In a standard mixed drink, vodka usually rises to the top, but it all depends on the density of your mixer. Whether your vodka sinks or floats, a simple stirring remedies the situation and gets the taste and color of your drink back on track. Vodka's settling characteristics become a bit more complex, however, when entering layered drink territory. Layered cocktails feature stacked bands of different liquids, making for a strikingly colorful beverage. Before you get to layering a vodka shot or cocktail, you need to know exactly where your vodka will fall.
The Science of Settling
Liquids such as vodka rise or settle due to their relative density, also known as specific gravity. Although each liquid may occupy the same amount of space, each offers its own amount of mass per unit of volume. Sweet, thick, sugary drinks feature a more dense specific gravity, making them sink to the bottom of the glass, while less-dense liquids such as vodka tend to rise to the top. To create the cleanest layers in a layered drink, use a long, flat bar spoon. Position the spoon right on the surface of the bottom layer, then slowly pour the next layer over the spoon so it very gently spills onto the top of lower layer, repeating the process with each layer.
Whether or not your vodka settles depends entirely on the liquids with which it is mixed or layered. Vodka features a specific gravity of about 0.95, meaning that the vast majority of spirits sink underneath this liquor. Vodka floats above common cocktail companions such as most varieties of anise liqueur, cream and coffee liqueurs, fruit liqueurs, schnapps, brandy and light rum. Vodka also rises above its typical mixers, including tonic water, cranberry juice, orange juice and soft drinks, which feature specific gravity ratings ranging from about 0.98 to 1.05. When your mixers settle, re-mix your drink by stirring with a circular motion so that the bowl of the spoon grazes the bottom of the glass, driving the motion with your wrist.
When Vodka Falls
In rare cases, vodka settles to the bottom of the glass. If the other liquids in the drink feature a higher specific gravity, they'll force the liquor to the bottom. Gin usually features a specific gravity just a hair under that of vodka, as do some light varieties of tequila. Flavored or infused vodkas, such as berry, citrus and other fruit-flavored varieties, feature specific gravity ratings of about 0.96 to 0.98, making them more likely to settle under low-density spirits such gin, tequila or dark rum. Specific gravity varies per brand of liquor -- whiskey ranges from about 0.92 to 1.00 or above, for instance -- so you may have to experiment if you're making custom vodka cocktails.
You can see vodka rise or settle in basic layered drinks, such as the Seabreeze #2. For this cocktail, start with ice in a Collins glass, then fill it about halfway with cranberry juice. Fill about a quarter of the glass with pink grapefruit juice and lime juice, layering as you go. Top the drink off with a final layer of two vodka shots for a subtle gradient look. For a more distinctly layered drink, the all-American shooter features a half-part grenadine at the bottom, a middle layer of one part vodka and a top layer of one part blue curacao, making for a patriotic stacked shot. Coffee lovers may enjoy the Antwoine, a shot made of equal parts coffee liqueur, strawberry vodka and vanilla vodka, layered from bottom to top in that order.
- Gizmodo: How to Make a Multi-Layered Drink
- Cocktail Hunter: Bartender Guide: Specific Gravity Chart
- GoodCocktails.com: Specific Gravity of Liqueurs
- Difford's Guide: Seabreeze #2
- Phoenix New Times: Five Red, White and Blue Cocktails for the Fourth of July
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: FAO/INFOOD Density Database Version 2.0 (2012)
- Serious Eats: How to Stir a Cocktail
- Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images