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Has a chowhound done a vodka blind tasting? Post results please.

What can we possibly do to debunk this hype completely? Boycott? I did a blind tasting a while ago - the results were the opposite of what you'd expect. The most premium brands did the worst. Either my palate is completely off, or premium vodka buffs know something I don't.

I suggest you choose as many different brands as you can and score them, and list them in order.

These brands don't mean much to me - are these good samples?

Cîroc Snap Frost, Chopin, Ketel One, Wyborowa, Vox, Finlandia, Olifant, Rain, Tanqueray Sterling, Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose, Absolut, Teton Glacier, Smirnoff, Belvedere, Hangar 1, 42 Below, Elit, Skyy

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  1. Two years ago, the New York Times did a similar tasting about with a similar result. Smirnoff came in first: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/din...

    4 Replies
    1. re: sku

      Yes, I read it. The way I look at it, it's mostly hype. Annoyingly so. I was thinking perhaps chowhounds could help eradicate the hype. Why bother? Some understanding, kind people might just grimace and do nothing, but I don't like suffering silently. Instead of saying something rude to someone, I'd much prefer it if I wasn't given the choice of ordering some absurdly expensive cocktails to begin with.

      1. re: grocerytrekker

        I read that NY Times article quite differently. To me, it neatly debunked the notion that cost necessarily correlates to quality in vodka. Many of the most popular super-premium vodkas, notably Grey Goose, didn't make the cut, and some rather bargain-priced ones (Smirnoff, at #1, and Skyy) scored very high. That seems far more anti-hype than hype to me.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Oh, I read it the same way. Sorry, it sounded wrong. I wasn't referring to the article, I was referring to the whole premium vodka phenomenon.

          1. re: grocerytrekker

            Ah, we're in violent agreement, then!

            An interesting related thread over on Food Media & News:
            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/355000, about a blogger's expose of platinum-priced Noka chocolate, fun reading. I brought up the fancy-vodka analogy there, thus:

            "I enjoy handing my $50-a-bottle-vodka-drinking friends a copy of the NY Times article in which a panel of experts rated vodkas in a blind taste test. As a joke, the test tech added Smirnoff to the lineup, and surprise! it won by a country mile over dozens of more-expensively-packaged and -marketed brands. Most of my pals still don't care. I suspect that the statement they make in ordering super-premium vodka means more to them than the opinions of connoisseurs. But who knows? In their minds, maybe their brand does taste better than the cheaper stuff, never mind what the so-called experts say.)"

            I work in marketing, so I have professional admiration for people who use little more than image advertising and slick packaging to reap huge margins, and have little pity when well-heeled fools and their money are parted.

            In the end, I think many of these consumers know that the brand they choose isn't really worth the premium taste-wise: the value is in showing that they can afford it, the ability to consume conspicuously.

    2. We did a blind tasting a few months ago with the following:

      Grey Goose
      Ketel One

      Siku (from Greeland) was the winner with Zyr (from Russia)a very close second.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MartiniQueen

        Did you test Tito's vodka? I enjoy vodka martinis and have tried a variety of vodkas. I always come back to Titos because of the smooth taste. It is in the medium price range but I think it tastes better than the pricier brands.

        1. re: toldham

          I stock my bar with Tito's. I'm not a big vodka drinker. Just like to drink spirits with some taste.

          I had a glass of Tito's on the rocks that tasted like ice water. So Tito's is very clean tasting and it's priced right. Smirnoff to me taste like rubbing alcohol.

          1. re: scubadoo97

            Tito makes some excellent vodka that stands well on it's own (smooth), but I usually purchase Smirnoff or Svedka as a mixer. They are all very good for the price.

          2. re: toldham

            We love Tito's - it makes a great mixed drink....

        2. I interviewed Dave Van de Velde, the man who created Ketel One and sold it and now makes Van Gogh vodka, and he found the whole idea of a "vodka tasting" quite amusing.

          He's Dutch, if that tells you anything.

          While his comments also serve his product's purposes, I tend to believe and agree with his premise.

          He believes that, unlke wine, after the first blast of 40 or 50 percent pure alcohol on the palate, nearly everyone's taste buds are nuked and that anything you believe you taste after that is either smell or so overwhelmingly bad that it overrides the otherwise shut-down taste buds.

          Ever ask a sommelier what not to drink before a wine tasting? I think martinis are at the top of the list.

          So I wouldn't put too much stock in a tasting of vodka. Rather, I would rely on my personal taste over a long haul of what I like and can afford.

          I have tasted, I believe, all those listed above and more. I like most of Hanger One's products. I also like the Sterling Citrus and several of the Absolut flavors, especially the Mandarin.

          Recent vodkas I found pleasant have been the Trump vodka, although a bit too floral, and the Roberto Cavelli, which I liked a lot but thought was horribly overpriced. There's also a moderately priced potato vodka called Luksasowa that is quite nice for the price.

          I continue to come back to Stoli. Tito's comes damn close, at the price, and I do like a Gray Goose martini. But I buy Stoli.

          I drink it frozen and neat at home and, usually, on the rocks with lemon in a bar.

          But that's just me.


          3 Replies
          1. re: Bob Mervine

            sorry to resurrect an old thread but....

            an ABC clerk rec'd Luksasowa for me once when i was trying to decide between a couple of pricey potato vodkas....i actually quite liked it.

            now i'm on a mission to uncover the best of the US-made potato vodkas......haven't started my mission yet, only in the planning stages (hence this research) ;o)

            so far i've read a little bit about grand teton, blue ice and cold river....are there others i should be searching out? (still not even sure if i'm going to be able to even find any of the US craft spirits here in FL, maybe at knightly spirits or total wine and more?)

