The VinePair Podcast: The Vodka Water. Are You Serious?

On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the apparently real trend of the vodka water. Who actually enjoys this drink? What purpose does it serve? Is it almost admirable in its lack of pretension? Tune in for more.

Listen Online

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

Or Check Out the Conversation Here

Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: And this is “The VinePair Podcast.” Just PSA to everyone, after these shows, I overwhelm Joanna so much that I think she has to take a break from me, and she goes to the other side of the office, and she sits in a room, and she’s just like, “Bye, Adam.”

J: No, I thought you were going to say you-

A: Drain all the energy.

J: You go to your office and have a nap.

A: I do that too. I think… Yeah, it’s a lot.

J: It’s getting increasingly ridiculous, week to week.

A: Is that a problem?

J: No.

Z: I will say there are times when I’m glad I have approximately 3,000 miles of buffer.

A: Oh, come on.

Z: I mean, not all the time.

A: I can reach through the mic right now and just shake you.

Z: Uh-oh.

A: Okay. So here we go. You guys, there’s this thing happening in the world, we talked about it before. I think it’s a good jumping off point to talk about things again. We blamed it on Gen Z. It’s not Gen Z’s fault. Turns out that millennials have been drinking these too. You know them, you hate them, they’re called vodka waters. So we did a whole piece earlier this week — last week, sorry — about this sort of thing that’s happening where a lot of people are going out to the bar, and not ordering vodka tonics, not ordering vodka sodas, they are ordering vodka waters. I do not understand it. I think it’s insane. But it is happening. And I’m appalled by it, and that’s all I can really say. I’m so shocked and I thought it was one of these things like, “Oh, it’s a funny thing that once in a while people do.” And then I had this woman, who is a publicist at a very well-known spirits company, who literally came into my DMs, slid on in, and she was like, “Hey Adam, I saw that you guys published this piece about vodka waters. I drank them all through college.” And I was like, “What? That’s insane.” And she is not alone, I think there’s a lot of people that drink vodka waters of all types around the world. And I don’t know why and it just really makes me sad. And so I would like to hear what you both think because, should we be appalled by this? I feel like we should be appalled by this.

J: Well, I definitely think the piece has peaked a lot of interest and curiosity. It’s one of our best-read pieces in the past couple of weeks. Credit to Katie Brown who wrote it.

A: I thought she started the trend too.

J: No, she doesn’t drink them. She witnessed someone drinking them and that was the genesis of the idea.

A: She’s the reason I wanted to blame Gen Z, but it’s not Katie’s fault. Katie’s trying to do the good work of stopping it.

J: Yeah, or just exploring it, you know?

A: Yeah. She’s exploring it as a writer.

J: Yeah, an anthropologist, if you will.

A: Yeah, exactly.

J: I think it’s a really interesting thing and we should say that ordering vodka water while out is different from what we’ve also heard from some of the young people on our team, which was this trend of drinking vodka waters with MiO drops, which are flavor drops. Which is something common that people did throughout college or…

A: People have done that for eons and eons, since MiO drops have been in existence.

J: Eons and eons, sure. So this is different.

A: Low cal, tastes great.

J: Yeah, exactly. Because that is giving it flavor, right?

A: Yes.

J: But this feels distinctly different to me, to go and order a vodka water, which is probably the most joyless drink you could possibly order out, and I think, as Katie discovered in her piece, there are a number of reasons why people do this.

A: They hate fun.

J: They drink this drink. I think they love fun.

A: They love fun. Yeah. They hate-

J: They hate hangovers.

A: But there’s no way you’re not still hung over from this.

J: I don’t know.

A: Again, this is pseudoscience. Drinking a vodka water is like watching, just torture porn. I don’t understand why you would ever do this. It’s like watching “The Handmaid’s Tale.” We get it, you keep beating her, it’s horrible. I hate that sh*t. Vodka water is like you have no joy in life.

J: Yeah. Well, okay so-

Z: I don’t know.

J: Yeah, what’s different? Is drinking a vodka water so different from drinking a vodka rocks with a water back?

A: Or a water chaser. I’ll take vodka on the rocks and a water chaser.

Z: I don’t know, Adam, I know you’re a big seltzer guy. I am too, but I don’t see a vodka water as being all that different from vodka sodas, which I like.

A: I think I do.

J: Oh, they’re so different to me.

A: I think so. I think they’re so different.

J: Water?

Z: I mean it’s just like you might as well… You add some carbon in solution and or carbon dioxide in solution and it’s suddenly a totally different drink?

A: Yes, it makes all the difference. I don’t know why all I can see in my brain, when I first heard about this trend, is somebody literally at a water fountain, with a bottle of vodka in the one corner of their mouth and the water fountain in the other, just like… That’s all I can think of. It’s just water. It’s water.

