In our guide to buying vodka online we cover our choice of the best vodkas to mix your perfect cocktail. One of the joys of the internet is that you have many options to buy vodka suitable for all sorts of occasions and budgets. With today being World Vodka Day let’s
Why is vodka great for cocktails?
Vodka is the ideal cocktail mixing liquor and this guide will help you choose from the best on the market today. As with most spirits, vodka is produced from fermented grain (but can also be produced from mashes of potatoes or white beets). The best vodka is distilled at around 190 proof or 95% pure ethyl alcohol. Repeated distillation and filtering helps remove impurities to give you the cleanest-tasting, crisp vodka. It is the distillation process that helps remove congeners – aroma molecules that give other liquors their unique taste. Vodka’s lack of strong aroma or flavor makes it perfect for mixing, where you want the purity of the alcohol to take center stage. It is also one of the most versatile spirits because it can be mixed with a whole host of other ingredients and flavors to create a wide range of cocktails. Other spirits with distinctive tastes limit themselves to cocktails with complementary constituents. The third benefit of vodka is that it thickens to a delicious creamy texture around 32 degrees – very handy when you shake it with ice!
You get what you pay for?
Vodka is one of those spirits that improves with repeated filtering and distilling. This is a time-consuming and technical process which adds to the cost of the finished product. A cheap vodka is likely to burn on the tongue and throat giving you a harsh imbibing experience. The pricier brands are smoother and warmer on the throat without the rough after-effects. This is not to say that price is an absolute guarantee of quality, the extraordinary marketing budgets of big brands are paid for by the consumer. There are less well-known vodkas available that bear the same level of quality for a smaller price tag. These vodkas are more often found in small-scale enterprises and sold exclusively through online outlets.
Does vodka have a taste?
Most certainly the answer to this is yes. However as we’ve already covered, part of the cachet of a great vodka is its neutrality, its lack or subtlety of flavor. But each vodka’s flavor is (almost) imperceptibly different and more obvious as an after-taste when taken neat. The notes are also affected by the water used to cut it with; often the origin of the water is used as a selling point too, be it spring water, glacial or mineral.
The source of the vodka ingredients play their part too. Grain-based vodkas will have hints of baked bread or wheat for example. If its origins are from a potato mash then you can expect notes of apple and a texture with a light oiliness. Rye vodkas can carry floral bouquets. The FDA say that vodka is supposed to have no taste but if this was the case in reality then there would be nothing to distinguish one brand from another.
Aside from soupçons of flavor, the vodka’s burn helps distinguish one brand from another. A burn can be smooth and warming or harsh and overly strong. You may feel it as soon as you take a sip or experience the burn as it passes down your throat. The burn can also stay with you or subside swiftly. Your personal preference is key to your enjoyment of each brand of vodka.
Does vodka give you hangovers?
The dreaded hangover is a combination of the headache from hell and the stomach of swamp water. All alcohol will give you headaches as it dehydrates your body, produces unwanted toxins and interferes with blood chemistry but thankfully the nausea is not as severe with vodka. This is because the clear spirit is so low in congeners – yes, those important flavor molecules present in brown liquors. Congeners are difficult for your body to metabolize and lead to the queasiness you feel after drinking too much whiskey or red wine.
The advice is opting for the purest vodka, the one with fewest congeners and other impurities, as your best bet for limiting the hangover experience.
Choosing your vodka
There is an amazing range of vodkas you can buy online. Let’s take a look at some of the brands we recommend most highly.
St. George Spirits All Purpose Vodka
Operating out of Alameda, California, St George Spirits began its quest for perfect vodka back in 1982. Their All-Purpose Vodka is made in top quality Holstein stills from with a blend of Bartlett pears (known as William pears to our UK cousins) and a neutral grain spirit. The St George Spirits vodka has a subtle fruity aroma and is suitable for drinking neat or in a crisp Martini.
Hangar One Fog Point Vodka
When you think you’ve heard it all, we think you’ll still be surprised by this north California’s environmental angle. Water is a precious commodity and the West Coast has ongoing issues with drought and low rainfall. So, Hangar One has taken the innovation of collecting moisture from Californian fogs and blending it with single-type grain and grapes to produce a vodka with an amazing story.
Wigle Organic Trope Vodka
The Wigle distillery first opened in 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and, within a few years, became a purveyor of award-winning spirits. The Organic Trope brand of vodka is particularly appealing thanks to its lack of burn and only a slight hint of herbs and fruit. We find it goes well in most cocktails and especially enjoy it in a Bloody Mary. It’s also superb as the minor partner to gin in James Bond’s Vesper cocktail.
Still the One (STO) Comb Vodka
The STO distillery based in Port Chester, New York ferments honey to make its tantalizing citrus-scented blend of vodka. The honey is produced by bees which dine on orange blossom. STO love advertising the bee connection, so much so that they have published several bespoke cocktail recipes including the King Bee. This comprises 1 tsp Darjeeling tea leaves, 3 oz Comb Vodka, 1.5 oz fresh lemon juice, 2 oz honey syrup (50/50 honey and water solution), topped with a slice of lemon.
