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Science you can use: Fixing Cheap Vodka with a Water Filter

I am sure someone will point to a certain inevitability to a writer on a tight deadline choosing the topic of this post...I think I'll call it channeling my inner Hemingway and leave it at that.

A while back, an online community I belong to was talking about the purported effect of a standard water filter on cheap vodka. The theory was that, since vodka is supposed to be tasteless — or is it tastefree? — then the problem with cheap vodka was that it tasted like...well, cheap vodka. Hence, removing the harsh flavors would leave the desired nontaste and render a palatable drink. The tool of choice seemed to be a standard water filter pitcher, something that a lot of us have shoved in the back of a cabinet somewhere, and also available at thrift stores for a few dollars.

Needless to say (or it would be if you knew the people involved) experiments were performed: vodka was poured back and forth between pitchers, shots were poured at each step and saved for comparison, good vodka was poured side-by-side with filtered cheap stuff for testing. Also needless to say, hangovers were a common theme of email for the next week.

Around that time, I picked up a bottle of Monarch vodka (the cheapest I could find) along with my more usual amaretto and irish cream liquer. The nice woman at the liquor store looked quizzically at the bottle and hesitantly asked if I was sure I wanted that brand. I thanked her for her concern, explained that it wasn't like I was planning on drinking the stuff like that, and that it was for a science experiment. Visibly relieved, she sold it to me...but you could tell it was against her better judgement.

The original intent was to filter it into reasonableness, then infuse the results with a variety of herbs and spices. Recognizing that I was in the middle of a crazy writing project (I detect a theme here, a leitmotif if you will) I stuck the bottle in the deep, dark recesses of my liquor cabinet. Where nobody could find it, because really, if you have friends who provide homemade, organic fruit wines, do you want them seeing the rotgut booze lurking in the shadows? And then I forgot about it.

Cut to yesterday when, while looking for a something to assuage my inner Hemingway (there is a reason writers drink, trust me), I spied the bottle. My first thought: What is that crap doing here? You could be drinking that bottle of blackberry wine that J and S brought down recently. Or sucking up to George for this year's batch of wonders.

And then I remember...the purported transformative effect of a Brita filter. An experiment (love those)...a challenge (love those)...a distraction from the looming deadline (really LOVE those).

Rummaging through the hall closet — where the filter-pitcher has resided since the refrigerator with cold, filtered water arrived — I discover other distractions....I mean toys...uh, kitchen tools that will need to come out to play: meat slicer, stack of odd shaped cake pans, bottle of orange chocloate wine (OMG, how has that escaped my late-night scavenging?)...ah, there it is. The great cleansing pitcher. The science can begin!

From here it was simple:

  • Pour a shot into a bottle for my control shot.
  • Run the vodka through the filter a few times. (5-6 times total, someoneElse did it a few times while I was busy so I lost track)
  • Pour shots of the acetone...I mean the unfiltered vodka.
  • Pour shots of the end result.
  • Sip and compare.

(The bullet list is brought to you by my professional writer alter ego — my friends know I am writing on deadline when my email starts having bullet lists. If the list has numbers, they call in an intervention...or an airstrike.)

The control drink led to some pretty uncontrolled revulsion. Man, that stuff sucks! The tasting note would have to say: burns with a gasoline-like aftertaste. Yum! Neither of us finished that shot...and it was a little tiny shot.

On to the filtered vodka. With a bit of trepidation — did I mention the unfiltered shot was a bit harsh? — I raised the glass to my lips and let the liquid just touch them. No burn. Breathing a sigh of relief, I down the shot. someoneElse's eyes meet mine, we shrug and smile, a 'not so bad' is uttered. Five minutes later, we're drinking the first screwdriver that either of us can remember drinking in well over a decade.

Conclusion: Buy one bottle of some pretentious vodka and one bottle of rotgut cheap stuff. Filter the crap cheap stuff. Pour the spendy bottle of vodka into the empty cheap bottle and the filtered vodka into the upscale bottle. Use the good stuff from the cheap bottle on those rare occasions that you think you might be able to tell the difference. Serve the impressive-looking bottle to your friends. Unless they are a real vodka afficianado  — and this is supposed to be tasteless, remember, so I find myself giggling at the idea of selecting the best thing without flavor — I bet they will never guess your secret.

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