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.