If you think all vodka is the same, think again. The clear spirit can be made out of just about anything, from rye to potatoes, fruit to milk. The diversity results in different flavors, but also a variety of textures––clean and crisp, creamy or velvety. Certain vodkas are made to shine in cocktails, while others deserve the spotlight all to themselves.
To select our five essential bottles, we grabbed two vodka experts. General manager Christopher Morales of Red Square at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is responsible for the bar’s epic vodka collection, which spans more than 100 bottles from around the globe. From the other side of the world, Annie Shearer represents Auckland, New Zealand’s Vodka Room, boasting a 150-bottle vodka portfolio and travel-themed tasting flights: economy, business, first class and prestige. Prepare to upgrade your home bar.
Beluga Noble ($40)
“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!’ “Beluga Noble offers so much more than much-overused nods to purity. It’s flavorful, rich and savory with subtle oat notes and 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.” Keep this one in the freezer, ready to pour and slowly sip.
“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,” says Morales. “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. It’s filtered through carbonado, a natural material known as black diamonds. 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.”
Russian Standard Gold ($35)
“Russian Standard Gold is a 100-percent Russian product from St. Petersburg, inspired by an old Siberian recipe made popular by Peter the Great,” says Morales. “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.” While you could sip it chilled or neat, he dubs this one the perfect choice for “shooting with friends.” There’s a bonus: “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.’”
“Rather than filling a liquor cabinet with flavored vodkas, we encourage the home bartender to explore infusions,” says Shearer. “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.” Skyy is the ideal candidate for such DIY projects, she says, adding, “You want a 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.” Her top recommendations for easy home infusions include basil and blueberry, rosemary, Earl Grey and vanilla.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
“Wódka is one of the last estate-grown Dankowski rye vodkas left in Poland, which they pay tribute to with the old-style label,” says Morales, referring to a traditional type of rye grain used for Polish vodka. This one is a versatile favorite for mixing into cocktails. “It’s a well-balanced vodka with a slight sweetness and a hint of spice,” he adds. “Perfect to mix with your favorite juice or in a Moscow Mule, making it an easy go-to cocktail vodka.”