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What's a good quality yet affordable vodka?

  • r

I've been a bourbon drinker for as long as I can remember, and I still like my bourbon, but I started drinking vodka cocktails when I would go out with friends and stuff. I never liked the taste of straight vodka, but I enjoy it in a nice cocktail, like a screwdriver or with clear soda. So what is a good smooth vodka for mixing a nice drink or for even trying straight? I have tried Stoli before, and it tasted bad, and Smirnoff tasted bad too. I have heard that good vodka should have no taste at all. I have heard that good vodka should not have any bad taste or odor at all. Is potato or grain vodka better? I want one that is tasteless, odorless, and good for mixing. But not one that is too expensive. Ketel One? Finnladia? Chopin? Absolut? Is Russian vodka best? Also, is higher proof vodka better than 80 proof? I know these questions are somewhat subjective, but would like some suggestions, thanks!

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  1. "Ideal" vodka has no real taste to it, which is why I generally avoid it. I like strong flavors. That said, I found the New Amsterdam vodka is really quite good, very smooth, and the price was pretty reasonable. I believe it's a recent product, I've been buying New Amsterdam gin for a while but I just saw this for the first time a few months ago. If you don't like Smirnoff or Stoli, give it a shot, it's not very similar.

    1. Real vodkas are NOT supposed to be tasteless. Still the current fashion is for people who want to get drunk to get tasteless vodka. When the product is tasteless, there is no such thing as a best one - you just go with the cheapest tasteless product. So, this means you can pay about $6/bottle instead of $40. Some folks refilter the cheap vodka to get rid of any residual taste.

      1. I find Luksusowa (Polish potato vodka) to be smooth, pretty much tasteless and very inexpensive- it's about $9 here in CA. I don't like vodka (to me it doesn't taste like nothing- it tastes like burn with no interesting flavors to make up for it) but this stuff is perfectly serviceable in a mixed drink and it has less burn than other similarly priced vodkas I've tried. I personally would avoid going extremely cheap like kagemusha suggests because you might regret it the next day (and skip the filtering- expensive, time consuming, and the plastic filter might leach into the alcohol). I've also heard good things about Monopolowa vodka (sold at Trader Joe's) but haven't tried it myself.

        4 Replies
        1. re: tinnywatty

          Oh I like my vodka to have some flavor. My comments were addressed to those who insist that "premium" vodka must be colorless and tasteless. They might as well buy Everclear. And just about any colorless and tasteless "vodka" is likely to be missing the congeners that give you that hangover. (Ignoring the possibility of alcohol poisoning here).

          1. re: tinnywatty

            I may be a total plebeian, but I love Luksosowa and Monoplowa. I quite like simple vodka cocktails, but my close friend drinks vodka neat, and also likes these brands. I used to put Luksusowa in an old Chopin bottle at my apartment "bar" because nobody can really taste the difference*. So that's my recommendation.

            *OF COURSE NOT YOU, OH MAGICAL AND DISTINGUISHED CHOWHOUNDERS. Just the lowlifes I hang out with ;)

            1. re: tinnywatty

              Luksusowa is my vodka of choice, the big bottle is always $19.99 here in Polishtown USA. Well actually Stoli is my favorite, but it's twice the price, so I mostly get that when I'm out. I am unfortunately very sensitive to impure liquor, I get headaches if it's not right, but this one never does me wrong! When I'm somewhere there isn't much choice, Smirnoff is fine too.

              1. re: tinnywatty

                I like monopolowa. It is a potato vodka, FWIW. It's cheap, but not real cheap, and tastes decent.

              2. You say that you like vodka cocktails when you go out with friends, so what brand(s) do you drink and enjoy when you're out? I assume that would be the best starting point. Or is it that you just can't find anything that you enjoy neat?

                The thing about vodka is that while it certainly doesn't have any big distinctive flavor profile, it's also not truly tasteless. So while one vodka might be more "tasteless" than the other, I'm pretty sure they're all going to have that distinctive quality that lets you know you're not just drinking astringent water. Though vodka isn't something I have a great amount of experience with, so I may be wrong.

                The only other thing I know about vodka is that James Bond puts pepper in his, which he started doing so that the impurities/poisons in the cheap vodka he had would sink to the bottom. Although that probably isn't relevant here, and might not actually work.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sanjacinto

                  Yup - he had his vodka martini shaken not stirred with a dash of bitters and would sprinkle black pepper on the surface to act as a filter. Activated charcoal works better - which is why some folks (not me - I'd pay a couple of bucks extra to avoid the hassle) use filters.

