The craft cocktail craze, for a while, sidelined vodka. Critics dismissed it for a lack of aroma or taste (why sip that when you can blow your brains out with Fernet Branca?) and many bartenders were bored with it.
The industry swung back in two ways: with a rainbow of flavored vodkas, and with a handful of purists bent on making premium sipping vodkas. Count Tito's Handmade Vodka among the latter; it's been quietly booming in the decade since winning the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Suddenly, I'm seeing it everywhere.
At the heart of the operation is the great-named Tito Beveridge, a former geologist and oilman who set up a still in Texas and began making small-batch vodka from yellow corn (a departure from the usual wheat or potatoes). He distills it six times, which makes for very pure, smooth vodka with a slight velvet bite and intriguing sweet corn finish. Some say it's on par with Eastern Europe's finest vodkas.
Taste it yourself at the Sazerac Bar, where the Tito's-based cocktail goes by the name Texas Mule, pairing the vodka with traditional lime juice and a healthy dose of ginger beer (soft Gosling's, in this case, and a better choice than a sharper, naturally brewed ginger beer like Fentimans).
The Sazerac Bar throws in a slight variation - muddled cucumber, which adds dewy earthiness to this refreshing summer sipper.
In the 1940s, a bar owner and a liquor executive thought up the original Moscow Mule as a vehicle to move their products - strange new ginger beer and underappreciated vodka. You can credit the Moscow Mule for bumping up vodka sales in the '40s; these days, hand-crafted, premium brands like Tito's takes the baton and is engineering its renewed respect.
Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, 123 Baronne Street, 648.1200
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