The Vodka Soda is pretty much the un-cocktail. It’s typically meant to be as tasteless and chuggable (is that a word?) as possible. Until recently, when I thought of a Vodka Soda, I thought of a drink meant to induce drunkenness with as few calories as possible. And that’s about it. I definitely dismissed it altogether for a while there. But it was actually my aversion to it made me want to do some tweaking and throw a few back in the name of R&D. After trying a bunch of easy variations, I’m ready to stand behind the Vodka Soda as a really fun and delicious cocktail template. Read on for my four Vodka Soda upgrades + recipe template and ideas!
Can a Vodka Soda be more than just a low(er) calorie way to get drunk?
Yes! And you can also keep things low(er) calorie without sacrificing flavor. Vodka tends to get a bad rap among those who enjoy craft cocktails because of its tasteless, neutral character. But that neutrality is actually a really great asset when it comes to creating flavor infusions or layering flavors. Think of vodka as your blank canvas! Here are four ways I like to upgrade my vodka sodas:
1. Infuse your vodka with fresh or dried botanicals
One of the best ways to upgrade your vodka soda is to simply infuse your vodka with a fruit, herb, or other botanical. Some of my favorites are hibiscus, strawberry, chamomile, coconut – the list goes on! Fruits or herbs can take hours or days to infuse, but teas like hibiscus can take just minutes, meaning you don’t have to do a whole lot of planning ahead either. I’ve included instructions below for creating a Strawberry Hibiscus vodka infusion, but if you leave out the strawberries, you can have infused hibiscus vodka in about 10-15 minutes!
Strawberry Hibiscus Vodka Soda
2. Muddle fresh fruit or herbs
The next way to add flavor to your vodka soda is to simply muddle some fresh fruit or herbs. This is the quickest way to ramp up the flavor of your drink, and bonus: a few slices of cucumber or a couple of berries isn’t going to ruin your diet either. I like to think of this kind of vodka soda as a way to incorporate your daily serving of fruits or veggies into happy hour. One of my favorite ways to use muddled fruit in a vodka soda is to muddle some cucumber with a squeeze of lime juice and then garnish with fresh mint. It’s cool, refreshing, and the perfect light cocktail to have when you want a drink but don’t want to feel weighed down. Tip: be gentle if you muddle mint, it can release an off-putting flavor if muddled too vigorously.
Cucumber Mint Vodka Soda
3. Rinse the glass with a strong flavored spirit or liqueur
Take your vodka soda to the next level with a rinse of absinthe, Campari, elderflower liqueur, or allspice dram! Any potently flavored spirit or liqueur will add another level of flavor or a subtle nuance to your vodka soda. Simply pour a small amount of the liquid into your desired glassware (1/4 oz or so), swirl to coat the inside of the glass, and then discard the fluid. Fill with ice and build the drink as usual. I love to combine an absinthe rinse with muddled pineapple and a squeeze of lime juice. Incredible flavor without a lot of cals or carbs!
Pineapple Lime Vodka Soda with an absinthe rinse
4. Garnish, garnish, garnish
Garnish away! Botanicals floating in your drink are going to impart a more subtle flavor and aroma than if you infuse or muddled them, but this is for those of us looking for quick and easy. It also has the bonus of turning your drink into a handy snack. Add some fresh berries or a sprig of mint for subtle flavor and aroma. The subtle scent of fresh herbs can completely change how a drink tastes, and mint is especially great for adding a cool, fresh vibe. Get creative and add a variety of fruit and your drink will taste better and better with each sip. I like to make a very simple vodka soda with a squeeze of lemon, and then add pieces of fresh coconut meat and raspberries. Easy, tropical, and very tasty!
Raspberry Coconut Vodka Soda
Basic Vodka Soda Recipe
1.5 oz vodka
4-6 oz sparkling water or club soda
Optional: a squeeze of lemon or lime
Fill a tall glass with ice, add vodka and citrus juice, if using. Stir to chill. Top with chilled sparkling water.
Infuse your vodka! Here’s how to make a Strawberry Hibiscus Vodka Infusion: In a mason jar, combine 4 hulled and chopped strawberries + 1 hibiscus tea bag per 6 oz of vodka. Let sit at least 24 hours, or until flavorful. Strain and store in a sealed container. Pour 1.5 oz of your strawberry hibiscus vodka over ice, add a squeeze of lime and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a strawberry and lime wheel.
Muddle small pieces of fresh fruit, veggies, or herbs! Try a Cucumber Mint Vodka Soda: Try muddling three slices of cucumber with the juice of half a lime. Fill the glass with ice, add vodka, and stir to chill. Top with sparkling water and garnish with cucumber and a sprig of mint. Tip: give the mint a little slap before garnishing to release aromatic oils.
Rinse your glass with strongly flavored spirits or liqueurs! Try a Pineapple Lime Vodka Soda with Absinthe Rinse: Pour a small amount of absinthe (about 1/4 oz) into a tall glass. Swirl to coat the glass and then discard the liquid. Add three chunks of pineapple and muddle. Fill the glass with ice. Add vodka and a squeeze of lime and stir to chill. Top with sparkling water and garnish with pineapple or a lime wheel.
Garnish abundantly with fresh botanicals! Try adding some fresh coconut meat and raspberries with a squeeze of lemon to your next vodka soda. Other fun garnish flavor combination are: blood orange and rosemary, strawberries and lavender, blackberries and mint, or pineapple and sage.
Vodka Soda (Plus 4 Ways to Upgrade the Basic Recipe)
- 1 ½ oz vodka
- 4-6 oz club soda or other sparkling water
- squeeze of fresh lime (or lemon) juice
- Fill a tall glass with ice, add vodka and citrus juice.
- Stir gently to chill.
- Top with chilled sparkling water.