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An unaged spirit distilled and filtered repeatedly to achieve smoothness and clarity, vodka has had a reputation for blandness. It was even long defined as "without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color" by The Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). In April 2020, though, the bureau dropped the definition that held vodka back, acknowledging something that experts know: vodkas are wildly diverse, distilled using everything from grains to grapes, milk to maple sap.
With that said, how should you decide among them? Charles Joly, spirits tasting judge and founder of Crafthouse Cocktails, says “Most people want something relatively neutral, but that doesn't mean it has to lack character.” When he judges a vodka, he considers the quality of the distillate: “It shouldn’t have an aggressive burn." He wants an aroma that hints at the raw material used to make the vodka, be it grapes, potatoes, or grain. And he looks for a creamy mouthfeel without a cloying glycerin texture, as well as a clean, mouthwatering finish.
From big, bold, and spicy to smooth and sweet, or anything in between, there’s a vodka out there for every palate. Because of its robust flavor profile, the Hangar 1 Vodka is our choice for the overall best option available.
With the help of our experts, below you'll find a curated list of the best vodkas to get right now.
Best Overall: Hangar 1 Vodka
Region: California | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Orange, White pepper, Cinnamon
In 2002, St. George Spirits birthed this small-batch vodka in an old aircraft hangar in California. Proximo Spirits, which bought the brand back in 2010, still produces it at the old Naval Air Station Alameda on San Francisco Bay, albeit in a new distillery.
There, a wheat-based, column-distilled vodka gets blended with vodka made from viognier grapes that have been run through copper pot stills. The result boasts a layered flavor profile that spans the divide between syrupy and savory, between subtlety and burns. Hangar 1 is a vodka that will please everyone at the party, from newbies wanting a slightly fruity touch to their Cosmopolitans to seasoned imbibers looking for a rounded floral perfume in their Gibson.
Best for Sipping: Absolut Elyx Vodka
Region: Sweden | ABV: 42.3% | Tasting notes: Malt, Citrus, Grass
“I love sipping vodka straight from the freezer,” says Tony Abou-Ganim, star bartender and author of "Vodka Distilled." “It’s a beautiful, velvety liquid when it gets to that temperature, then it reveals itself as it warms up.” The go-to in his deep-freeze is this premium Swedish bottle. Made with single-estate winter wheat, it has a “sharp brightness,” he says, that “elevates all those malty, grainy flavors” in standard Absolut.
Good to Know:
The true test of a sipping spirit? Make sure it pairs deliciously with food. Great sipping vodkas, Abou-Ganim says, “cuts through caviar like a knife; it goes with pickled herring, stinky cheese, charcuterie, foie gras, gravlax—anything cured."
Best Flavored: Square One Organic Cucumber Vodka
Region: United States | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Fresh Cucumber, Floral
Savory and sweet notes balance beautifully in this elegant bottle made with certified organic American rye. The silky, candied profile of a carefully distilled vodka meets the garden-fresh flavor of the hand-peeled cucumbers that infuse it for a sippable spirit that’s a shoo-in for a lithe Bloody Mary but which also yields a dynamite vodka Gibson.
Best for Bloody Marys: Absolut Peppar
Region: Sweden | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: White pepper, Red pepper, Vanilla
For the The Cocktail Professor Anthony Baker, the best vodka for a Bloody Mary is the one originally developed for the drink. The world’s first flavored vodka, Absolut Peppar has been going strong for 35 years, spiking the favorite brunch drink with “just enough spice so that you feel it, but it’s not burning hot,” says Baker.
With its relatively light body and its mild burn, it makes a drink that enhances the pleasure of the meal without knocking you out for the rest of the day.
