Clear Headed

Tony Abou-Ganim sticks his neck out for vodka

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Little elicits a snappier judgment from a bartender at a craft cocktail joint than a request for vodka.

As the most commercially successful spirit in the States, it's hard to ignore the category. But for craft cocktail lovers, it's equally difficult to take seriously: Vodka is often viewed as without substance‚Äďa flavor-free road to getting drunk.

Leave it to Tony Abou-Ganim to give vodka credence in the cocktail world. His new book, Vodka Distilled ($14), addresses the spirit's history and demonstrates its important standing within the recent rise of the cocktail. He is so convincing, even the most begrudging bartenders will gain a new appreciation for the maligned spirit.

Abou-Ganim tracks the spirit from its introduction to the U.S., as popularized through the Moscow Mule. He also notes that vodka is an ideal vehicle for cocktails that use fresh fruits and vegetables, such as The Ruby (make the recipe here). It seems anathema, but vodka is a winning candidate for farm-to-table drinking.

So, in addition to historic vodka cocktail recipes for Gimlets, Caipiroskas and the like, the book includes a series of cocktail recipes that involve simple infusions: Vodka mixed with water that's been flavored with berries or pineapple and cilantro.

Simplicity has saved the day.