(Or, in which I have a drink)
Effen Black Cherry vodka
Some people love the cool bracing steeliness of vodka; I prefer the mysterious, spice-musk warmth of gin. Both are, according to our master Charles Schumann, the two vital mixers at the bar, though vodka wins the prize for those who like their liquor plain. "In the past and still today," he says, "drinkers who prefer their liquor straight up agree that vodka is the spirit least likely to give one a hangover."
A good thing, too. Given Mr. Schumann's further insistence, based on years of experience running his famed eponymous Bar, that a great cocktail includes three basic ingredients -- the base, the modifier, and the flavoring agent -- I would suggest that Effen Black Cherry vodka is best enjoyed as is, over ice. The powerful scent of maraschino cherries and the sweetness of vanilla make it a cocktail in itself.
Now the very idea of adding flavorings to a base spirit can spark arguments. It requires such talent (one argument goes), such experience and care to craft a fine vodka, gin, or whiskey, that additions to it are rarely grace notes, and are more likely profanations. And yet (the counterargument goes) lots of spirits already have approved things added to them. Who decided that that was all right, and is it all just a matter of innovations hallowed by time? Mr. Schumann, in American Bar, allows for "small amounts of lightly aromatic substances" in good vodkas, substances that match vodka in bracing steeliness: buffalo grass, pepper, sherry, or lemon. Can there be room also for cherry and vanilla? We'll see. I saw one gentleman look up at Effen on the shelf, give a start, and stomp away, growling, "Jeez, it's like 'Moogen-David.' "
I'm told that this variety of Effen is popular mixed with cola or even orange soda. I tried it like so, but found the combination clunky and too sweet. The company website offers some drink recipes that are at the very least imaginative, sometimes to the point of flamboyance and sometimes skating beyond flamboyance right out to the edge of ghastliness. Consider, for example, the Black Pearl, which calls for our Effen, blue curacao, cranberry juice, lemon lime soda, and the otherwise unexplained Raspberry Liqueur float. "Mix ingredients and serve as a martini with a colored sugar rim." Cherries Jubilee sounds a little simpler -- just the vodka, a dark chocolate liqueur, and a white chocolate liqueur, plus a dash of grenadine -- or you might be better off with Berries and Cherries, a drink of muddled (crushed in the bottom of the glass) blueberries, the vodka, and a dash of simple syrup.
Effen's packaging is easily recognized. It's the tall, elegant cylinder with the rubber sheath, the better not to slip out of the hands of the professional bartenders whose needs were anticipated in the bottle's design. As for the arresting name: the vodka comes from the Netherlands. "Effen" is Dutch for smooth. I believe it also carries connotations of "those are some pretty clever English-speaking marketing people in Holland, aren't they?"
Retail: about $36