            1. re: hitachino

              Cold River potato vodka from Freeport, Maine is pretty darn good.

              1. re: hitachino

                Try to find 44 North "Magic Valley". I tried it the other day, potato vodka from Idaho. They also make a huckleberry flavor so make sure to ask for the Magic Valley. It's excellent..

            2. You know Bombay Saphire is a GIN, don't you? Not Vodka.

              Be that as it may, I've done several "blind" vodka tastings. Methodology is key. Did you serve them at room temperature? over ice? from the freezer? Staight, or in mixed drinks? The results will (should) vary with each different method.

              This isn't to say that Smirnoff isn't "#1" (whatever that means), nor that "Stoleteutloost One" (at $100 per 750ml) Vodka is downright $#!+ . . . although, at $100, it will certainly be overpriced!

              9 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                Oops. I wasn't even thinking as I was copying them down from a list. Funny enough, there are many mentions of "Bombay Sapphire vodka" here and there. I think there were even rumors of the company making vodka as well. Subliminally they got to me, I guess.

                It's interesting that the results should vary with different methodology. We did it mixed with equal measures of chilled tonic water and no ice. Wrong?

                1. re: grocerytrekker

                  There are no "right" or "wrong" ways -- just different.

                  Using identical glasses, identical volumes of liquid, over several days (hard to do all at once!), try:

                  a) the vodkas blind, straight, and at room temperature;

                  b) the vodkas blind, straight, and out of the freezer;

                  c) the vodka blind, straight, and over ice;

                  d) the vodkas blind, and with equal amounts of tonic;

                  e) the vodkas blind, and with equal amounts of fruit juice (say, orange or cranberry);

                  f) and so on . . .

                  I'm willing to bet the results will not only be different, but will vary widely. (At least they have when I'vve done it.)

                  1. re: grocerytrekker

                    How are you comparing the flavors of several vodkas if you're mixing them all with tonic water, which imparts its own flavors to the mix?

                    1. re: braineater

                      I don't know why we didn't do it straight. Probably because I never drink that strong stuff straight. I don't drink vinegars straight either.

                      My palate would be gone after a couple of sips anyway. What do you use to cleanse the palate in between? Water? Water imparts its own flavors, too, doesn't it?

                      1. re: braineater

                        Exactly why the "results" of these blind tastings will vary when you taste them using different methodology.

                      2. re: grocerytrekker

                        How can you tell what they taste like when mixed with tonic? If you do that you are doing a gin/vodka and tonic tasting.

                      3. re: zin1953

                        You know that gin IS vodka, don't you? Juniper vodka.

                        1. re: Dave and Stuff

                          If we're being so pedantic, gin is rarely so simple as a juniper infused vodka, there's a cocktail of spices usually included, making "gin" much easier to say than juniper, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, etc etc infused vodka.

                          1. re: Icantread

                            It was actually just a snarky post in response to a snarky post. Less pedantic than prissy.

                      4. It is crazy, but I have to agree about the taste of Smirnoff. I worked in a restaurant that made us do one of these tast tests. Smirnoff won! I was amazed. I use it for my Bloody Mary's. Now for rocks or soda, go with Svedka. And last but not least, for a great chilled shot....Stoli Elite. It is not cheap, but worth it if you appriciate good vodka.

                        1. I've always thought Skyy was more than good enough for pretty much any mixed drink involving vodka.

                          I love it when I overhear dolts ordering something like "Red Bull and Grey Goose". Well, a fool and his money....

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Alcachofa

                            Even better--I know someone who always orders a "Grey Goose Greyhound"...could anything obliterate any possible difference there might be between "premium" and well vodka than grapefruit juice???

                          2. As a long time vodka drinker, I've tasted most brands on the market. Marketing does seem to be king. How else would Absolut, for my tastes one of the worst of the "premium" brands, be the best seller?

                            I've long considered Ketel One one of the best for its price point. And I probably drink Smirnoff as much as any, as the quality is quite good for the price.

                            But recently, I tried a vodka recommended on another board on chowhound, Jean Marc XO. I was stunned at how good this vodka was. Yes, it is one of the priciest out there, but it was head and shoulders above every other premium brand I've tried. Fresh, crisp and complex, with nuances of flowers and spice that I've never tasted in another vodka. Not a spirit I can afford to drink regularly, but for a treat, really worth a try. Of course, taste is subjective...your mileage may vary.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: rotie77

                              A complex, fruity and spicy vodka? Isn't vodka supposed to be neutral and devoid of aromatics?

                              The flavors are added later, as I understand, not during distillation. If anything, the chili and fruit flavorings might muddy up my cocktail, I would think.

                              I'd prefer it pure.

                              1. re: grocerytrekker

                                Sorry, I probably wasn't too clear in my description. These are not "flavors" that are added later, they are nuances of the spirit that are factors of the distillation process, very subtle hints on the palate that make me think of those things. If these nuances did not exist, then how would one differentiate between vodkas? I don't drink flavored vodkas, don't like them at all. Read the tasting notes in those mags that do vodka comparison tastings for reference.

                                This is not spicy like chili, but subtle hints of cake spice. No fruit flavors to speak of. And these are not aromatics, they are notes I pick up on the finish. There are no aromatics that I've ever found in unflavored vodka. But please note, all palates are different, and much like wine, not everyone has the same experience or tastes the exact same thing as another. We're talking subtleties here that make you think of these flavors, not overt flavors in the vodka.

