So I was at the liquor store the other day, buying bad bargain champagne, when I happened upon a peculiar little bottle behind the counter: Cossack Vodka.
Now this particular brand, at a whopping $2.75 with tax, appeared to be the cheapest 200-milliliter bottle of vodka available at this store, beating similarly sized servings of Sobieski, Stoli, and other discount grain neutrals by at least $3.
The label features red-coated, raven-headed soldiers on white stallions who brandish swords against a blue sky — with St. Basil’s in the background, of course. From their dress and location, they don’t seem all too Cossack-like, but whatevs — alcohol has never had a great relationship with historical accuracy.
Anyway, I asked the man behind the counter whether it was worth trying.
He said something along the lines of: “Remember that the Cossacks tried to kill Russia’s Jews, if that’s any indication of how something named after them would taste.”
With such a description and its handy design — made of durable plastic, a bottle of Cossack is small enough to fit in a coat pocket or clutch but big enough to get you drunk — it seemed like the perfect addition to either my liquor or medicine cabinet.
Indeed, Cossack has the olfactory punch of isopropyl alcohol — my eyes began watering when I opened the bottle in an unventilated room. The first sip burned a lot, irritating my gums and leaving my mouth slightly numb, with a greasy, charcoal-like aftertaste.
With its strong, metallic heat, the brand feels like something best put on an open wound rather than in a screwdriver.
Flavor-wise, the closest comparison that can possibly be made is to an Andean spirit called Ceibo, which I sampled several years back in Potosi — a small, destitute Bolivian town. At 96 percent alcohol, this “potable” drink is a favorite of silver miners (who rarely live past their thirties) and said to fall somewhere between industrial and consumer grades.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 30, 2011