What vodka should I try next?
September 4, 2017 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I've recently gotten interested in vodka, specifically making vodka martinis at home (vodka + vermouth, up with an olive). I've been using Reyka, which I love, but I'd like to try something new. Which one should I try next?

I like Reyka much better than Chopin potato vodka.

I've only had Grey Goose neat, and it was surprisingly good (since I wouldn't normally have vodka neat), but strangely sweet.

I'm not very good at describing these kinds of things, so all I can say about why I like Reyka is it's very, very smooth.

Assume I have access to anything you suggest.
posted by John Cohen to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not vodka expert, but Tito's is my go-to.
posted by tryniti at 12:41 PM on September 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

So to be contrarian, there's a lot of doubt about whether most people can even tell the differences between vodkas, and especially in mixed drinks. Blind taste tests tend to confirm that price and quality aren't necessarily correlated and that many people can't distinguish their favorite brand neat, let alone in a mixed drink. Here's a good one where Grey Goose came in last (beaten by the cheapest Smirnoff) in the neat test and no one could tell what they were drinking in mixed drinks. Link has a nice little history of vodka in the US too.

Many people will vehemently insist they know their vodka and can always tell quality. I'm sure strong opinions are forthcoming here too, and it's cool if you're one of the connoisseurs, as long as you aren't kidding yourself and internalizing marketing and packaging and price differences as "quality." But properly made vodka is supposed to be nearly flavorless diluted ethanol solution. People say they can tell the difference between bottled waters too, but hundreds of blind taste tests suggest otherwise. I suggest you yourself try a blind test of Smirnoff and Tito's and Grey Goose, over the course of a few weeks. You might be surprised at what the extra $20-30 for a 750 of diluted ethanol does or doesn't buy you other than a status symbol or a nice bottle.
posted by spitbull at 12:58 PM on September 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka (Polish)
posted by 15L06 at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Here's a 2005 blind taste test from The NY Times where, again, Smirnoff beats all the fancy brands and Grey Goose comes in way at the back.
posted by spitbull at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like Tito's and Stolichnaya.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:18 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

From my experience, Finlandia is often the vodka connoisuers choice.
posted by jacobean at 1:25 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agree with everything spitbull has said.

The great thing about vodka being the end result of an industrial process with no artistry involved is that there is no reason a high quality product should be difficult or expensive to make. I would also suggest that you find the cheapest vodka you personally enjoy.

I have several brands that I know are good (Stoli, Smirnoff, Monopolowa), and buy whichever happens to be cheapest that day.

On the other hand, if you want vodka that tastes like something, the Hanger 1 flavored vodkas are exceptional. All other flavored vodkas taste like bubble gum in comparison. My favorite is the kaffir lime, in a vodka tonic.
posted by danny the boy at 1:26 PM on September 4, 2017

About ten years ago, so my memory is hazy about the details, I tried the experiment of buying the lowest priced, no name brand vodka from a low cost supermarket, and feeding it through a Brita water filter.

I filtered it a number of times, sampling it each cycle through the filter, I may have just been getting drunk, but each taste test had slightly different results.

I think if i remember correctly, the fourth cycle was nice, but cycle seven was a bit chemically, it was definitely better than no filter at all.
posted by ben30 at 1:26 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


So I wasn't going to bring this up, but I happened to grow up in a church community full of Russian emigres (the kind who hated Soviet communism). The old folks drank vodka like most people drink water (and hey the name means "little water"). They would not drink a Russian-branded product for political reasons. And they were quite snobbish about Finlandia being the vodka they preferred, hands down, followed by Absolut. This was in the 70s and into the 80s, so at the time there weren't a lot of other premium choices. But they definitely preferred Finlandia. I'm just remembering one of those elders used to regale us with stories about making vodka from old shoe leather during the wartime siege of Stalingrad.
posted by spitbull at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far. In response to spitbull's first comment, before I started getting into vodka, I had read about blind taste tests where Grey Goose bombed. I had also seen ones where Chopin came out on top — and I expected to love Chopin. I had never heard of Reyka when I recently bought it at the store. I did a non-scientific martini taste test of those two — not blind, but without a lot of preconceptions. I had a strong preference for Reyka and wasn't particularly impressed with Chopin, even though it's more expensive and has a beautiful bottle. So while I do want to try a blind taste test, I'm pretty sure I'm not preferring one flavorless drink to another purely based on packaging.
posted by John Cohen at 2:08 PM on September 4, 2017

Get your hands on some Hangar One. It's made in a repurposed hangar (obviously) on the same former airbase where Mythbusters used to film. The stuff is smooth enough to drink straight at room temperature.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2017

In terms of combination of price & quality, we really like Luksusowa.
posted by darksong at 2:27 PM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Zubrowka here. It's very unlikely that you'd mistake it for another vodka.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 2:30 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka

Particularly with apple cider.

I've not found this Vodka in Boston, tho.
posted by waving at 3:18 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stoli, rocks. 3 olives.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:21 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Finlandia is extraordinarily smooth; the quality of the water is top notch and the ethanol is pure. Very slightly sweet with almost no aftertaste.

Russian Standard is almost as good, but the water is a little bit different and has a bit more body/flavour.

