These Vodkas Are Meant for Sipping Not Chugging

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(image: Tim Nusog)

If tequila is often imbibed as a shot and they say gin is made for cocktails, where does that leave vodka? With a good variety of premium vodka on the market these days, the answer is clear: Leave vodka out of cocktails and start sipping. After all, Russians have been drinking it neat for centuries, and it’s the best-selling spirit in the U.S., with premium sales rising. So who needs a mixer? Using unique grains, stills and filtration techniques, these eight vodkas are worth tasting neat.

1. Stolichnaya elit

With roots in Russia, elit ($60) is made with elements of old and new, including grains from Stolichnaya’s own farmland, a triple-distillation process and filtration via fine quartz sand and activated charcoal and then freeze-filtered at 18 degrees Celsius to eliminate any last impurities (taking a cue from an old Russian tradition of leaving casks outside in frigid winter elements). What’s left is a clear, balanced product with light notes of wheat.

What to expect: A clean, fresh and smooth creamy taste and a velvety feel

2. Absolut Elyx

The first luxury vodka from the famed Swedish company, Elyx ($40) is made, distilled and bottled in a 15-mile radius of the Ahus in the Skane region of Sweden. Using single-estate winter wheat, a copper column still from 1921 (which naturally eliminates any unwanted sulphur-based compounds via copper), the liquid is later blended with Ahus purified water. The bottle’s copper accents are a nod to the still and, while familiar, set it apart from Absolut’s other offerings.

What to expect: Slightly peppery and sweet with a clean, light finish

3. Aylesbury Duck

Made with winter wheat grown in Canada and bottled in California’s Napa Valley, using water from a well in Mendocino County with exceptionally clean water, Aylesbury Duck ($25) is the result of a no-nonsense approach. The 86 Co. uses three stills in distilling and a particle filtration system resulting in a spirit with medium complexity and dryness.

What to expect: A touch of sweetness with notes of vanilla, fennel and bit of black pepper

4. Grey Goose VX

What happens when you take Grey Goose vodka and spike it with cognac? A French blend called VX ($75), made with 95 percent of the clear spirit with 5 percent cognac. Grey Goose’s creator began as a cellar master in cognac and sought to marry the two spirits, creating limited batches designed to be sipped neat. The grapes are from the Grande Champagne region in southern France and aged for two years before blending with the vodka, but despite coming in a bottle that looks like a cognac decanter, this falls squarely in the vodka category.

What to expect: Hints of cotton-candy sweetness with plum and citrus notes and a rich but light feel

5. Hophead

Anchor Distilling Co. branched out from brewing beer into distilling more than 20 years ago and in 2013 added Hophead ($35) to its portfolio. Made with two kinds of hops, the vodka is colorless yet smells hoppy (much like a brewery) and is distilled using small copper pot stills, instead of a continuous still, resulting in a spirit that retains much of the flavors—just what one would expect when a distillery partners with a brewmaster.

What to expect: Fresh and aromatic with hoppy qualities and a grassy, floral taste sans bitterness.

6. Snow Leopard

Started as a way to save endangered snow leopards by philanthropist Stephen Sparrow in 2005, Snow Leopard ($40) uses high-protein grain spelt, which is costlier than wheat or rye, grown without pesticides. Distilling spring water six times, the result is a smooth and slightly nutty spirit. In keeping with the company’s mission, 15 percent of profits are donated to snow leopard conservation.

What to expect: A creamy, nutty slightly vanilla flavor with a hint of peppery spice

7. Crystal Head

Encased in a skull-shaped bottle that stands out on any shelf with a celebrity name behind it (Dan Aykroyd), Crystal Head ($50) was certainly met with a fair amount of skepticism when it launched in 2008. It proved to be a hit with both customers and critics and is selling quite well, no doubt due to grains and Canadian water that are quadruple-distilled and triple-filtered through crystals (known as Herkimer diamonds), resulting in a pure spirit without added sugar, glycerin or citrus oil.

What to expect: A hint of sweetness and creaminess with a smooth finish

8. Reyka

When you combine some of the world’s cleanest water with grains from nearby Scotland, lava rock filtration and a Carter-Head still, the result is something that can only come out of Iceland. Reyka ($23) utilizes the best of Iceland’s natural elements, most notably lava rocks that eliminate all impurities, and the still, the first of its kind to distill vodka, yielding a smooth, clean product made in very small batches.

What to expect: A well-rounded, clean and slightly sweet taste with hints of fruit

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Discussion (9)

  • jaymemariemaccom1002521628 posted 9 months ago

    Reyka vodka for the win!! And for the person, who said that vodka is for "alcoholics and teenagers", so is rum, whiskey, gin, etc. It is ALCOHOL. Vodka is versatile and is such a fun way to capture the essence of a season, via infusing. I love infusing vodka with seasonal produce and then mixing it with other interesting components. CHEERS!! PS - Snow Leopard is on my radar, as well.

  • Shelley-Ann Kelley posted 9 months ago

    I have two vodka obsessions. One is Effen (that's Dutch for "smooth"), and the other is Blue Ice Potato Vodka, distilled in Idaho. While Effen is available in my current home state of Montana, I am only able to enjoy Blue Ice when I'm in Idaho. Reyka is sold in Target stores in Washington State. I bought a bottle about a year ago and enjoyed it every much. I will have to see which of the vodkas on this list are sold in my area (Montana, Idaho, Washington) and give them a try. Thanks, Cindy Augustine and Liquor.com.

  • dmendelson.ad963 posted 9 months ago

    Smoothest Vodka I ever tasted is Blat from Spain. I hate the name and the package but it is undeniably silky smooth and is certified by the U.S. government to have zero impurities. I look forward to tasting the Vodkas you have listed to compare.

  • rickyleepotts posted 9 months ago

    Good list of vodka... The Hophead sounds amazing and the Reyka is incredible. Some of the others sound delicious, too. Also pretty cool to see Dan Aykroyd's vodka on the list. He travels around signing autographs and promoting the vodka. Cheers!

  • the_email_97f2 posted 9 months ago

    The Crystal Head I had a few years ago was terrible. Very harsh, nasty stuff.

  • mandieschmidt0521.e7185 posted 9 months ago

    Nateflynn, where do you get off saying "Vodka is for alcoholics and teenagers"? I haven't been a teenager for 17 years, and I rarely drink! However, I do enjoy vodka and I do sip it. You don't know what you're talking about!!

  • jdpeters.a47b13 posted 9 months ago

    This list is decent. I would add in ZYR vodka. My current favorite. A buttery mouth feel and slightly sweet.

  • gfulp20 posted 9 months ago

    All good vodkas except the Grey Goose VX, which is awful. If you want a good vodka infused with cognac try Twenty Grand. They did it first and for a hell of a lot less money.

  • nateflynnhotmailcom114804191 posted 9 months ago

    Vodka is for alcoholics and teenagers.


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