                                I wouldn't drink Jean Marc XO in a cocktail...it's too good for that. If you like vodka, straight or on the rocks, it's really worth a try. My first impression was that it was the cleanest, most crisp and refreshing vodka I'd ever tried.

                                And for heaven's sakes, don't put good vodka in the freezer. That mutes everything. Ice cold vodka is OK if you're drinking Popov or Smirnoff, but it will kill the subtleties that make the truly good vodkas special. A couple cubes to give it a chill and calm the alcohol is all you need. I'm always amazed that someone who would never think of putting a single malt scotch or single barrel bourbon in the freezer has no problem drinking a top flight vodka that is so cold as to have no taste at all. If that's what you're after, don't waste your money on good vodka.

                                1. re: rotie77

                                  rotie; I have to agree. I generally drink my vodka straight, and have found many of the premium vodkas somewhat offputting, but my wife bought me a bottle of XO a couple of months ago and I do believe that it is the smoothest and most complex vodka I've had.

                                  1. re: chazzerking

                                    Jean Marc XO is definitely in the top couple I've had. I don't like most vodka but the ones with some flavor can be excellent. Saaga is another one that's really good, made from several strains of antique rye.

                            2. The best vodka I tried is Zubrowka bison vodka. It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavour. I guess the blade of grass in the bottle imparts much of the character. It's quite pleasant.

                              Personally, I think it's kind of silly to try and find floral or citrusy notes in non-flavored vodka. Go for the cleanest, most neutral tasting one you can find. After all, "vodka" means "little water"! The best in that category is Wyborowa IMHO. Clean as a whistle.

                              Edit: One more thing - vodka is smoothest straight out of the freezer if you plan on drinking it straight. As a mix or in a martini - well, the jury is out on this one. I would still use freezer vodka.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: spades

                                I agree with your take on vodka straight, but I think strong liquors in shaker drinks (like an up Vodka Martini) need the slight dilution of melted ice for balance as well as chill. Pre-chilling your booze reduces that water content. I guess if you were really hardcore, you'd make ice cubes from distlled water.

                              2. A couple of years ago I was in a small blind tasting with about a dozen people. We tried 3 vodkas -- Smirnoff, Gray Goose, and Absolut. Smirnoff was the landslide winner, with Absolut a distant second and Gray Goose a clear loser -- it had some unpleasant overtones that many people picked up. Since I am not a Diageo fan, I generally still don't buy Smirnoff in spite of those results but instead go for either Ketel One or Iceberg.

                                I also have had the opportunity to try Jean Marc. It is the only vodka I would consider drinking straight. It had a wonderful, delicate but distinct flavor. You wouldn't want to use it for a mixed drink, but it was wonderful on its own.

                                1. It wasn't that blind, but I've definitely settled on Zyr and Ketel One as my favorite vodkas

                                  1. Isn't Vodka a neutral spirit? So what's the point of a tasting?

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      I was thinking the same thing. Unless one drinks it neat can you really tell the difference in a mixed drink?

                                      1. re: tom porc

                                        Yes to me Vodka ideally should almost be invisible to the palate? So if at any point you can actually taste something then that indicates a flaw? Furthermore isn't that (purity) something better suited to be established by chemical analysis and not really require any type of tasting at all?

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          I always get slaughtered for saying this, but if you want a vodka that actually has a taste to it; it's called gin!

                                          1. re: Harp00n

                                            Amendment: if you want Vodka with taste to it, it's EITHER infused OR it's called Gin! ;^)

                                            After all, there is a long tradition of things like pepper vodka or buffalo grass -infused vodka in Russia and Poland.

                                            But all this vanilla, cinnamon, raspberry $#!+ has got to stop!

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                I've tasted quite a few vodkas lately that aren't infused and do have some flavor to them. Some have buttery tones, others hints of spice. Ones that come to mind are Jean-Marc (spice), Imperial Exclusive (buttery and toffee), and Xellent (spice).

                                        2. re: Chinon00

                                          vodka drinkers often prefer smooth vodkas-- yes, it should be very smooth, but you can taste the difference between a grain vodka and a potato vodka, such as chopin. you can taste the difference in a dry martini or when drinking straight. a lot of vodka drinkers will order smirnoff in their mixed drinks and a high call in their martinis, in the same way someone who drinks mostly gin will drink seagrams tonics and sapphire martinis.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Could you please differentiate the flavor of grain versus potato vodka? Thanks!

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              i think you'd have to taste the difference-- i do drink vodka (not as much as in my younger days), so they taste very different to me! the only way i could verbally attempt to describe it is that to me a good potato vodka (chopin) has a mellow, rounder flavor, while a good grain vodka will have a little bit of an edge to it-- if you taste stoli (wheat) it will have very little edge or bite, skyy (not positive but i'd bet $ it's a corn vodka) to me has a definite bite & tastes grainy-- i don't prefer it because i don't like this taste, but in the same way as the "whatever you like is best" rule goes in wines, it goes in spirits-- someone else will prefer skyy to stoli, i'm sure.

                                              i am not sure the taste difference would matter to someone casually ordering a vodka mixed drink, by any means, but the taste is significant enough in a vodka martini for people to have marked preferences. i wouldn't consider drinking a skyy martini if you bought me one- yuk! :)

                                        3. I was the only customer in a bar one night, and the bartender and I had a long discussion about tastes of various vodkas, tequilas, etc. He ended up letting me do my own vodka taste test, and the only one that really stood out as being better than the others was a vodka called "Ston" from Estonia. It isn't all that expensive ($20 a bottle), but it is kind of hard to find around here.

