Liquor Nerd: When it comes to showing major love for Pride, vodka is the one spirit that's historically topped all others

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      It’s one thing to proclaim you’ve got no shortage of Pride and quite another to step up and proudly fly the rainbow flag. When it comes to liquor nerdom, one spirit trumps all others on social accountability.

      You know that spirit as the essential ingredient in the favourite drinks of LGBTQ+ giants ranging from legendary author Truman Capote to Canuck comedy breakout king Dan Levy to Orange Is the New Black trailblazer Laverne Cox.

      Stumped? Let’s make things simple: the answer is vodka. Beating whisky, tequila, gin, rum, and brandy to the party, vodka has entrenched itself over the last decade as the go-to spirit for Pride.

      Sweden’s famously forward-thinking Absolut was one of the first brands to show unconditional love and support for the international LGBTQ+ community, including launching a Pride-themed bottle back in 2008. That year saw the iconic rainbow flag turn 30 years old, and to celebrate Absolut did a collaboration with its creator—artist, activist, and Harvey Milk bestie Gilbert Baker.

      A decade later, 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the rainbow flag. Looking to pay tribute to Baker, who died in 2017, and to leave zero doubts about its commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, Absolut made its rainbow bottle a permanent member of the brand’s family. That was only fitting given the company’s long history of being socially and politically progressive.

      Absolut was a ground-floor sponsor of the GLAAD Media Awards and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and has donated over US$40 million to initiatives like the film-focused OUTFEST and the meal-progam God’s Love We Deliver. The brand has also gone to admirable lengths to raise awareness and address the importance of tolerance at the time when the world has never seemed more intolerant. In 2019 Absolut released a limited-edition vodka titled Drop, where labels were created by incorporating ink samples collected from hate signs and placards around the world. The company’s official message, besides turning disgustingly negative messages into a positive one, was the importance of “spreading love through action”.

      Absolut isn’t the only vodka company that’s embraced members of LGBTQ+ nation.
      In 2018, Stolichnaya came out with a limited-edition Harvey Milk bottle adorned with the face of one of America’s first openly gay politicians. That same year on his birthday, Stoli also unveiled a commissioned mural of Milk in the Castro neighbourhood where he lived.

      That was preceded by a decade of Stolichnaya initiatives that included product support and donations to groups and events across the States, including the high-profile LGBTQ+ bartending competition Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic. To get a handle on the importance of such contributions from the Russia-spawned company, Google “LGBT rights in Russia”. And then remember that change only takes place when people commit to making the world a better place—backlash be damned.

      The riginally Russian-based Smirnoff stepped up in 2017 with a campaign known as Love Wins featuring LGBTQ+ bottle packaging. No two rainbow-adorned labels were identical, and each featured images of real love and real people. Smirnoff donated a buck from each of the 260,000 bottles sold to the Human Rights Campaign, the U.S. organization working to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality.

      America’s Skyy vodka made history in 2001 with an ad known as “The Proposal”. Turning a spotlight on lesbian marriage long before it was on the radar of many North Americans, the campaign had one woman proposing to another, with a giant diamond engagement as the prize at the bottom of a SKYY bottle. Later ads have included two men in a hurry to push the “Stop” button in an elevator, the message being that, universally, sometimes it’s exciting to get things started in a place where there’s a delicious danger of being caught.

      In 2018—a time when the MAGA hordes were steering America into the dark—SKYY looked into the light with a Home of the Brave campaign focused on diversity. RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Trixie Mattel and Dusty Ray Bottoms were joined by the likes of out-Olympian freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, the message being that America is at its best when everyone is invited to the party.

      And the funny thing about liquor’s major spirits is that everyone doesn’t seem to be welcome at the table.

      Google “LGBTQ+ and tequila”, and the only brand that seems determined to make a commitment to the cause is Identity. And even there, there’s something about that commitment that smells like a marketing ploy—hop on the website of the self-described millennial brand, and you’ll find this: “Identity was created to celebrate not only the LGBT community but to all who enjoy the fine craft of Tequila.” But whatever—at least its makers are trying.

      The main hit of “LGBTQ+ and bourbon”, meanwhile, is a story where Hollis Bulleit, the lesbian daughter of Bulleit Bourbon founder Tom Bulleit, alleges she was jettisoned from the company for being attracted to other women.

      Gin fairs a little better, but results nonetheless suggest that vodka is—not surprisingly, tops on the list when it comes to having a long relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. No surprise there considering that the love not only seems to go both ways, but also appears to be genuine.

      Why vodka? A major reason might be this: of all the main spirits, it’s the one that’s the most welcoming—playing well with almost everything: cranberry, orange, and pineapple juices, sodas of all flavours, coconut cream, on the rocks, or buried in a milky Paralyzer.

      It’s so adaptable that posted 11 different recipes a few weeks back about how you can use vodka as the base for drinks from a vast rainbow of colours: Black Manhattan, Blue Hawaiian, Green Mojito, and Orange Aperol Spritz to name a few. Let’s not forget the Cosmopolitan—the pink-hued favourite of Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, and Orange Is the New Black’s Cox. Here’s the original recipe, dating back to the mid-’70s.


      1.5 oz vodka citron
      .5 oz Cointreau
      .5 oz fresh lime juice
      1 oz cranberry juice

      Shake all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a large cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice. 

      Mike Usinger is not a professional bartender. He does, however, spend most of his waking hours sitting on barstools.