She calls herself the Vodka Princess. "Actually that's not quite true - my boss called me that and it stuck," giggles Miranda Dickson. She's in charge of vodka at Revolution, a chain of bars springing up around the country. And what Dickson doesn't know about vodka isn't worth knowing.
Vodka is the world's number one spirit, and showing no signs of slowing up. And latest figures (from AC Nielsen) reveal that in Scotland, more vodka than whisky is drunk in the on-trade. Hardly surprising, then, that Revolution, owned by Inventive Leisure, has grown from its first bar, opened in Manchester's Oxford Road in 1996, to the 33 (and rising) Revolutions of today.
Vodka has been in England for only about 100 years, but the last 25 years have seen some serious action on the marketing front. Vodka accounts for 25% of spirit sales worldwide, and much of its popularity is down to its seemingly neutral flavour, which makes it ideal for mixing. But, as Revolution will show you, vodka can be anything but neutral.
Vodka makes up 38% of the sales mix at Revolution, compared with an average 7% of vodka sales elsewhere. Revolution offers more than 50 premium vodkas from around the world, and over 100 ways of enjoying it, including twice-yearly vodka festivals (which focus on its premium range), a sizeable cocktail list (reviewed annually) and its themed menus.
The drinks list alone is enough to get your juices going. Written by Dickson, who is also responsible for in-house training, it covers the history of vodka, the lowdown on all the imported premium vodkas (complete with phonetic spellings so you can really act like a vodka buff), an explanation about Revolution's vodka flavours and infusions made in its "factory" in Oldham (flavours include bubblegum, and rhubarb and custard), plus copious cocktail recipes. Not forgetting the pitchers, which account for 8% of total sales (the pitchers contain at least six shots of vodka and plenty of ice).
So how did Dickson get into all this? "I'd been working in bars for a while when I got the job managing the first Revolution in Manchester," says the 28-year-old. "I didn't know anything about vodka back then, so I took it upon myself to learn about it."
She read books, scoured the internet and got tasting. Now she has visited many of the world's vodka producers, from Finland to France.
Her favourite is Luksusowa (looks-uhs-over), a Polish vodka distilled from potatoes grown in specific microclimates along the Baltic Coast and using water from Artesian wells. "So not any old spuds - it's the Chardonnay of the vodka world," declares Dickson. Much heavier in style to traditional rye vodka, it is buttery and dense.
Next up is Zubrowka (zhu-bruff-ka), which owes its delicate flavour to bison grass - a wild herb that grows in small clumps only in the Bialowieza forest (where the bison still roam). "It has wonderfully complex aromas of grass, hay, thyme and lavender with citrus, vanilla and marzipan on the palate, and coconut on the finish - and it flows through the blood of all vodka princesses," she says. And it's great with apple juice, too.
Dickson also loves Wisniowka (vee-sh-knee-uf-ka), which completes her Polish hat-trick. Made from a cherry infusion and fresh cherry juice from Polish orchards (of course), it has an intense red and black cherry jam nose with a honeyed almond finish.