                                          Though i don't normally drink vodka, I've started keeping a couple of bottles around to impress my vodka-drinking dinner guests. This stuff has never failed- everyone that has tried it seems to love it...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Clarkafella

                                            You raise a valid point i.e. "Ston". My vodka of choice is called Youri Dolgoruki; grain-based and produced by a very old Russian distillery. After sampling almost every vodka on the menu at Red Square in Vegas, it became clear that this vodka was a step up from all others. I haven't found anything else that strikes a perfect balance between smoothness, the right amount of "bite" and purity of taste. It's a little hard to find in CA, but a local supermarket called "Jons" sells it for about $25.

                                          2. When my mother was alive, she, a family friend and I did a blind tasting of three. Not a wide sampling I grant you but Mom and I had a nickel bet to settle. She thought I was wasting my money on Stolichnaya and I thought Smirnoff was too alcohol-y smelling. We added in my other favorite, Grey Goose.

                                            We had three rounds: Room temperature, from the fridge and from the freezer. I poured, into stickered (on the bottom) glasses and our friend mixed them up before we tried them. We started with a soda cracker and had a cracker in between each very small sample.

                                            It was interesting how different temperatures made them all similar in some ways. I never would have guessed that freezing would make all the vodkas smell more disinfectant-like.

                                            With chagrin and a nickel I announced Smirnoff the winner.

                                            1. All I know is that I am a Vodka guy and have tasted all of the above mentioned vodkas. To say that Smirnoff Triple Blend beat all of the others brands mentioned is akin to saying Miller Lite won over all other beers in the world. All this shows is that the judges that tasted these was brought up on Smirnoff because any discriminating taster would only drink it with a mixer. If this "taste test" was done with tonic because if it was done on the rocks, as many Vodka efficienados prefer, it would have been thrown under the table. That is not to say that only expensive vodkas are good on the rocks, in fact, Skyy vodka from San Jose is actually very good and I drink it often. I have tried Smirnoff both on the rocks and mixed and it is very good mixed but not on the rocks. Does anyone know how the test was run?

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: TonyIdaho

                                                Why don't you do a blinded taste test and post the results like MplsMary did?

                                                1. re: TonyIdaho

                                                  "Any discriminating taster would drink [Smirnoff] only as a mixer." Well, maybe. Or maybe it just proves is that you have a different subjective opinion than the tasters, and says nothing about the tasters themselves.

                                                  I can cite different opinions, like my friend from the Ukraine, who has probably been drinking vodka since he was a child, and insists that Smirnoff is by far the best-tasting vodka of the hundreds he has sampled. He certainly wasn't brought up on it.

                                                  As a marketing pro, I'm mostly inclined to believe that super-premium and premium vodkas are a scam. I don't buy the cheapest stuff, thinking a certain care in production, like charcoal filtering, is probably good for the brain, certainly kinder the day after. I tend to buy brands like Skyy and Smirnoff, shunning the brands for which the buyer is mainly paying for expensive marketing and packaging.

                                                  You can read the whole article here: www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/dining/26w...

                                                  It looks to me like the testers sipped the vodka straight or on the rocks. You wouldn't be the first vodka fancier to be offended by its conclusions. I think it's eye-opening.

                                                2. I don't detect a difference between vodkas on a normal night out, but one that actually did stand out in my mind was Effen vodka. Maybe I can tell the differences if I taste-tested each one (but I never have). I don't see Effen mentioned in here - any thoughts? Just curious.

                                                  1. I'm a big vodka drinker, I prefer the premium brands not for the taste, but for not having a hang over the next day.

                                                    1. What are ya'll thoughts on Rain vodka?

                                                      1. We just bought some Platinum vodka tonight. Never have heard of it. Anyone know anything? Mid-price (actually pretty cheap)....a tad more than Svedka and Skyy.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: 4maxwelz

                                                          Platinum and Rain are both distilled by Sazerac (a company based out of New Orleans). They have quite an impressive portfolio of liquors, and I've read some reviews, but haven't tasted either of these. Tried the Buffalo Trace Bourbon, and it was great. Let us know what the vodkas taste like!

                                                          1. re: bacardibob

                                                            I thought Rain was made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

                                                        2. Top three recent vodkas:

                                                          1. Kirkland Signature Vodka - excellent flavor and feel at an extremely good value

                                                          2. Tito's Vodka - clean and pure flavor with wide availability

                                                          3. Arizona High Spirits Vodka - better than Tito's, but only available in the 48th state

                                                          1. I just got my hands on Kirkland after hearing so much about it. 80 proof grain alcohol distilled 5 times in France (will tell you the exact distillery when I get my hands on the bottle again, they claimed it was the same as Grey Goose's). It wasn't bad (especially at $30 for a 1.75 L elegant bottle). However, it doesn't compare to other premium vodkas IMO. It did compare very favorably to Grey Goose, by flavor and burn, etc. though I plan to taste them side by side rather than compare via memory. If you're a Grey Goose drinker, I'd just switch to Kirkland. Heck, if you're embarrassed stick it in a Grey Goose bottle. Anyhow for smooth premium Vodka, I'd stick with Chopin, Belvedere, Zyr or Reyka, but for your mixes, Kirkland gives Grey goose at a skyy price.