Related: The Best Flavored Vodkas
Best Polish: Belvedere Smogory Forest Single-Estate Rye Vodka
Region: Poland | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Spicy, Nutty, Creamy
Abou-Ganim describes Belvedere, the quintessential Polish vodka, as “Big, bold, and robust.” It’s distilled three times from just Dankowski Gold rye and artesian well water, then filtered twice—a measured amount of refinement for today’s vodka standards. It retains the character of the grain, but with a silkiness that buoys its booming flavor: nuts and vanilla, spices, and cream.
Slava Borisov of Travelle at The Langham Hotel in Chicago raves about the Smogory Forest version, which is part of Belvedere's newest vodkas made with rye sourced from single estates. The bottle is distilled with grain grown near its namesake in Western Poland. “It has notes of salted caramel, honeycomb, and white pepper,” she says.
Best for Moscow Mules: Tito's Handmade Vodka
Region: Texas | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Roasted corn, White pepper, Smoke
America’s first craft vodka, Tito's from Austin, Texas, has been the choice for trendy cocktailians since it hit the market in 1997. It’s made from corn for a deep, rich flavor, and Abou-Ganim is a long-time fan.
“There’s a grainy sweetness to it,” he says. Thanks to Tito’s corn-based earthiness, this gluten-free spirit pairs perfectly with the spicy profile of the ginger beer or ginger ale in a classic Moscow Mule.
Best Organic: Humboldt Organic
Region: California | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Crisp, Butterscotch, Grass
Organic American sugarcane is the base ingredient for this popular, small-batch spirit from the Northern California county that lends it its name. The sugarcane brings a blend of clean, grassy notes and sweet, deep butterscotch flavor for a classic craft vodka profile that works well chilled from the fridge. Don’t discount it for cocktails, though. Quadruple-distilled for an easy, crisp sip, it’s great in both fruity and savory drinks.
Best Potato Vodka: Woody Creek Distillers
Region: Colorado | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Potato, Earth, Pepper
While potato vodkas only used to come from Russia, the U.S. now produces outstanding versions of its own. Abou-Ganim’s top choice is this bottle from Colorado-based Woody Creek Distillers.
It’s distilled only once from Rio Grande spuds grown on the distillers’ own farm at alpine altitudes. The process “leaves in a lot of the character of the potatoes,” says Abou-Ganim. “It’s earthy, funky, and vegetal with a rich character." He says it’s the vodka to reach for if you like your martinis big, bold, and garnished with a blue cheese–stuffed olive.
Best for Martinis: Crystal Head Vodka
Region: Newfoundland | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Vanilla, Tropical fruit, Wildflowers
Martinis on the brain? Crack open the skull-shaped bottle of the racy, Crystal Head vodka. It’s made in Newfoundland, using crystalline Canadian water, and it’s distilled four times and filtered through semi-precious Herkimer diamonds a total of seven times—making for a super-easy finish. Flavorwise, there are some vanilla and tropical notes, but they’re matched by a herbaceous savoriness that makes this vodka flexible for both citrus-garnished and dirty, two-olive martinis.
Best for Highballs: Broken Shed Vodka
Region: New Zealand | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Citrus, Grass, Honeysuckle
As Abou-Ganim points out, there’s been a return in the highball, a three-ingredient cocktail of spirit, bubbly water, and crucially, ice. Tall, cool, and refreshing, the highball is the drink of summer for home bartenders, and the New Zealand-based Broken Shed vodka works beautifully in the glass. Distilled from whey and pristine aquifer and mountain water, this spirit has a floral honeyed character and a creamy, luscious body. Yet, there’s nothing overly sweet or cloying in there.
“It has a beautiful natural taste that is light and crisp with a smooth warmth to finish it off,” says Fred Flynn of Wilmington, N.C.'s Manna. Flavorful yet bright, it makes you want to go back for another sip.
Best Budget: Smirnoff Vodka
Region: Washington | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Smooth, Clean, Crisp
“This one is big-time, but they keep up the quality,” says Baker of the world’s most popular vodka. “If the goal of vodka is cleanliness, they still keep this very nice and clean.” Made in the U.S. with non-GMO corn, it’s triple distilled and filtered a breathtaking 10 times to achieve that smooth, crisp, classic character. At these prices, you can’t go wrong with the brand that introduced the spirit to the States.
