to guzzle Bud, Miller, Coors and Michelob beers; now I’d rather take my chances with dirty swamp water.

    When it comes to most types of liquor, the majority of people have certain taste-based preferences.  This being purely subjective, the opinions as to which is the best whiskey, Scotch, rum or tequila vary widely, though most people would agree that anything bearing the Fedco label (which I believe—and hope—is no longer made) would probably not top their lists.  It’s usually easy to grade various brands of liquor as terrible, bad, not so good, okay, decent, pretty good, good and excellent.  It all depends on the taste and the smoothness of the liquor in question.

    But vodka doesn’t have a flavor… at least, it isn’t supposed to.  In most situations, vodkas that have an identifiable flavor taste like turpentine.  The two labels that leap to mind and bash against my cranium with rubber mallets that squeak with every blow are Smirnoff (which I use as paint thinner; personally, I wouldn’t recommend it for any other use) and Popov, though I am certain there are many other brands that sell for a low price that qualify.  You may be taking your life in your hands with anything that costs less than $7 a bottle.

    Quality vodkas are, in my opinion, very much alike.  The only way to taste a difference between them is to drink it straight, preferably at room temperature, and who does that?  Even if you like vodka martinis without any vermouth, the impaled olive in your drink is enough to keep all but the most refined palates from telling one good brand from another.  For this reason, I recommend that you never go out and buy the most expensive brands of vodka available, such as Stolichnaya Elit, Diva, Diaka, Jean-Marc XO, UK5, Kauffman Luxury Vintage (doesn’t it have to be wine to qualify as a “vintage”?), Georgievskaya, Liquid Ice, Rain, Vincent, Appel or even Dan Akroyd’s latest contribution to mankind Crystal Head, unless you’re one of those “green” individuals who insist on ingesting nothing but organic foods before climbing into your SUV that gets 10 miles to the gallon and driving to the airport to take your private jet to Europe so you can hobnob with fellow hypocritical snobs.  With most of the truly expensive vodkas, you’re paying for the fancy bottle more than for what’s inside it; and in my book, that makes you a sucker.  Along with my rule of never spending less than $10/bottle for vodka (unless it’s on sale), try not to spend more than $25/bottle at the very most; personally, I won’t spend more than $15.  Some good, affordable brands include but are not restricted to Skyy, Absolut, Grey Goose, and plain old regular Stolichnaya (my personal favorite). If you want to go with the cheapest drinkable vodka, try Svedka, which recently became my brand of choice.

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