                                                            1. A college roommate was a russian transfer student. I learned to drink vodka from him, which is pretty near like me teaching you to drink moonshine, since I grew up in a place where we still made moonshine and ran it up to Richmond, VA on weekends to sell it.

                                                              That is to say, it's a pretty rednecky way of learning to drink vodka. He'd bring back a suitcase or two full of vodka each of the 3 times a year he'd go home, and we'd store it in a separate freezer which had its own frozen shot glasses too. We'd start on Friday afternoons after classes and do shots.

                                                              So I won't claim that I'm highbrow about my vodka, unlike my tastes in Gin and Wine and Bourbon. Of what I can get these days, I'd have to say in general that potato vodka is superior to grain vodka, and that Luksusowa is a) inexpensive, and b) about the best I can find regularly.

                                                              The very best vodka I ever had was made by a short fat bald polish man in the Boston area, both his basic potato vodka and his infused vodkas. I wish I could remember his name, he looked like a fellow out of a Dickens story.

                                                              1. A friend brought me grape Vodka from the States, she actually bought it because the bottle is beautiful, not realizing it was grape vodka, never having heard of grape vodla, I was happy to taste it. Cîroc is the name of the vodka.
                                                                It is quite distinct in taste. Anyone else have it?

                                                                1. my gf (or is she my ex? im in a confusing moment here) just got into Snow Queen from Kazakhstan. She swears by it.

                                                                  Anyone else have an opinion?

                                                                  1. I know I will probably get 'hounded' about this, but...

                                                                    Vodka, as I understand it, is categorized into two categories, clear vodkas, aka unflavored & flavored vodkas. So if one thinks about it, how can we really have a blind, or otherwise 'tasting' of clear/unflavored vodkas? In essence, and or my opinion, we can't. What we can have, in my opinion, is a test for 'drinkability'. Different distilling and or filtering methods and procedures will produce a difference in the 'smoothness' of various vodkas. And while some will argure that results in a 'taste' difference, I argue on the side of 'drinkability'. Distilling and filtering equipment, processes and the time involved that produce a smoother vodka usually equate to a more expensive vodka, and at least in this Chowhounds mind, a more 'drinkable' one.

                                                                    21 Replies
                                                                    1. re: crt

                                                                      while you SHOULD be right, in my personal opinion, you are not. However subtle it may be, vodkas do have different tastes and aromas. They also have different bodies, finishes and can be incredibly smooth and drinkable or rather rough going down. Also some kick back some alcohol after they go down and others do not. I definitely look at drinkability and taste

                                                                      1. re: Icantread

                                                                        And, while you think you are right, in my personal opinion, you are not. I believe clear (unflavored) vodkas come down to drinkability, period. Please tell me what clear (unflavored) vodka (made from grain) tastes like. That is describe its flavor in precise detail. Further, what is clear unflavored vodkas aroma? What does it smell like? Describe its aroma in precise detail.

                                                                        1. re: crt

                                                                          Clarke, let me turn this around for a moment if I may.

                                                                          "What does chocolate taste like?" This is a question I ask all my students in all my wine classes. "Pretend I've never tasted chocolate. Tell me what chocolate tastes like." I would urge you to do the same, Clarke -- describe the flavor of chocolate to me.

                                                                          For some 35 years I was in the wine trade, and for some 30 of those years I was a wine writer with various magazines, newspapers, on radio and occasionally television. I've also taught wine courses for the University of California and other colleges.

                                                                          A typical conversation in one of my wine classes goes like this:

                                                                          Student 1: It's sweet.
                                                                          Me: You mean like honey?
                                                                          S1: No. It's --
                                                                          S2: It's creamy.
                                                                          Me: You mean like half-and-half?
                                                                          S2: No -- well, sort of.
                                                                          S3: It's "cocoa-y."
                                                                          Me: Doesn't count. That's chocolate.
                                                                          S1: It's sugary sweet.
                                                                          Me: Like a powdered sugar donut, or a glazed one?
                                                                          S1: Uh . . .
                                                                          S4: It's bitter.
                                                                          Me: What? Like black tea that's been steeped too long?

                                                                          . . . and so on.

                                                                          It's impossible to describe a flavor. You can say that the taste of "x" is similar to "y" or that's it's reminiscent of "z," but that's honestly about as close as you can come.

                                                                          So if I review, say a Chardonnay for example, and I write that it's "appley" -- what does that mean? Were you thinking as you read this of a Granny Smith apple? a Golden Delicious? a Winesap? (no pun intended) Each of those apples has a very different flavor and aromatic profile, yet they are all apples. So, you may be thinking of one apple, and I another.

                                                                          And if you've never had a Granny Smith, how does my describing the aromatics of this specific Chardonnay as being reminiscent of Granny Smiths help you?

                                                                          The same is true of distillates.

                                                                          Vodka is indeed a neutral grain spirit. So is gin. Are they the same?

                                                                          Vodkas are, or at the very least can be, very different from one another. You have only to go to your nearest bar and order a straight shot -- no ice -- of (e.g.) Kamchatka and Finlandia. Or try Belvedere and Chopin (one grain and one potato). Heck, try a "regular" Absolut and their "super-premium" Level One. While we're on the "one's", try Hangar One and Ketel One side by side . . . EACH of these has a different profile.

                                                                          JMF (and Icantread) are correct in this. Try it for yourself, and you'll see.


