Once upon a time, the quality of a vodka was largely determined by what it didn’t have, rather than what it did. In other words: the more neutral the profile, the better. In fact, up until very recently, the TTB officially defined vodka as “neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”
That definition was finally updated in May 2020, with the part about no “distinctive character, aroma, taste or color” dropped. This is a good thing, because all the bottles featured in this list might otherwise technically be deemed illegal — or at least not legally vodka.
Following a tasting of dozens of brands, VinePair found that the vodka landscape is rich in options, with each showing its own subtle character. None of the bottles that made this year’s list burned when sipped — at room temperature, no less — and combined, they highlight the diversity of the category.
From unusual base ingredients (natural whey protein, anyone?) to bottles that double as bespoke decanters, here are the best vodkas for every budget.
Made in Arkansas using corn from Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, this vodka is triple-distilled and charcoal- filtered prior to bottling. It’s a similar formula to America’s best-selling vodka, Tito’s, but for our money, this bottle offers a lot better value. It has a silky mouthfeel and refreshingly clean profile. It also comes in at more than five bucks cheaper than Tito’s on average. Average price: $14.
Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery is best known for producing some of the world’s leading bourbons, but it also offers this wonderfully priced craft vodka. Bottled at 42 percent ABV, following a whopping 10 runs in the still and three rounds of filtration, this wheat-based vodka has grainy aromas, and a faint peppery kick to the palate. Average price: $17
This organic corn vodka is not only kind to the environment, it arrives in an attractive “craft”- style bottle, costs less than $20, and, best of all, tastes great. The nose leads with rich toasted-barley aromas, while the palate is crisp and remarkably smooth. Average price: $17.
Distilled in Borgarnes, Iceland, Reyka makes use of the country’s supply of glacial spring water and volcanic rocks (for filtration) to craft impeccably clean vodka. The nose and palate feature mineral notes and an almost mentholated profile. Average price: $19.
Sugarcane provides the base for this organic California vodka. Quadruple- distilled in small batches, its character is light and easygoing. The nose gives off subtle hints of lemon peel and a seasoning of wet stone. The palate is clean with a complete lack of alcoholic burn — even when sipped at room temperature. Average price: $21.
Produced using both column and pot stills — the latter uncommon for making vodka — this spirit has a noticeably smooth, balanced texture. A crack of pepper leads the nose, while the palate enjoys an almost botanical finish. Average price: $23
This New Zealand vodka is made from an unusual base ingredient: natural whey protein (part of the liquid that separates from milk during cheese production). Lithe and fresh, Broken Shed smells like glacial mineral water and has a well-rounded mouthfeel and slightly sweet finish. Average price: $26.
Founded by American actress Kate Hudson, this vodka was reportedly designed with Dirty Martinis in mind. It certainly fits the bill: King St. has a clean, almost odorless nose, and a similarly neutral palate, providing an ideal base for vermouth and olive brine to shine. Average price: $26.
The organic corn that provides the base for this vodka is grown and harvested at the head distiller’s family farm in Rochester, Minn. This bottling is a great example of the character vodka can display. The nose mixes toasted grains and dried banana, giving a profile of freshly baked banana bread. The palate is full-bodied and velvety. Average price: $27.
While character is key, texture is also an important part of judging a vodka’s quality. This bottle from historic California distiller St. George Spirits excels in the latter field: It feels luxurious on the palate and promises to add body and depth to cocktails. (You could also sip this neat, if you so desire.) Average price: $27.
Another vodka that shows the importance of texture, Grey Goose provides exceptionally clean, smooth-finishing sips. Made with wheat specially grown in Picardy, France, this is as close as it comes to drinking straight, boozy water. Average price: $29.
Made using a grape base, this California vodka is seven times distilled and five times filtered. It exudes a strong aroma of violet-flavored candy, and has a silky palate with a sweet finish. This is one of the most flavored “unflavored” vodkas on the market. Average price: $29.
Don’t be fooled by the unconventional packaging, there’s nothing gimmicky about this vodka. An Austrian rye-based spirit, it has a great concentration to the nose, delivering rich sourdough aromas. The palate is incredibly well balanced, with a smooth, lengthy finish. Average price: $29.
A blend of corn, potato, and grape distillates, this California vodka has a peppery, vegetal nose, with a streak of citrus fruit. The palate has a good mouthfeel and a neutral profile, making it a great supporting actor and perfect for cocktails. Average price: $29.
From Beam Suntory, this 100 percent rice vodka serves citrus and violet aromas; light, floral flavors; and a fruity finish. With its crisp, delicate profile, this vodka is perfect for dry Martinis with a lemon twist garnish or a refreshing vodka soda. Average price: $29.
Another New Zealand offering, this vodka is also distilled from whey. Its aromas are clean and mineral-rich, with just a hint of citrus. The whey protein emerges on the palate, serving well-rounded sips and a slightly spicy finish but no hint of alcoholic burn. Average price: $30.
The packaging for this vodka is slightly absurd, with the overall appearance of an oversized perfume or a fancy water bottle, and not one but two closures. The spirit inside has intense aromas of wet stones and black pepper. The palate has rich viscosity and a lively finish. Average price: $31.
A versatile, neutral vodka, this is perfect for every type of Martini. It’s zesty and citrus-driven, making it the ideal candidate for a lemon twist. But there’s also a subtle salinity, which pairs perfectly with olive brine and calls out for a juicy Castelvetrano or three. Average price: $37.
Distilled from raw Vermont honey, this vodka has a distinctive nose: It’s floral but not sweet, with a surprisingly salty undertone. The palate has great body and texture, but still feels lively. With so much character, all this vodka needs is a splash of soda, a handful of ice cubes, and a juicy lemon or lime wedge. Average price: $57.
A prickly, peppery nose leads to a fruity, unctuous palate on this Canadian vodka. It’s smooth-sipping and there’s no hint of alcoholic afterburn. But let’s be honest, when you’re spending this amount on a bottle of vodka, you want something more than just great liquor — and this distinctive bottle delivers. Once the vodka inside is finished, it doubles as a bespoke decanter. Average price: $66.
Published: May 15, 2020