Hello, I’m Vodka and I’m Not Going Anywhere

By Kerry Jepsen


Kerry Jepsen
Bartender Giuseppe González giving his peers blunt advice about vodka drinks.
Bartender Giuseppe González giving his peers blunt advice about vodka drinks.

“Any bartender who says there are absolutes in this trade is full of shit. There are no absolutes, just guidelines,” says veteran New York Bartender Giuseppe González, the man behind the Lower East Side’s Suffolk Arms (in his honest, if blunt, style). At the “Welcome Back Vodka” workshop at the 11th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress, González reminded his fellow bartenders to “keep it simple stupid.” What better way to exemplify the beauty in simplicity than clear, flavorless vodka. 

“People talk about taking away from the dignity of the spirit by mixing it. That may be true, but vodka is an expression of cleanliness, and it’s easy to get creative with,” says González. At Suffolk Arms, he makes a three-ingredient drink to prove his point: the Horse Apple. Served in a rocks glass with 1 large ice cube, the drink is comprised of 1.5 ounces SKYY vodka and the juice from 1 Granny Smith apple. It’s stirred together before getting finished with a flurry of freshly grated horseradish, giving the cocktail an incredible nose that announces the drink’s arrival before it ever hits the palate. “The most important thing for me is to be able to share a drink like this with others and have them riff on it. Drinks need to be replicated in order to become legendary. The martini is and always will be a classic,” says González, who also makes the Horse Apple with any spirit his patrons please. 

Many find vodka’s neutrality unadventurous. But González busts that myth, making a case for cleanliness and simplicity as a rigorous art. Why discount a whole category when you can serve badass vodka cocktails—that can be shared, spread, riffed on, and loved? Vodka may be just the thing to help elevate your beverage program.

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