                                                                          1. re: crt

                                                                            well, obviously this conversation took off in my absense. I have done vodka tastings, blind and not and had very different reactions to various vodkas. I don't even think you need particularly special vodkas to notice subtle differences between them. I never said it was as obvious as wine, and you never asked. I merely contended that they did indeed have taste. If you want tasteless and smooth, Reyka is incredible that way. If you want toffee undertones and huge body rolling over your tongue, maybe belvedere will entice you. I don't know. It is hard, without a vodka right in front of me to comment on flavors or aromas. Frankly, I don't know if it makes sense when I say last time I smelled Grey Goose (the oh so highly touted vodka which I really do not like at all) it had an "industrial" smell to it. But that's what Zin was trying to convey. The nose is not a logical sensory organ and does not translate logically. I do have to ask, at what temperature are you "tasting" vodka? I think if you're having it straight out of the freezer, we have problem #1

                                                                            1. re: Icantread

                                                                              Hey, serve ginger ale, 7up, and cola cold enough -- and blind-folded -- and you can't taste the difference!

                                                                              No, for quasi-analytical (tasting) purposes, the vodka is served at ambient room temp.


                                                                          2. re: Icantread

                                                                            I agree with you Icantread on all points, as a professional spirits/wine reviewer, and now as a distiller, I have found that to be the case even more so. Good vodka hasn't had all the flavor stripped out and the base ingredients should come through slightly

                                                                            crt- Different grains such as rye, wheat, corn, barley, etc.; as well as potato, apple, maple syrup, and other ingredients used to make vodka all have different characteristics that come through. I can easily tell a pure wheat vodka from one made from corn, or rye. And it is even easier to taste and smell the difference between the other types. Potato vodka has a definitive mouthfeel and usually toffee and butter like tones.

                                                                            1. re: JMF

                                                                              All you have told me is that 'these' vodkas have 'different characteristics'. That isn't much of a precise taste & aroma description that I asked for. Further have you been able to tell these 'differences' in blindfolded taste/smell tests? You can claim that you have, but I'd have to see it to believe it. And on a curious note, what print, or other media, do your 'professional reviews' appear in? I'm not talking about the likes of 'online discussion boards' and such.

                                                                              1. re: crt

                                                                                So, I suppose all cabernet's taste the same to you too? They must because they are all from the same grape right? Vodka's are made from different things- rye, wheat, corn, sugar cane, grapes, etc...They may all be unflavored vodka's, but that doesn't mean they are flavorless. There are numerous pro review sites that will give objective reviews (including tasting notes) between vodka's including tastings.com, beverageexperts.com, spiritsreview.com etc... I suggest you check them out. Vodka like any beverage has a range of flavors- with vodka it may not be a huge variance like some more flavorful spirits but there is a difference (unless the brands you're comparing come from the same distillery but have a different name- common in the US).

                                                                                1. re: kchasky

                                                                                  Regardless of what 'numerous pro sites' and you say, you cannot convince me that grains like wheat, rye,& corn when used to make vodka can impart flavors as complex as grapes do to wines. Again I would like to see anyone do blindfolded taste/aroma tests of vodkas (from unmarked decanters) made soley from grains and tell me from which grains the vodkas were produced with. When I see it, I'll believe it.

                                                                                  1. re: crt

                                                                                    It is obvious that your mind is already made up, and you are looking for an argument. However, there are MANY different flavors and aromas in vodka - including zero flavor. For aromas, some vodkas have an astringent smell or a citrus smell or no smell at all. Others taste different, again with a clear, water taste or some other taste depending on the grain.

                                                                                    One could argue that vodka should have zero taste, like water - but water can also taste much different based on the impurities (Phoenix tap water vs. Fiji spring water). The impurities in vodka give it a slight flavor and aroma, just not strong enough to overpower other mixers. A vodka with just ethanol and distilled, deionized water would be pretty boring.

                                                                                    1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                                                                                      Looking for an argument. Really. What, just because I'm of the opinion I have? Or because I have replied to three different people here who have differing opinions than I do, and that I don't agree with them. I believe they call this a 'discussion' board. And many people here are going to have strong opinions pro and con on any given topic, and many, just like myself won't back off, budge, or otherwise change their opinions because of what the other says.

                                                                                      1. re: crt

                                                                                        no, because you ask for ridiculous strawman arguments like the precise description of a taste or aroma, which clearly is not possible. I asked you to describe, precisely ANY aroma or taste not just a slight one like vodka. Surely if it can be done precisely for vodka, it can be done precisely for say, lamb. or anything else. please describe something precisely so i would know what it tastes or smells like, even if i've never tasted it. If you cannot, prerhaps you shouldn't ask others to do what you cannot.

                                                                                2. re: crt

                                                                                  can you please precisely describe any taste or smell for me? it does not have to be one as elusive as vodka. Just precisely convey any taste or aroma to me precisely, using only words. Any one. your choice. Go wild.

                                                                                  1. re: crt

                                                                                    It sounds like you are asking for my creds or background. I write for regional and local newspapers and magazines, some nationals, several paid writing positions on websites like AOL's Slashfood.com (25,000-55,00 discrete visitors a day unless picked up by AOL then up to 175,000. Number 1 team food blog for many years) and a major food magazine is currently in negotiations to set up a video and print section of their website dedicated to my thoughts on spirits and distillign with weekly video episodes shot on location around the world. Although they are also considering me as the host for a weekly PBS/Discovery channel show on food, wine, spirits and distilling.