Middle West Spirits OYO Vodka
Ohio-based distillery Middle West Spirits specializes in one-grain vodkas. Their locally-sourced red winter wheat-based vodkas possess a unique flavor profile. You pronounce the name as ‘Oh why oh’, the state’s original name and the heritage angle is deliberate. Using time-honored techniques the spirit is distilled 34 times and its smooth, full-bodied receives many accolades. The International Review of Spirits, Beverage Testing Institute says it has ‘aromas of vanilla caramel bonbon, fig preserves, and spice with a silky, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a honey gelato and mineral driven finish’. It’s a great sipping vodka and works well with cocktails.
Tuthilltown Spirits Apple Vodka
The New York-located distillery is a prime example of how stunning quality vodka can be produced from ingredients other than grain. Using only apples from orchards in the Hudson Valley, each harvest is pressed, and then fermented and double distilled for a pure taste. No additional flavors are added and it’s kudos to the producers that you can still pick up hints of apple as you sip it. It will complement any apple-oriented cocktail.
Ubiquitous, yet premium, Absolut Vodka is manufactured solely in Åhus, Sweden. This grain vodka is produced from locally-sourced wheat and clear water from their deep well. Even the glass for the bottles comes from here in the county of Skåne. Absolut Vodka is crisp without being harsh and is now available in a large range of flavors. Absolut Citron, for example, has a twist of lemon and is considered the only vodka to use in a serious Cosmopolitan. Absolut Mandarin was launched in 1999 – its citrus overtones making it our firm favorite in a Moscow mule. And, unlike other flavored vodkas, the Mandarin contains no added sugar. Oh and don’t forget the 83 proof Absolut Raw that is a travel retail exclusive product only available in the international airports of Miami, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, and Washington Dulles.
Grey Goose Vodka
Soft winter wheat – the selfsame wheat that goes into France’s finest pastries and breads – is the only grain that goes into the French Grey Goose Vodka. It’s a smooth textured spirit that famously comprises the freshest water from the Cognac region. Francois Thibault, the maître de chai (cellar master) who is responsible for the quality of the product says his main aim is to get the best vodka from the best ingredients. We think he’s doing a great job! It’s a satisfying drink with a long, warming finish.
Van Gogh Vodka
Launched in 2000, this Dutch distillery produces a triple wheat vodka that takes its premium grain from France, Germany and the Netherlands. Van Gogh Vodka comes in 16 varieties (which they call ‘expressions’) and are a range of flavored spirits. Among the popular flavors of lemon, peach and açai berry you also see the more unusual double espresso coffee and the tropical fruit taste of pineapple. A third generation master distiller, Tim Vos manages the range and has seen success in producing tastes suiting a wide palette. The Van Gogh Vodka also receives numerous awards and positive reviews from prestigious quarterly newsletter The Spirit Journal among others.
The family-run business that is Chopin Vodka has been running it as a hands-on enterprise since 2003. Indeed the Dorda family is so passionate about the distillery they refer to themselves as ‘stewards’, not ‘owners’. This tight-knit team is based in the picturesque Polish town of Krzesk in the east of the country near the border with Belarus. Chopin Vodka is made from locally sourced potatoes, rye and wheat, all from farms no further than 25 miles distant. They produce three types of single ingredient vodkas: Chopin Potato, Chopin Rye and – yes, you’ve guessed it – Chopin Wheat Vodka.
Chopin Potato Vodka is earthy in taste and smooth in texture with a hint of apples. It possesses a long, clean finish with no burn. As a sipping liquor we recommend it as an accompaniment to steak. It’s excellent in a vodka Martini. This brand is most awarded potato-based vodka in the world.
The Chopin Rye Vodka is a luxury spirit that showcases the peppery flavor of their organic grain. Unlike the potato-based vodka, the rye leaves you with a short, crisp finish. As you sip it, you will pick up the unmistakable aroma of rye bread.
Chopin Wheat Vodka is a relative newcomer to the family fold and is distilled in spring in readiness for those perfect summer cocktails. It recalls a floral bouquet with an unmistakable hint of caramel. This spirit is sweet, light and has a enjoyable finish.
Smirnoff No 21 Vodka
The archetypal Russian vodka, Smirnoff is now owned by the Brits. Smirnoff is officially the world’s most popular vodka and easily outsells its rivals. Proudly distilled three times then filtered ten times the clean spirit doesn’t burn and has a vaguely sweet taste. As you might expect (or already know!) Smirnoff has many varieties, some numbered, some not, and also has the 100 proof black label Smirnoff with its robust, dry taste. Smirnoff No 21 Vodka is supremely versatile and is suitable for any cocktail.
Looking for a truly premium vodka? Then look no further than this genuinely Russian brand. The Gold Line is a limited edition vodka that goes all out for your heart. This malt spirit is filtered five times instead of three. It uses beautifully clear and pure water from an artesian well which taps a deep underground source. You know you’ve got a fine product in your hands when you see it has an individual serial number and its cork is sealed with wax. Oh, and it comes with its own stylish hammer and brush to make your opening of it a special occasion!
In summary there are many excellent vodkas to choose from and hopefully this guide has helped give you an added perspective on the subtle flavors and notes of individual brands and how the ingredients can influence the overall experience.