Iceberg is an interesting one. It's relatively cheaper, uses corn-derived ethanol, and it's "gimmick" is using water from icebergs (from one of the maritime provinces?). It's rather sweet, but smooth drinking.

I can't stand Stolichnaya or Absolute anymore (and I used to drink those like sports drinks), after getting used to Finlandia and RS - these taste oily to me. Ketel One also has this oily texture/taste.

For novelty purposes there's a brand called "Blavod." The quality is nothing special, drinks ok. But its coloured with something that makes it look almost black; if you drink enough of it, it'll turn your poop green.

Crystal Skull is terrible, but the bottles are neat.

Shelter Point Distillery on Vancouver Island is just starting up a whiskey operation - while the first batches were maturing (the first batch came online this year), they produced (and continue to produce?) a line of vodka (flavoured and unflavoured); very interesting vodka with lots of complex taste. Very similar to complex sakes.

As a mixer (even just with vermouth), the quality doesn't really matter so much above a minimum floor. I drink my vodkas straight; if I'm mixing it with anything, I'm not picky. Liquor pricing in BC is weird, the difference between the very cheapest and Finlandia/RS is only a couple of bucks/bottle (but stuff like Grey Goose is a good 125-150%).

If you like vodkas, you might find exploring different sakes and sojus enjoyable. Lower abv but they tend to have a lot more character than vodka.
posted by porpoise at 3:35 PM on September 4, 2017

If you have or have access to a Costco membership, go try their house brand vodkas. The quality may not be a first-in-line, it's quite good though, and the price is stellar.
posted by deezil at 3:49 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Luksusowa. This is my go to for price and quality. It's pretty smooth, and doesn't give me a headache afterwards like some of the cheaper vodkas do.
posted by FireFountain at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2017

Rerun that taste test blind John Cohen. You'd be amazed how much knowing what you're tasting influences your perceptions. If you're pretty sure you can taste the differences, prove it to yourself without a doubt.

Source: 5 years of my life as salesman in the wholesale fine wine business. We also sold spirits. Blind is the only way to taste objectively.
posted by spitbull at 6:37 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also love Luksusowa. it's luxury potato vodka!
and I have a damn hard time believing that smirnoff won a taste test it is repulsive. like if someone made a chemical vodka flavouring and added that to cheap vodka. blea
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:36 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

By far the best vodka I have encountered was Parliament. Not sure how available it is Stateside.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:54 PM on September 4, 2017

I lived in Poland for four years and consistently found through multiple housemates and living situations that Luksusowa was our household favourite (and very reasonably priced for the quality).

That said, Polish vodka contains multitudes, and you should try all of them if you're feeling experimental in the cocktail department; here's a small selection. A word on terminology: Polish uses the word 'nalewki' to describe vodkas with flavourings.

Żołądkowa Gorzka - aged with herbs and spices, great on ice

Krupnik - a honey and herb vodka, wonderful warmed up in the winter with hot water, lemon and mulling spices

Żubrówka - mentioned above, great with apple juice in a drink called a 'tatanka'

Potocki - pricey but a slower distillation process; an excellent non-flavoured vodka
posted by mdonley at 3:57 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Smirnoff has won multiple blind taste tests over more expensive brands. And pricey Grey Goose often comes in at the bottom.

Seriously, taste this stuff blind and to most people they are indistinguishable. In a mixed drink, I'll bet one person in a thousand can identify their own favorite brand.
posted by spitbull at 4:59 AM on September 5, 2017

Just pointing out that in case it's not clear: the Żubrówka and other 'nalewki' mentioned above are FLAVOR INFUSED VOKDAS! OP, you should try those for sure. They will certainly have distinct different and notable flavors, and dodge the whole issue of whether "pure" vodkas largely aspire to be as close to ethanol and water as possible, sell based on reputation and packaging, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:22 AM on September 5, 2017

I've been at and participated in a taste test where Smirnoff won. It was a class/seminar for industry professionals, so we were all high end restaurant/bar people. The test was Smirnoff versus Grey Goose, Absolut, and a few others. Smirnoff beat the others by a wide margin, with yes, Grey Goose in dead last.

My Belarussian sister-in-law, who is a committed vodka drinker, says Smirnoff is good for most things, but likes Russian Standard for shots (because of the aforementioned extra body it seems to have), and Svedka as a cheap option for mixed drinks.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:23 AM on September 5, 2017

Also, to further back up spitbull's points about how similar vodkas actually are... I'm not proud to say this, but for a time when I was younger, I worked in a bar where the skinflint owner would refill premium vodka bottles with generic rail stuff. They served "Grey Goose" and "Stoli" and "Chopin" etc. martinis and cocktails all day long and I think I saw maybe one person ever send their drink back because they didn't recognize their brand. Even the vast majority of people who drink vodka every day can't tell.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:28 AM on September 5, 2017

(I neglected to use the word "blind" above, but the taste test I was at where Smirnoff won was indeed a blind taste test.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2017

Maybe you'd like to try some local Colorado vodka! Here's some from Leopold Bros. and some made in Aspen. I think this is a fun way to familiarize yourself with local distilleries and their offerings regardless of whether you end up liking their vodka the best. I haven't tried the Aspen offerings, but I really like Leopold Bros.
posted by LKWorking at 8:09 AM on September 5, 2017

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