                                                                                    I was filmed for two days last weekend for a regional PBS TV show on me and my work. The regional NBC stations are currently negotiating to film an episode on me for a program that has been running for 20+ years and is considered the best state/semi-regional show in the area.

                                                                                    I can go on about working off and on in the liquor industry for 3 decades, or my background as a brewer, hard cider maker, winemaker, the competitions I have won, the multiple culinary schools I have attended... Besides you... who cares?

                                                                                    My question for you is how many vodkas have you tried? Real handcrafted ones, not so called premiums from highly rectified continuous columns producing flavorless crap, but real hand made ones?

                                                                                    1. re: crt

                                                                                      As a writer and reviewer I started to discern the different possible flavor profiles and now as a new distiller (my distillery will open this spring) I am learning all about possible taste ranges in vodka.

                                                                                      First it all depends upon the types of grains, and the strains of grains within the type. Wheat, corn, rye, barley, etc. and the proportions to the blend.

                                                                                      Second the type of yeast used and speed of fermentation.

                                                                                      Third, how is it distilled? Pot Still, Pot Still with reflux columns. Pot Still with secondary reflux chambers? Or with a fractionating column? Or a continuous rectifying column? Depending upon what distillation process you use you will get different flavors from the same mash bill.

                                                                                      Next, does the distiller want flavor? If no then it is rectified to hell and back again and is totally flavorless GNS. If they want flavor then it is up to the master Distiller to decide where to make the cuts. discard the foreshots, how much heads,if any? Use all the hearts, but what about tails? A balance is decided on or maybe not. Go for straight almost flavorless hearts. How many times to distill? In a pot still 3? 4? 5? 6?

                                                                                      Where you make the cuts decides the flavor profile. Od you want hints of vanilla? Butter? Toffee or butterscotch? Spices? Baking spices or peppery?

                                                                                      Wheat based vodka's tend towards a hints of sweetness and spice. This varies but wheat gives complex notes.

                                                                                      Corn tends to have a sweetness and round body.

                                                                                      Rye goes towards the more peppery notes.

                                                                                      Why don't you go buy bottles of the following and do your own taste tests? None of us will convince you because it is obvious you have made up your mind and closed it. I was the same way about vodka for decades until I had several dozen bottles sent to me two years ago to sample after I had been to a international vodka event.

                                                                                      Saaga 1763 rye based vodka from Estonia.
                                                                                      Jean-Marc Xo multiple wheat based vodka from France.
                                                                                      Vermont Gold Maple syrup based vodka
                                                                                      Cold River potato based vodka from Maine
                                                                                      Tito's 100% corn based vodka from Texas
                                                                                      Xellent rye based vodka from Switzerland
                                                                                      X Rated wheat and pink peppercorn grain based vodka from France

                                                                                      1. re: JMF

                                                                                        heck i think the flavor differences are obvious in a much more low-brow comparison: if you can't tell differences between chopin-potato and a grain based vodka you may have suffered some nerve damage! true, vodka's neutrality is what makes it such a dominant mixing spirit, but there are differences between distillery methods and original ingredients which come through in the final product.

                                                                                        the smaller craft-distilled vodkas can sometimes indeed be wonderful, & these should never be mixed. i am especially interested in the maple syrup vodka you mention. as the daughter of a maple syrup/sugarer, the idea of it strikes me on both sides of the head at once-- as a great waste of an extremely costly & labor intensive comestible, and as something that would surely be transcendently brilliant. . . it's like imagining vodka if it were made from saffron-- the vodka of the gods? can you explain its characteristics?

                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                          Vermont Spirits makes two types of vodka. Vermont Gold from maple syrup and Vermont White from milk sugar.

                                                                                          The Gold has a touch of maple and butter to the aroma, with hints of sharp spices in the peppery range. Very pleasant, both smooth smelling and with a hint of sharpness.

                                                                                          The taste starts slightly sharp and vaguely peppery, then the maple and butter tones come though. Nice medium, slightly oily/silky body with a touch of sweetness. A hint of tingle to the lips.

                                                                                          There are some other maple vodkas out there, as well as apple ones.

                                                                                          I am looking into the possibility of doing one, plus grain based.

                                                                                          1. re: JMF

                                                                                            it took me a while to get back to this thread-- thanks for the info-- sounds wonderful indeed. i have sampled apple vodkas. like apple pie, i think the most complex flavors come across when 3 or more varieties of apples are used together.


                                                                                3. re: crt

                                                                                  I disagree about your "two categories, clear vodkas, aka unflavored & flavored vodkas." There are many more, very important categories and sub-categories.

                                                                                  Real Vodka

                                                                                  Grain Neutral Spirits based vodka- GNS plus water to bring to bottle proof.

                                                                                  GNS distilled vodka- GNS plus water, then distilled, then brought to proper bottle proof.

                                                                                  Continuous Rectified Distilled vodka- distilled from a fermented product like grains, potatos, grapes, molasses, etc. distilled in a continuous rectifying column.

                                                                                  Pot/batch distilled vodka- distilled from a fermented product like grains, potatos, grapes, molasses, etc. distilled in a pot still

                                                                                  I hate to even discuss them but the flavored vodkas break down into important sub-categories.

                                                                                  Flavored Vodka

                                                                                  GNS plus artificial and 'natural' flavors added (what you could call compound flavored vodka'.

                                                                                  GNS or artisanal spirits infused or macerated and filtered (what you could call infused or macerated flavored vodka).

                                                                                  GNS or artisanal spirits infused or macerated and then distilled (what you could call distilled flavored vodka.)

