“In a way, we are all magicians. We are all alchemists, sorcerers and wizards. We are a very strange bunch. But there is great fun in being a wizard.”
That Billy Joel quote, printed in Tony Abou-Ganim’s new book Vodka Distilled, feels especially fitting in the mixologist’s Las Vegas home. Walking through the house is like following a yellow-brick road of booze. Closets are filled with liquid treasures: homemade limoncello, Tito’s vodka, a rare bottle of Absolut Elyx that hasn’t been publicly released yet. Instead of spices, a kitchen cabinet has rows of bitters. Antique glassware and mixing spoons are in the living room, and there’s a freezer in the garage dedicated to Abou-Ganim’s unique process of cultivating ice. (Next time you see him, ask about the chain saw in his backyard.)
Abou-Ganim eats, drinks and lives as a wizard of booze, taking pride in dispelling the smoke and mirrors of his craft. “I write a lot for the consumer. Within the consumer world, we drink a lot of vodka but don’t know why we drink certain vodka or stop to evaluate and better appreciate it,” Abou-Ganim says.
Vodka Distilled does just that. It breaks down one of the most popular spirits on the planet with a wealth of information, 28 recipes and an analysis of 58 featured vodkas. Once you understand vodka and can identify flavors and nuances, tasting and identifying the layers of other spirits becomes so much easier. “I admit that it takes practice to exercise and fine-tune those tasting muscles, but anyone with a sense of smell and taste can find the experience revealing,” Abou-Ganim says.
“Taste and Tasteability,” a chapter Jane Austen would certainly enjoy, is a how-to for vodka tasting. And details such as glassware, tasting notes and palate cleansers are also covered in the new book.
“Through deeper knowledge comes better enjoyment,” Abou-Ganim says. “I’ve fallen in love with vodka again.”
This spirits-only cocktail captures the moment when sunshine begins to dry early morning dew. It’s simple and easy to execute, just make sure to have the mixing technique down. There’s a slightly medicinal quality here, thanks to the layers of 130 herbs, plants and flowers of Yellow Chartreuse. The Wizard is ideal as an aperitif, social libation or perfect for strolling down the yellow brick lane with a fresh copy of Vodka Distilled.
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. Cinzano Bianco
1/2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes of orange bitters
orange peel (for garnish)
Method: In an ice-filled mixing glass, add vodka, Cinzano Bianco, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled, small cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin slice of orange peel.