Z: I don’t know. I feel like this is… Look, I think I understand the general objection, which is that we tend to think that — and I don’t disagree with this at all — I tend to think that drinking alcohol should come with something besides just a desire to be intoxicated. And I think that, as we discussed last Friday, the downside to the vodka water, is it really strips away any of that pretense, right? You can only be drinking this because you want to be intoxicated and perhaps also then later on you want to, at least believe that you will feel better or suffer fewer ill effects or whatever. But functionally, obviously you’re not doing it for the flavor, because there’s essentially none. You’re not doing it for the sophistication, because it’s certainly not a sophisticated drink and you’re not doing it for really anything other than to get drunk. And look, we’ve talked about it on the pod before, we will again, that we understand and recognize that for a not insignificant portion of the drinking public, being intoxicated is a big part of why they drink. It’s not something that we like to valorize particularly, but it would be disingenuous of us to not be upfront about that fact, that for drinkers of all ages, and again this is why it’s not just a Gen Z thing, the buzz or beyond is a good part of the goal, if not the only goal. But of course, as noted, with a vodka water, there is no pretense left. And in that sense, I almost admire it as a drink because it is so utilitarian and so clear about why anyone would ever order it. I do think that there’s something weirdly admirable to me in that, I kind of admire the people who they’re like, “You know what? This is what I’m doing, I’m here drinking vodka mixed with water and that is the person I am, and want to be.” It’s not the person that I am or want to be, but kudos to those folks who can be upfront about it. I also appreciate and believe there was someone in Katie’s piece who was like, “Yeah, vodka soda makes me burpy.” And I was like, Look, that’s all of us to some extent, so I get it

A: Burpy.

Z: You’re going out drinking, dancing, whatever, you don’t want all that carbonation, I get it. I think the fascinating thing to me here, and I want your guys’ thought, are we about to see the high-end vodka water trend? Where someone’s getting premium vodka and a $30 bottle of water, and that’s what they’re drinking. Because I think to date-

J: Oh my God, like bottle service.

Z: To date, I have thought of this as mostly not Adam’s bottle of vodka and water fountain, but I have thought of water from the gun and whatever, well vodka. That’s, I think, where most of this probably ends up. But I do love the thought of someone spending like $30 on a vodka water, it does feel of the moment.

A: I feel like there’s a member of our staff that would do that. He also likes Vodka Martinis right now. I just feel like that would be like, it’s kind of the same thing.

J: He would never.

A: I mean $30, mate, it’s good. No, but I feel like… Is the vodka water the equivalent of a bong rip? Is it just, “Let’s just take this. We’re trying to get there as fast as possible.” You know what I mean? That’s kind of what I see it as. And I know that it actually probably is not the equivalent of that, because the equivalent of that would be taking shots, but it just feels… There’s something about it, that just, as we said, it’s hiding no pretense, right? It’s just saying, “This is what I’m here to do. I’m here to get buzzed and to stay hydrated, man.” And that’s it. And I think what the funniest thing to me is about the piece, I’m pretty sure it’s in the piece, we talked about so much in the office now that I can’t remember if it’s in the piece or just part of the conversation, is the person who thinks the vodka water just tastes like water.

J: Yes. It’s in the piece.

A: Really? There’s no way that that-

J: Surely cannot.

A: It’s not possible. It tastes like watered-down vodka. That’s what it tastes like. It doesn’t taste like water. I don’t know what water you’re drinking. Maybe you should check on your pipes. The water could be dirty.

J: What’s the pH level of your water?

A: Exactly.

J: Yeah, I don’t know. I think, again I’ll say, nobody has this commentary about anyone who drinks vodka on the rocks. That seems like a very common order.

A: I know a lot of people that do it.

J: Right and we don’t care about those people.

A: Oftentimes they’re wearing loafer’s, jeans, and a blazer and playing golf, but they do it. It’s after a round. At the country club, but still do what you do.

J: You’re getting to the same point though, right? It is vodka on the rocks.

A: And maybe you have a little sparkling water on the side.

J: Right, but it makes you burpy.

A: Burpy.

J: It just strikes me as such a strange order.

A: I really need to go out this weekend and see if I see it.

J: Well it’s like, I asked you, I think I asked you this last time, you have served them in the past.

Z: A vodka water? No, I can’t say that I’ve ever served a vodka water. I’ve served a lot of vodkas on the rocks, for sure. And I’m trying to think if I’ve ever… Yeah, because the other thing about this that’s interesting and that I don’t, that does also kind of raise the question of who is, what the purpose of this drink is, such as it is. And maybe the person who is described in the piece, who thinks it doesn’t taste like vodka, if it’s sufficiently watered down. I’ve known lots of people whose drink when they go out is just shots of vodka, right? And then they drink water and it’s essentially a way to end at the same exact place, that doesn’t feel as sort of pointless to us, because in the end it is kind of weird. I think we maybe over-valorize a certain… You should taste your drink, you should know there’s alcohol in there. But I do think there’s something to be said about… There’s probably danger if you’re not tasting the alcohol, and you’re drinking four or five of these, again, probably depending on how much water you’re using. I don’t know. On the one hand, like I said, I admire this drink in some way, because of its lack of pretense; on the other hand, it also sort of irks me in some way that I can’t fully articulate. It does feel just wrong; we’re about to taste and I made mine and I’m just, throughout the process and in looking at it, I’m just like, this is a drink. It feels like I have given up, and that is what I am drinking is my own surrender to something. I’m not really sure what, though.

