Vodka is a neutral grain spirit, can be made from an array of agricultural products, including beets, but most have a corn base (‘most’ being ‘most’ less expensive Vodkas). See a list of leading vodkas and their grain base below. It’s a given that drinking a Vodka martini requires a first-rate Vodka. The roiling question is, when you mix Vodka with tonic, is good Vodka detectable or does the tonic make the quality of the Vodka irrelevant? I’m not a Vodka drinker. What’s your opinion? See how to make a perfect Vodka martini in the video below.
One of the distinctions of Vodka versus Whiskey/Bourbon is that Vodka needs no aging, no toasted oak barrels.
While we tend to think that Vodka has no distinctive characteristics, quality Vodkas definitely do have their own personalities, mostly evident in the mouth feel and the degree of sweetness or lack thereof. See some tasting notes below that you may or may not agree with.
There are many premium vodkas. The following are considered some of the best-selling Vodkas in the U.S.
Best Selling Premium Vodkas:
Absolut (Sweden) – made from “winter” wheat, 80 proof
Belvedere (Poland) – made from Polish rye. No final filtration, 80 proof
Chopin (Poland) – made from potatoes, 80 proof
Grey Goose (France) – made from wheat, 80 proof
Ketel One (Holland) – made from wheat, 80 proof
Skyy (California) – made from Midwestern grains (gluten-free), 80 proof
Smirnoff (Russia) – made from corn, 70 proof
Stolichnaya (Russia) – made from “winter” wheat, 80 proof
Tito’s Handmade (US – Texas) – made from corn, 80 proof
Van Gogh (Holland) – made from small batches of wheat, corn and barley, 80 proof
Here are some tasting notes of the most popular Vodkas, along with the source:
Absolut: an oily, silky sweet texture
Stolichnaya: clean and watery with an almost medicinal finish
Source: Russian Life (page no longer available)
Grey Goose: The liquor has a smoky aroma, with hints of mint and grain. The flavor is off-dry, has a moderate bite and has notes of wheat and cocoa bean. ‘Spirits Journal’ gave Grey Goose a 4-star rating, and the vodka was rated #1 by the Beverage Testing Institute of Chicago, receiving a rating of 96 out of a possible 100.
Ketel One: It is mildly spicy and slightly sweet with a rich texture and a long citrusy finish. ‘Kindred
Spirits’ says it is one of the ‘most complex and multilayered unflavored vodkas in the marketplace,’
and gave the vodka a 4-star rating (highly recommended). ‘Wine Enthusiast’ gives it 87 points. Ketel One was the winning vodka in Russian Life magazine’s 1998 International Vodka Taste Off.
Skyy: This produces an extremely clean, satiny and refined vodka. Nuances of cocoa and grain flavors and some tropical fruit tones. A light but not lightweight vodka. ‘Kindred Spirits’ gives it a 3-star (recommended) rating.
Stolichnaya: ‘Kindred Spirits’ describes it as ‘potent, kicky…’ with ‘deep licorice and herbal flavors’ and gives it a 3-star rating (recommended). Smoky with a touch of fruit. ‘Wine Enthusiast’ gives it 87 points.
Absolut: a distinctly sweet and vanilla nose. It’s soft and pleasant and extremely inviting. The entry is very soft and sweet with distinct vanilla tones backed by very soft and subtle grain tones. There’s very little heat with this vodka and the finish is as smooth and easy as the entry. After drinking vodka “A” we had a distinctly sweet taste left in our mouth. It’s an affable vodka and one we’d absolutely consider drinking.
Grey Goose: a more grainy nose, with a little bit of a floral, fruity undertone, but very subtle. The entry is much more grain forward, big taste with nice floral mid tones. There’s a little bite in the finish and the grain flavor really lingers as the heat fades and leads to a nice cool clean mouth. With this vodka you get less vanilla and more grain. There’s a nice complexity, and again it’s a vodka we’d definitely drink again.
Smirnoff: a very subtle nose with just a hint of grain. The entry of this vodka is soft with some nice vanilla notes that pair with an undertone of grain notes. This vodka has an inherently clean feeling in the mouth and the finish carries the flavor along with a nice cool and clean finish. This vodka captures some of the great sweet tones from vodka “A” [Absolut] and the complexity of “B” [Grey Goose], and a little bolder on the finish.
Chopin: Behold, a potato vodka of the highest order. A little oily, with a hint of lemon-lime when you swish it around in your mouth, Chopin delivers just enough burn on the way down the gullet to reinforce the notion that you are, in fact, a grown-up drinking a big-people drink. Source: Gayot
Grey Goose: …pure vodka deliciousness. Source: Gayot
Ketel One: Slight citrus aromas on the nose leading to a smooth offering of wheat with a slight sweetness following. A developing hint of spice near the end creates a long, crisp finish. Source: Drink Enthusiast