Have you seen all those flavoured vodkas on the shelves lately? It's getting nutty out there: Whipped Cream, Cotton Candy. I recently received a sample of Chocolate-Covered Pretzel flavoured vodka.
A bartender in Kiev, Ukraine would have a hearty laugh at these sweet-toothed flavours. And then he might push across the bar a shot of fiery pepper-infused vodka.
This is the original flavoured vodka, my friend. Buckle up.
"I recommend trying spirits like Honey Pepper Vodka, Horseradish-infused Vodka and homemade Cranberry Vodka," says Yuriy Sokiryan, bartender at the Vintage Cocktail Bar in the Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv, which opened in March.
In addition to more familiar vodka brand names, consider trying Ukraine's local take on flavoured voddy: horilka pertsivka (vodka flavoured with hot peppers), widely available at Ukrainian restaurants and bars.
"I also suggest that all our guests taste Kvass and Uzvar," Sokiryan adds. "Kvass is a fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread, while Uzvar is a soft drink made from dried fruits and berries, sometimes with the addition of honey."
Both are consumed "pure" or straight up - as are most flavoured vodkas.
Of course, should that not be to your taste, classic cocktails and straight-up pours of more familiar spirits also should be easily available.
Sokiryan explains that Ukrainians have sophisticated palates in regards to spirits and appreciate high-end, high-status drinks such as Dom Perignon and Cristal. Yet the most popular choices are the national drinks: Vodka and beer.
In addition to post-prandial cocktails and cigars at the Vintage Cocktail Bar, Sokiryan also steers business travellers to Boutiquebar Biancoro for Italian-style aperitifs and snacks; La Bodeguita del Medio for "the best mojito in the city," live Cuban music and dancing; or Art Pub-DockerABC to bend elbows with the locals and enjoy live concerts.
Layered cocktails are also popular, he continues - including the bizarre-sounding Mexican Green, which was invented in 1998 by the president of the Barmen Association of Ukraine, Sergei Kadatskim, and includes Pisang Ambon (an emerald green, banana-flavoured liqueur), freshly squeezed lemon juice and white tequila.
"The cocktail is prepared in layers and drunk in small sips to taste each layer of the cocktail," says Sokiryan.
Perhaps the Mexican Green is an acquired taste - like candy-flavoured hooch. In the meantime, I'd be happy to slam back a traditional shot of pepper-spiked vodka, perhaps blended into the below spicy-sweet Kiev cocktail.
RECIPE: POSHTOVA-TINI - Courtesy of Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv
This drink is named for Poshtova Square, located in the heart of Kiev's historic Podil District. The cocktail features two of Ukraine's best known local ingredients: red beets and horilka pertsivka.
1 ounce vanilla vodka
3/4 ounce red beet reduction
1/2 ounce horilka pertsivka (pepper vodka may be substituted)
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce egg white
1/4 ounce Hennessy VS
1/4 ounce sugar syrup
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.