Lowder Specs

An Easy List of 178 (Modern) Classics to Know – 2016 Edition



Using vodka in a cocktail can be tricky, because vodka serves to dilute flavors. It’s kind of like when you put a drop of watercolor on a white page and the ink just bleeds in all directions. Similarly, when you add flavored liqueurs, bitters, etc. to vodka, the flavor just dilutes and you lose all sense of precision. It’s for that reason that I almost never recommend adding bitters to stirred vodka cocktails. It just tastes weird. The only exception is the Vesper Martini, which is actually just a gin cocktail in disguise. A Vodka Martini, however, should never have bitters because all you’re going to taste is diluted bitters.

There are plenty of bartenders who don’t care for vodka cocktails, because they believe that a flavor-neutral spirit naturally makes inferior cocktails. I disagree. Sometimes I just want something clean. A vodka martini with oysters. A vodka soda when I’m on the beach or when I’m at a cocktail event and my palate is completely blown out. A Cosmo any night, ever. All great options. Be cool and don’t judge your guests.

In the list below, I have a few frequently requested vodka cocktails. But it’s important to say that if a guest wants to try something new, you can sub vodka for gin in almost any shaken gin recipe and the result will be just fine. When in doubt, make a Vodka Maid. Everybody loves a Vodka Maid.

Vodka Stirred

1. Poet’s Dream (Vodka Version)

a. 2 oz. Vodka

b. .75 oz. French Dry Vermouth

c. Barspoon Benedictine

i. Stir/strain/coupe/lemon twist

2. Vesper Martini

a. 2 oz. London Dry Gin

b. .75 oz. Vodka

c. .5 oz. Cocchi Americano

d. 1 dash Orange Bitters

i. Stir/strain/coupe/lemon twist

3. Vodka Martini

a. 3 oz. Vodka

b. .5 oz. French Dry Vermouth

c. Never bitters

i. Stir/strain/coupe/olives or twist

Vodka Shaken

1. Apple Martini

a. 1.5 oz. Vodka

b. 1.5 oz. Fresh-pressed Apple Juice

c. .5 oz. Honey Syrup (2:1)

d. .5 oz. Fresh Lemon

e. Barspoon Cinnamon Syrup

i. Shake/Fine strain/Coupe/Apple slices

2. Cosmopolitan

a. 1.5 oz. Vodka

b. .75 oz. Triple Sec

c. .75 oz. Cranberry

d. .5 oz. Fresh Lime

i. Shake/Fine strain/Coupe/Lemon twist

3. Espresso Martini

a. 2 oz. Vodka

b. .75 oz. Chilled Espresso

c. .5 oz. Kahlua

d. Barspoon Crème de Cacao

i. Shake/Fine strain/Coupe/3 espresso beans


A Quick Rant on Bartenders and “Martini” Calls:

A lot of cocktail bartenders freak out when guests ask for a non-Martini “Martini” (i.e. Chocolate Martini, Lychee Martini, Apple Martini, Espresso Martini). The issue for the bartenders is that these drinks “aren’t really real Martinis” and that they have recipes that call for neon liqueurs like Apple Pucker that most cocktail bars don’t carry. The bartenders then tell these guests that “we don’t make those kind of drinks here” or “I don’t have the ingredients to make that” or even just “no.” Insane.

I think that this kind of thinking is extremely short sighted. Nobody comes to a bar with an exact recipe in mind unless they’re a very picky cocktail enthusiast. As a bartender, you need to practice empathy and act as an interpreter whenever possible. In this case, the guest obviously doesn’t literally mean “Martini” as in “gin/vodka, vermouth, bitters, twist/olive.” They mean “Martini” as in “cocktail with no ice in an up glass.”

In the case of the Apple Martini, the guest never has a specific recipe in mind. What they literally say is “Can I have an Apple Martni?” But what they are really saying is “Hey, I am here because I hear this is a nice bar, and so I’m going to order a cocktail that I have had before. I bet that in a nice bar like this one, it will be even more delicious and so I will be happy. I’m here to feel comfortable, and I don’t research cocktails or cocktail culture in my spare time. I want an Apple Martini, which as far as I know is a sour cocktail with vodka that tastes like apples and might be green in color. Can I please have something like that and have a great time in your bar?”

That I can work with! I keep fresh pressed apple juice in my bar every day for just these requests. This way when a guest asks for an Apple Martini, I can say “I can absolutely make you an Apple Martini. One thing to mention is that I make mine with natural, fresh-pressed apple juice, so it won’t be neon green in color, but I promise that it will be the most delicious Apple Martini that you have ever had. Is that ok with you?” How could anyone say no to that? I get to still make my fresh apple, spiced honey, vodka sour that I feel good about, and the guest gets to tell his/her friends that they just found this great bar that makes their favorite drink better than they’ve ever had it. It wasn’t the same Apple Martini that they might have had at TGI Fridays, but everybody won in the end and the bar earned a return guest.

I’m talking too long about this one point, but it’s very important to me. As a bartender, you need to get creative and find more ways to make guests happy. In a lot of ways, vodka drinkers are the most fun guests because they are often the least educated about flavors, which gives you the opportunity to blow their minds and win life-long regulars.