A: Yeah, I don’t know.

J: I guess we should try it.

A: Let’s try it.

Z: So the question we didn’t discuss beforehand, the question I had in assembling my drink, if we can call it that, is ratios. What did you guys do?

J: Cocktail.

A: So I did basically 2 ounces of Tito’s and then I topped it with water from the gun, but actually just water from the water cooler.

J: Cooler?

Z: About how much water?

A: We’re in a highball glass, so I went all the way to the top, bro.

Z: Oh, okay. So you really diluted it, okay.

A: I’m assuming it’s being served at the bar in a plastic cup, or you know when people get the vodka sodas and it’s usually in a plastic cup at these bars, at the party bars. So I’m trying to sort of simulate that. So I think this is a 12-ounce glass or something. So it’s probably 10 ounces of water, 12 ounces of… Two ounces of vodka, not 12 ounces of water. Vodka.

Z: You definitely would taste the vodka in that.

A: I would say it’s probably 2 ounces of water, probably 8 ounces of water because there’s some ice in here.

Z: Oh, you put some ice in. Okay, interesting.

A: Yeah and I didn’t do it lime because I want to get the pure experience. I don’t want a lime water.

Z: So I have no ice. I just have 2 ounces of vodka and 4 ounces of water, I measured.

J: Is your water, like, room-temperature water?

Z: No, it’s like the cold from my sink, I didn’t do anything special.

A: Yeah, the water’s cold in Seattle.

Z: No, to be fair, my vodka was in the freezer, so it is cold.

A: Oh, okay. What vodka did you use?

Z: I used NEFT. You can listen to the podcast I did with those folks a while back if you’re curious.

A: Oh, NEFT is great.

Z: Yeah, well, I like to keep it in my freezer because I like to have vodka there and the oil barrel package is really convenient to fit in my freezer. So yeah, it works well. All right, let’s do this.

A: We had Tito’s, let’s try.

Z: Yeah.

J: Smells like…

A: Smells like rubbing alcohol that’s in water. It smells like watered-down rubbing alcohol.

Z: Yeah. This format does not do vodka any favors, I don’t think.

A: This is horrible.

J: Oh my goodness.

A: This is horrible. You know what this tastes like? This tastes like the tears of children.

Z: No, I’m familiar with the tears of children and they don’t taste like this, Adam.

A: Horrible. When children cry, it’s so bad. You’re like, “Oh God, again?” That’s what this is.

J: No, this tastes like when you topped up your parents’ vodka bottle with water.

A: Exactly.

Z: The weirdest thing about this to me, is that I agree with you about the smell, you smell the alcohol, but I do really feel like I, even with just 4 ounces of water, it’s not that I don’t taste the vodka, I taste something in there, but it’s already become dilute enough that it doesn’t… It’s weirdly very drinkable and I can now drink it.

J: That’s the point, right?

A: Yeah, you would kind of understand that, actually.

Z: If you’re someone who’s, again like we said at the top, if you’re someone who does not want to stand on pretense, wants to get drunk and wants to do it without really having to work too hard at it, I guess I get the point of this drink. It’s just, as you said Adam, it’s so joyless, there’s no pleasure in this. And again, I don’t really have a lot of experience in the wide range of various substances one can use to alter their consciousness, but I would like to believe that there are ways that people could get to a state of intoxication they want to get, that are more fun along the way. But people out there, you do you, to some extent.

J: If you drink vodka waters, please…

A: Let us know.

J: Let us know.

A: No judgment.

J: Nope. Well… We’re still curious, though.

Z: We’ll publicly judge you.

A: No, I will not name you. [email protected] and yeah, the only thing I can think of, as a parting message as we’re thinking about this and talking about it and tasting it, is we talked about the shots, right? I think there are a lot of people who go out and they’re there to get it done and they just take a bunch of shots and then they dance the night away. This, I can see how it almost is the easier way to take a bunch of shots, because when it’s water, you could chug this. I’m not advocating for that at all, but because it’s just water with vodka and, mine again is like 12 ounces of water, you could drink this pretty quickly and go get another one. Whereas with a vodka soda because of the bubbles and the gassy effects, you drink it more slowly, you just do.

J: Oh, but I also think that probably, I’m assuming, that there are people who want this drink to last and if you don’t mind the way it tastes, it’s a drink that you can have in your hand for a long time. Longer than a shot, longer than a vodka on the rocks. And you’re not actually, it’s kind of the opposite of what we’re saying, it’s not drinking to get drunk. I don’t think that’s the people who were interviewed for the story, but it’s like a way to have a drink for a while without getting too drunk.

A: Well, let us know what you think. Have a great weekend. I hope there’s amazing drinks in your future that are not vodka waters, and I will see you both here Monday.

J: Cool.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.