Best Innovative: Air Vodka
Region: New York | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Clean, Crisp, Smooth
You pretty much can’t get any more virtuous with your vodka drinking than this scientific breakthrough: Vodka made from nothing other than carbon dioxide, water, and sunshine. Its Brooklyn-based producer uses a special, solar-powered technology to convert carbon emissions into ethyl alcohol, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it amps up our Moscow Mules. No farming, no irrigation, no resource extraction. No wonder it’s a NASA prize winner. It tastes pretty good, too: smooth and light.
Best European: Kástra Elión
Region: Greece | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Olives, Vanilla, Silky
Excellent for sipping, Martinis, or other savory drinks, this Greek artisan vodka from a family-owned distillery in Nafpaktos is distilled from Greek olives blended with grains, and smoothed out with spring water from a crystalline rock source. Those oily olives give it a luscious mouthfeel, a richness, and an umami note, balanced by grainy sweetness. There’s just a lot going on in this unique, white bottle.
Best Craft: OYO Vodka
Region: Ohio | ABV: 40% | Tasting notes: Toffee, Cake spice, Citrus
Made by Ohio’s Middle West Spirits, this small-batch spirit gives loads of sweet, rich flavor. It’s a great vodka for holidays, with its dates-and-figs toffeelike character, shot through with a hint of cinammon spice, and finishing in bittersweet orange peel. It’s that finale that keeps you sipping, as the vodka moves from just this side of cloying to palate-cleansing briskness. What a well-crafted sip!
If you’re a fan of sweeter flavors, then Crystal Head (view at Totalwine.com) or Tito’s (view at Wine.com) might be your jam. More into spicy, savory tastes? Go for Absolut Elyx (view at Minibardelivery.com).
What to Look For
The hallmark of vodka is its multiple distillations. Those should add a silky, smooth texture to spirit and decrease any alcohol burn. If it hurts going down, it’s not worthy of your sipping.
There was time when the very definition of vodka was a spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color." Today’s vodkas, however, have real personality, partly derived from the base material and partly because of careful distilling. Vanilla, caramel, citrus, berry, herbs, grass—You should be able to pick out unique flavor components in the glass.
As the Russians know, if there’s one thing vodka is good for, it’s washing down intensely flavored foods: pickles, smoked meats and fish, raw bar. It’s a foil to such foods because, ideally, it finishes clean, crisp, and brisk. Cloying or muddy-tasting vodkas aren’t the best of the lot.
What is vodka made of?
Well, just about anything. Traditionally, vodka was distilled using a starch-based crop that could be converted into sugar during fermentation: potatoes, corn, and grains, essentially. But craft vodkas nowadays are produced using everything from blueberries to milk. You can even make vodka out of thin air, as Air Vodka has shown.
How is vodka made?
Like other spirits, vodka is generally made by fermenting a grain or fruit and then distilling that fermentation. Unlike other spirits, vodka tends to be distilled, and then filtered afterwards, multiple times to achieve its smooth, crystalline character. It is bottled unaged.
What are the different types of vodka?
How much time do you have for an answer? Essentially, the sky’s the limit when making vodka. Any number of raw ingredients can be used, so there are potato vodkas, rye vodkas, wheat vodkas, and many other types based on the base material. There are also a great many flavored vodkas, from spicy chile-infused ones to herbaceous “botanical” vodkas to sweet, fruit-flavored ones.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Betsy Andrews has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. A long-time gin drinker, she first discovered how exciting vodka can be back in 2012 when she was working at Saveur magazine and edited a story on new American craft vodkas. Her favorite way to drink vodka is in a Salty Dog, with fresh grapefruit juice in an iced highball glass with a salted rim.
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