Co-authored by Bob Barnes 

photos by Jose Salinas

The Las Vegas Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild hosted a vodka pairing dinner and vodka tasting on January 31 at Honey Salt. Sponsored by Absolut Vodka, it was much more than a pairing dinner, as the 30 USBG members in attendance were educated by USBG Las Vegas Chapter President Raul Faria and the legend himself, the Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim. USBG member and Honey Salt bartender Terry Clark helped organize the event and artfully crafted a series of cocktails just right for the occasion. 

Before the dinner began Raul spoke about the history of vodka and provided us with a descriptor list to help decipher the mouth feel, finish and overall character of the vodkas we were about to taste. Tony walked us through the blind tasting of eight different Old World and New World vodkas made from different raw materials, as attendees volunteered what nuances they detected, such as corn, barley, rye, potato and grape.

The dinner paired three vodka cocktails with three courses of choice food. The appetizers were autumn harvest toast with delicata squash, margherita flatbread and lemon chicken salad and were paired with a gem. Terry’s “Let’s Get Ready To Bramble” refreshed, cleansed and accented the array of goodness that was before us. The “new, new” from Absolut is their Absolut Lime, which was the base for this tasty libation. Terry crafted his own Creme de Mure (using Absolut Lime) and added a hibiscus-infused carbonated Lillet Rouge, which played back and forth across the aisle with a floral yet slight tannic-sweet nature of the hibiscus and Lillet Rouge.

For the main course USBG members had the choice of heirloom potato gnocchi with farm egg and wild mushrooms, pan roasted snapper with lemongrass broth, Mary’s free range brick oven chicken breast with mac n’ cheese or 12-hour braised short rib with polenta; all were stellar and full of flavor. With the entrees we enjoyed the “Burning Man-darin” which was a triangulation of mandarin in its finest form. This cocktail utilized Absolut Mandarin, charred honey-ginger mandarins along with the subtle citrus of Amaro Ramazotti. The flavor was as vibrant and rich as its appearance. It was served over ice with caramelized mandarin segments and a beautiful handmade edible flower bouquet clipped to the glass. Perfection without compare.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, then came a delightfully rich brioche bread pudding with pumpkin caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream which met the playfully named cocktail, “Cello. Is it me you’re looking for?” It did not disappoint! Being in citrus season always has its benefits, and in this case we could see Absolut Citron being paired with a Sous Vide Limoncello Crema. All of this combined with great effect and with candied lemon. We never wanted to go home!

We eventually did depart and all in attendance were graced with the gift of Tony’s book, which he graciously signed: Vodka Distilled The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails—a book loaded with valuable information on everything you always wanted to know about vodka, including the history of vodka, the ins and outs of how it is made and notes on 58 vodkas. 

About the USBG

The United States Bartenders’ Guild is comprised of spirit professionals dedicated to the art of the craft of Bartending. What was founded in 1948 has now spread all over the US with Las Vegas being the largest chapter in the country. Through events, charity, and education they support and enhance the great American living-art that is Bartending.

For information on how to join, please go to www.usbg.org.