                                                                                  1. re: crt

                                                                                    You have a point. Palates differ, oh boy how they differ. And some people have literally different "tastes" than others. Other people have palates that are more sensitive to "drinkability" if I understand your term correctly.

                                                                                    My spouse here has a much more sensitive nose than I do for a 'corked' wine. What is still palatable to me may not be to her, so I let her do the initial sip in restaurants (we do it together when offered).

                                                                                    To her, all hard liquor has a 1 on the drinkability scale, the % of alcohol is too much for her to distinguish. Gin (all gin) tastes like kerosene to her, the rest aren't much better.

                                                                                    I'm good at bourbon, rum, some aspects of gin, but only a few characteristics of vodka (including taste). For me a large factor in vodka remains smoothness, but I know other people who drink spirits that I consider too *harsh* to enjoy, but they like the taste and the taste matters more to them than the drinkability.

                                                                                    I pretty much agree with JMFs comments below. Vodka definitely has taste. Defining a taste objectively is impossible (requires shared or pretend-shared experiences, i.e., the label is not the thing, the map is not the territory).

                                                                                    The ultimate taste test for me is water, and other people I know (who do not smoke, drink alcohol at all, consume sodas or caffeines) have told me that water has infinite variety of taste. I know one person who can drink a sip of water and tell you if it is city or well water, filtered or not, and can often tell you what it is if it is a labeled bottled water. He maintains that some bottled water is better than others, more consistent, and that some bottled water is just tap water from the city in which it bottled. He likes his water without ice most of them, and hates having water in which the ice is made from a different source.

                                                                                    I can't do this, but I believe he can distinguish tastes that I cannot. Clearly there are people who can taste more than I can in vodka, when I find them I listen to what they have to say, just like when I find someone whose palate for wine is obviously more educated than mine. The best is when I find someone like that who shares the same "value judgment" scale on the wines, one of my local wine store guys and I share 90% one-to-one matchups on what we "like" and "don't like", which is just groovy.

                                                                                    1. re: fussycouple

                                                                                      It's interesting what you say. I never tasted anything in Vodka for years, and while I liked gin I thought they were pretty similar. Then I started really focusing on gin and the flavor differences. I started the same with vodka last year and soon started to notice all the nuances that I never even knew were there before. Now I have an easier time describing a vodka than I do something strong like a whiskey. I think through practice and focus I have learned to notice fine flavors that I couldn't before.

                                                                                  2. Another to throw in the list of quite drinkable and affordable is Boru, an Irish vodka that I personally prefer over Goose & Stoli for mmy martini's.

                                                                                    1. I will admit straight off that my tastes and wallet are more pedestrian than some of those in this thread. But two decades ago I remember a very fun and interesting taste-off with an ex-girlfriend. She bought the expensive stuff, and I thought it was a waste of money. So we did a test. I remember our least expensive was Popov, poured from the big 1.75 container. Midrange was Stoli. I don't remember the upper, but it was expensive at the time. We sampled straight as cold and clean as possible and also mixed -- The funny thing was that she couldn't tell the differences, but was paying the premiums. I could consistently identify the vodkas, but I bought the cheap stuff!

                                                                                      1. I have been told that it is unfair to taste vodkas that have glycerin added with vodkas that haven't. Glycerin adds to a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, and while it is not allowed in some vodka producing countries, it is permitted in others. Therefore, natural vodkas may lose in a taste test to a vodka with glycerin, but as the 'smoothness' is artificial, they shouldn't be tasted together. Anyone know more about this?

                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: MartiniGirls

                                                                                          i think its fair to test them against each other, as drinkabilty is the issue, not the recipe

                                                                                          i would prefer a giycerinated vodka that i enjoy to a "purer" one i don't like

                                                                                          1. re: MartiniGirls

                                                                                            for me there is a huge difference in viscosity with the glycering added vodkas. if you let it sit on your tongue it will almost feel like it rolls over it (as if your tongue were scotch-guarded almost). really helps smooth it out on the finish as well. That's my limited experience with a couple vodkas, and could be inaccurate

                                                                                            1. re: Icantread

                                                                                              im not saying they are not different, i'm saying it is fair to compare them, as the point of a tasting is to determine what you like, and cutting an entire category of vodka out for theoretic reasons seems to defeat teh purpose

                                                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                                                I concurr. Sorry if I seemed to disagree. Actually if people like smooth, they will probably like the glycerin. I wonder if there's a danger to drinking too much glycerin?

                                                                                            2. re: MartiniGirls

                                                                                              Distilleries add glycerin or citric acid to their vodkas because they're trying to cover up a poor product to begin with. Most vodkas that have added smoothing agents don't label them as such and don't have to by law if they use under a certain amount. It's a lot cheaper to add glycerin than to distill properly- you can leave more congeners in and ultimately get more product.

                                                                                            3. has anyone ever tried a russian vodka called golden ring.my sister in law had some russian business men in on a visit to her plant and they gave her some as a gift.for all i know it is russia's lowest rated vodka or the best .i do know i grabbed some from the freezer and thought it was as good as i have ever had.does anyone know if it is available in the states?

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: trudietootie

                                                                                                Trader Joe's carried it for a while a few years ago. AFAIR, there was a dispute over brand names being sold in the US; the stuff is distilled in the Cristall distillery in Moscow, Stolichnaya was also selling it as a premium (Stolichnaya Cristall) vodka, and everybody was vigorously litigating.

                                                                                                Regardless, it's good stuff. Clean, crisp grain vodka.