We’re living in the golden age of spirits. Never before have there been more bottles of booze vying for a parking space on your bar cart. We lean on the pros to help you build a bottle list from scratch.
If you think all vodka is the same, think again. The clear spirit can be made from essentially anything that's fermented, from rye or wheat to potatoes, fruits, even milk. And beyond the different flavors, there’s also a variety of textures, from clean and crisp to creamy or velvety. Certain vodkas are made to shine in cocktails, while others deserve the spotlight all to themselves.
To put together your top five essential bottles, we grabbed two vodka experts. General manager of Red Square at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas Christopher Morales is responsible for the bar's epic vodka collection, which spans more than 100 bottles from around the globe. And from the other side of the world, Annie Shearer represents Auckland, New Zealand's Vodka Room, a bar boasting a 150-bottle vodka portfolio, as well as travel-themed vodka tasting flights: economy, business, first class and prestige.
These are the five essential vodka bottles to stock in your home bar.
For his first pick, Morales went with a versatile cocktail favorite. “Wódka is one of the last estate-grown Dankowski rye vodkas left in Poland, which they pay tribute to with the old-style label,” he says, referring to a specific traditional type of rye grain used for Polish vodka.
“This is a well-balanced vodka with a slight sweetness and a hint of spice,” says Morales. “It’s perfect to mix with your favorite juice or in a Moscow Mule, making it an easy go-to cocktail vodka.”
While there's a near-endless amount of flavored vodkas on the market, Shearer has a different suggestion for you. “Rather than filling a liquor cabinet with flavored vodkas, we encourage the home bartender to explore infusions,” she says. “Infusions give you variety and control of the final product, and decanting a bottle of vodka into several jars, filled with herbs, fruit and spices, draws curious guests over to your liquor cabinet.”
Shearer says Skyy is the ideal candidate for such DIY projects. “You want an moderately priced, quality vodka with residual sugar so you don't need to then spend time working on balancing out sugar levels when you work with flavors on the bitter scale,” she says. Her top recommendations for easy home infusions include basil and blueberry, rosemary, Earl Grey, and vanilla.
Morales looks to the motherland for his next pick. “Russian Standard Gold is a 100 percent Russian product from St. Petersburg, inspired by an old Siberian recipe made popular by Peter the Great,” he says.
“They use winter wheat and blend in extract from Siberian ginseng root, offering a rich and smooth flavor with a nice complexity on the tongue,” says Morales. While you could sip this chilled or neat, he dubs this one the perfect choice for “shooting with friends.”
There's an added bonus for choosing Russian Standard Gold as well. “For the movie buffs, this is the bottle that Viggo Tarasov pours himself a drink from before he tells the story of Baba Yaga in ‘John Wick,’” says Morales.
Shearer keeps us in Russia with another staple, one she recommends keeping in the freezer, ready to pour and slowly sip.
“Beluga Noble is triple-filtered and then rested for 30 days,” says Shearer, though she warns to not pay too much attention to bottles offering dubious purity claims along the lines of “20 times distilled!” and to look for something more.
“Beluga Noble offers so much more than much-overused nods to purity,” says Shearer. “It's flavorful, rich and savory with subtle oat notes, Beluga has a distinct mouthfeel and character. A long, dry, lingering finish and a black pepper spice characterize the aftertaste of this vodka in the Russian tradition.”
Even when you're at home and not in Vegas, Morales knows that sometimes you either want something to impress your guests or something you can simply savor yourself. “When you come home after a long day at work and you want that nice glass to sip on and unwind, Carbonadi would be the way to go,” he says. “This ultra-premium vodka is from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy and is made from organic wheat and nearby water from the Italian Alps.”
The spirit is imported to California and then goes through a few final stages before it's ready for your relaxation session. The key piece is filtration through its namesake, carbonado, known as the toughest form of natural diamond.
“It's filtered one final time through carbonado, a natural material known as black diamonds,” says Morales. “Along with micro-oxygenation, these final steps create an incredibly smooth, crisp and clean vodka. This is perfect in a classic Martini, or my preference would be with a couple of ice cubes and a lemon twist.”