There's nothing simple about vodka, so choosing the best vodka is certainly not as clear cut as it looks.
Yes, gin may be the drink that captures the current love-in for small distilleries and varieties of flavours, but now is time to celebrate its not-so-distant cousin, vodka. Rather than having to navigate those complex botanical flavours in a cocktail, vodka is far more forgiving. It adopts the taste of other ingredients and gives iconic drinks such as Moscow Mules their essential kick.
UPDATED: 19 June is World Martini day so now is the perfect time to grab a bottle from our best vodka guide and get pouring.
While vodka might be filtered to be colour, aroma and flavour-light, as it can be made from different ingredients using various methods, one vodka bears little resemblance to another.
Some makers focus on preserving the taste of the base ingredients while others the flavour of the final spirit. This means that you'll find vodkas that are pleasingly smooth, or those that have a sweet or salty finish.
Pop a bottle in the freezer for a few hours and it'll taste different again. So put your best gin back in the cupboard and make time to become reacquainted with the very best vodkas.
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1. Russian Standard Gold
While the standard Russian Standard is great for cocktails and mixers, for aperitif sipping, take things up a notch with Gold. There are a few differences, and ones you'll probably only be able to pick out while drinking it perfectly chilled, neat or on the rocks.
Like the original, it's made with Russian winter wheat and glacial water but Gold is infused with Siberian ginseng extract. This gives it a richer taste, alongside notes of vanilla, caramel and spearmint, making it more complex, but worth savouring.
2. Cîroc Snap Frost Vodka
A self-proclaimed ‘modern vodka’ made from French grapes, Cîroc is the vodka for people who, up until this point, are convinced they don’t like vodka. Because who could fail to be won over by its citrusy flavours, subtle hint of vanilla, far less harsh vodka burn, and a smoothness that comes from being distilled five times?
It’s ideal for making a range of sweet cocktail favourites, such as Cosmopolitans or fruity martinis, as well as stirred with tonic over plenty of ice.
3. Ketel One
The family behind Ketel One has been distilling for more than 300 years and, although the vodka was only born in 1983, all that expertise is a large part of what makes it special.
Ketel One is distilled using a combination of modern columns and copper pot stills, and named after the oldest pot they had available. It is one of the fresher vodkas you'll find, with hints of citrus and honey, a distinct tingle and a long finish. Great for punch or a dirty martini.
4. Stolichnaya Premium Vodka
Also known as Stoli, Stolichnaya is probably one of the best-known brands to come out of the former Soviet Union, right down to the Moscow landmark on its label. Inside the bottle you’ll find a traditionally made wheat and rye grain vodka that exhibits everything from sweet citrus rind aromas to peppery notes and a slight tartness.
For an authentic Moscow Mule, there’s probably no better but it also pairs well with strong fruit flavours, such as lime, or on the rocks.
5. Belvedere Single Estate Smogory Forest
It would be a crying shame to slug this savoury vodka into a glass of OJ, its flavour profile lost to overpowering citrus. Crafted using Diamond Dankowskie rye from a tiny village in rural Poland surrounded by pristine forest, its slightly peppery, salted caramel flavours are a nod to the unspoiled region.
On the rocks or neat is best or, if you must, combine with small amounts of ingredients that show off, rather than smother, its complexity, such as vermouth, absinthe and bitters.
6. Absolut Elyx
Yes, Absolut offer an assortment of flavoured vodkas but let's forget about vanilla and citrus for a moment and focus on one of its handcrafted products, Elyx. It's made from winter wheat grown in southern Sweden distilled in a vintage copper still from the 1920s and uses copper packets to whisk away unwanted compounds. The result is a rich spirit that majors on a silky mouthfeel and is best appreciated on the rocks to pick out its nutty notes, waves of white chocolate and mellow spices.
7. Grey Goose
When a good bottle of vodka will set you back around £20, it's easy to wonder what makes Grey Goose cost more. The answer may lie in its provenance – it’s made entirely in France, using wheat from Picardie and spring water from a natural limestone well in the Cognac region, while each bottle is even cleaned with Grey Goose. The flavours are equally premium – expect a slightly floral aroma, coupled with sweet tones of toffee that make an excellent White Russian.
8. Smirnoff No. 21
Once marketed as 'white whisky' in a bid to entice Americans who were more familiar with the brown stuff, No. 21 is a cocktail cabinet staple and for good reason. It's an essential for everything from Bloody Marys to Harvey Wallbangers thanks to its versatility and clean taste. Triple distilled using traditional charcoal, the grain vodka is then filtered ten times to take out any impurities and give it an instantly recognisable smoothness that has won Smirnoff fans the world over.
9. Chase Original Potato Vodka
Alongside so many heavyweights, Chase is a relatively new kid on the block. It was created in 2008 on a family farm.
However, Chase is still a spirit to be reckoned with. Each bottle is made using 250 Herefordshire potatoes and it's batch-produced in a copper pot still called Fat Betty – and if that's not a reason to try it, what is? You'll be rewarded with a smooth, creamy vodka and an earthiness that's ideal for a grown-up vodka martini.
10. Two Birds English Vodka
Two Birds might have started with gin but its move into vodka is a bonus for lovers of a purer spirit. A departure from the usual wheat-based mashes, this artisan vodka is made from barley and sugar beet in small batches for a naturally sweeter taste.
The cereal and root crop blend also makes for a smooth mouthfeel with a delicate finish that works especially well with juices or in cocktails that need a sugary twist.
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