5 inspired vodka drinks for your repertoire



Compiled by Sam Bygrave
Photography by Christopher Pearce

Vodka gets a bad rap behind the bar sometimes. When you’ve got bartenders vying for the most intensely bitter, the smokiest or the funkiest smelling booze, something neutral like vodka gets lost in the mix. But it’s still going to be what fills the tills at the end of the night, so you need to have a few inspired drinks up your sleeve.

Here’s five to get you started.



Kangaroo Cocktail

40ml Ultimat Vodka
20ml dry vermouth

Stir down and serve up, garnish with a lemon twist.

With vodka gaining traction in the US from the 1940s onward, bartenders would switch vodka into the recipes they knew: this, clearly, is a Vodka Martini. Revolutionary stuff. But it did gain popularity with its original name, the Kangaroo Cocktail. So don’t roll your eyes when you’ve got an order for a Vodka Martini at your bar – bump up that vermouth a little and let them know what the drink was first known as.


Smoke on the Water

50ml Stolichnaya Premium Vodka
7.5ml St. Germain
2 drops of saline solution
2 dashes of Adam Elmegirab’s Aphrodite Bitters
Mezcal to rinse

Stir down all ingredients except mezcal. Rinse a coupe glass with mezcal, discarding the excess. Strain into glass, serve.

Adapted from a recipe by Simon Toohey at Mojo Record Bar, Sydney

The great thing about vodka, in a stirred drink like this one, is how it can carry flavours. We like the addition of a little saline solution (it’s far better than using the brine from a large jar of crappy olives opened last year); and mezcal as a rinse gives a little delicate smoke; you’ve got the bitters there, tying everything together.


Mommas Moonshine

45ml vanilla-infused Absolut Elyx
15ml Tuaca
Juice of 1/2 pressed pear
20ml lime juice
15ml sugar syrup

Build ingredients over ice in a tall glass, top with soda.

Adapted from a recipe by Lachy Sturrock, SoCal, Neutral Bay

We’re reliably informed that this drink goes down well with the well-heeled ladies frequenting the bar at SoCal in Neutral Bay. And it should: this is an approachable cocktail par excellence.



45ml Russian Standard Vodka
15ml Fernet Branca
15ml Lemon juice
½ teaspoon castor sugar
Add all ingredients into a shaker. Shake hard enough to launch yourself into space and double strain into chill cocktail glass. No garnish.

It’s funny how drinks like this one (and the Moscow Mule, too) have Russian-sounding names but were both American inventions (then again, if it was a Russian-invention, we’d need to get out the Cyrillic keyboard). Here’s what we know about this drink:

“According to Martin J. Collins, author of After Sputnik: 50 Years of the Space Age, despite growing fears of war in America, restaurants and bars capitalised on the Sputnik phenomenon with Russian themed food and drink. Bartenders produced Sputnik cocktails made with Russian vodka in reply to the popular joke that an American Sputnik cocktail should be “one part vodka and three parts sour grapes.”


East 8 Hold Up

40ml Skyy Vodka
20ml pineapple juice
15ml Aperol
15ml sugar syrup
15ml lime juice
5ml passionfruit syrup

Shake ingredients and strain over ice.

Adapted from a recipe by Kevin Armstrong, during his time at Milk & Honey, London

The story goes like this according to its creator, Kevin Armstrong. “I’ve lived in E8 when it was rough as nuts. Sam Jeveons and I went out one night and he was walking through towards Hackney and stopped off to take a leak. He dropped his trousers and this guy came up behind him, stepped on his trousers (which were down by his feet) and told him to hand over his wallet. Essentially though, Sam ended up chasing this guy down the street, trousers around his ankles and his belt wrapped round his fist. Premium funny and also a vintage East 8 Hold Up. Hence the name.”


Absolut Elyx. There are subtle floral and fruity tones on the nose, the palate is fresh, pure and invigorating with a silky texture, a long-lasting smooth finish, and a subtle spiciness. Pernod Ricard

Russian Standard Original. Russian Standard is the Russian vodka these days. Flavour and aroma is spicy and slightly sweet with a long pronounced peppery finish. Suntory

Stolichnaya Premium Vodka. Crystal clear in colour with marshmallow, mineral and mild fruit peel aromas. A soft supple entry leads to a smooth, medium bodied palate with pastry frosting, talc and citrus rind flavours. Finishes clean, with a lightly sweet, wet straw and balanced pepper finish. Island2Island

Ultimat Vodka. Produced in Poland, Ultimat uses a trio of grains (wheat, rye and potato) to create this unique luxury spirit. The wheat is utilised to create a smooth texture, the rye to yield complexity and the potato for richness. Southtrade

Skyy Vodka. The nose shows warm grain aromas with a hint of vanilla, while the palate is soft and generous with an obvious creamy texture, warming length and hints of pepper and a lingering flavourful finish. Gruppo Campari

Belvedere Vodka. There’s a faint hint of vanilla and gentle characters of soft cream on the nose. Full and round with medium body and a naturally smooth, rich, and velvety texture on the palate. Notes of almond, clotted cream, and faint Brazil nut characteristics on the long finish. Moet-Hennessy

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka. Small batch rye spirit is distilled in single copper columns by local farms, before being distilled a further six times through a six-column rectification plant for ultimate purity.Bison grass essence is extracted in the distillery creating a pure aromatic essence, Each individual bottle is decorated by hand with a single blade of bison grass. Suntory

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