Industry figures show that sales of the UK's home-grown spirit may soon be eclipsed by vodka. But the latter doesn't have to be tasteless firewater
According to figures from Nielsen this week, sales of vodka are set to eclipse those of blended whisky in the next four years, making vodka the UK's favourite spirit for the first time. Blended whisky sales are down 1.7% to 49.7m litres, and vodka is snapping at its heels, up 0.3% to 44.6m litres. (Regardless of its unfairly fusty, pipe-and-slippers image, whisky is a big financial deal, and makes up a quarter of British food and drink exports. Scotch whisky exports are worth £135 a second to the UK economy, and blended makes up around four-fifths of those sales. If vodka really does get the top spot, it will make a lot of people both north and south of the border rather nervous.)
Some analysts think the change is down to younger drinkers preferring the bland flavour of vodka over the complexities of whisky, but that does a disservice to both sides. Cheap and nasty blended whiskies are just as one-note as a tasteless vodka - think overwhelming caramel, oak or smoke - while plenty of vodkas are full of flavour, such as Konik's Tail, a Polish vodka made with a blend of three grains; Vestal's creamy potato vodkas; or Chopin, made with rye, which has a slightly spicy, vanilla taste.
Obviously, some young drinkers aren't interested in the flavour of whatever gets them hammered - what else (apart from using them as hangover cures) explains the enduring popularly of Red Bull and other sticky-sweet energy drinks? But if that were true for everyone, then we wouldn't have seen the steep increase in gin drinking, up 6% to just under 16m litres, which, with its (also unfair) reputation for causing bad parenting and depression, plus its distinctive juniperiness, is a far harder sell than either vodka or whisky.
If you can't stand vodka as it comes, then try a flavoured bottle (gin is, in fact, just juniper-flavoured vodka). The recent launch of Oddka means you can have popcorn, grass, even "electricity-flavoured" vodka (if this sounds like an attempt to catch the yoof market, you're probably right). Or have a nip of Sipsmith's more upmarket damson vodka or Chase's marmalade vodka.
Top photo: Russian vodkas: the UK now buys 44.6m litres of vodka a year. Photograph: Alamy