                2. I haven't tried many unflavored vodkas, just don't find them interesting, but I don't mind drinking Sobieski neat. Smirnoff was more neutral, Sobieski has a subtle flavor.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ncyankee101

                    Russian Standard, Smirnoff.

                    Stay away from Absolut, Svedka.

                    1. re: Beachowolfe

                      I've been fine with Absolut, but Svedka gave me the worst hangover feeling and I only had 1 drink

                      1. re: SBackes

                        Safe to say it wasn't the Svedka that caused that.

                        1. re: ac106

                          pretty sure it was the Svedka. I've tried it twice, same result.
                          And Ciroc gives me killer migraines. Guess they just don't work well with my body chemistry or something

                          I've been fine with many other brands of vodka

                  2. I think the consensus answer to this question from Vodka aficionado's is Tito's. (And tastes good to me...) With Luksusowa a very close second (and also just offering a different taste).

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jon44

                      Agreed. I find drinking vodka to be pointless, but I do have a bottle around for the occasional Vesper and that bottle is Luksusowa. I've also sampled some Tito's at a buddy's house and it was, indeed, very smooth and flavorless.

                      I know that Dale Degroff suggests that Russian vodkas tend towards a slight medicinal aftertaste, so perhaps that's why the OP didn't care for Stoli and Smirnoff.

                      1. re: jon44

                        I like Tito's a lot. I know I am going to get stoned for this, but my husband and I both love Skyy a lot too. Interestingly enough, I think Grey Goose is very average and it is more expensive than the other two I mentioned.

                      2. I also find vodka boring, so I have fairly limited experience with it. That said, my vote would be Finlandia, Tito's and Smirnoff in order of personal preference.

                        1. You might want to give Pinnacle a try. A bartender recommended it to me when I ordered a Grey Goose martini, telling me that it was just as good at about half the price. He said that it was made by the same people, although I've never been able to authenticate this information. Anyway, we keep both in the house and I think Pinnacle is great.

                          1. The ATF defines vodka as a neutral (flavorless) distilled spirit produced from any material at at least 190 proof and bottled at at least 80 proof, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.

                            I'd challenge most super-premium vodka drinkers to pick their favorite out of a lineup of five or so brands in a blind tasting. I think it's a sucker's game, a triumph of packaging and marketing over reality, a monument to the marketing genius of Sidney Frank.

                            That said, I do believe that charcoal filtering eliminates many of the distillation congeners that turn cheaper vodkas into hangover amplifiers, so there's a price floor you want to stay above, without paying too much for fancy packaging and advertising. I keep Smirnoff 80-proof around for vodka cocktails, and Ketel One for my friends that buy into the super-premium vodka myth.

                            I also like Karlsson's Gold to drink neat or on the rocks, but it has a distinctive flavor. By the ATF's standard, I think it should be classified as a potato eau de vie, not a vodka.


                            9 Replies
                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              I'm not sure I'd take the ATF's word as authoritative here. Pretty much all the vodkas more than 30 years ago had distinctive flavors. (I'm thinking of Finlandia, Wyborova, Stolichnaya etc). Admittedly current "premium" vodkas are just alcohol and water. Pretty much any tasteless clear vodka is going to be missing congeners even before filtering. Bottom line, if you don't want traditional (with some flavor) vodka get the cheapest clear tasteless vodka you can find. Filter it if you must but I don't think that would be necessary.

                              1. re: kagemusha49

                                The ATF's is the legal definition for vodka in the USA. If you're a producer and your vodka has a distinctive flavor but it's not labeled as a flavored vodka, you're probably violating the law.

                                What method do you propose for home filtering? I've seen the Brita suggestion tested, and filtering cheap vodka through one burns it out so quickly that it's more cost-effective to buy a better quality, already-filtered vodka.

                                I still think there's a significant difference between bottom shelf brands and brands like Smirnoff that clearly state that they charcoal filter. You can smell it, for one thing, and you can feel it the next day, for another.


                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  My understanding is that it's more than just "congener"--it's the type of alcohol that results from distillation. Smirnoff tastes like paint remover to me. In contrast, Tito's tastes like a completely different alcohol.

                                  1. re: jon44

                                    I'm not sure I understand the "type of alcohol" distinction. Is there more than one kind of ethanol? My own favorite theory of many that have been advanced (the science here is pretty thin) is that it's the congeners -- the unwanted byproducts of fermentation that slip through the distillation process -- that distinguish the cheap stuff from the more carefully prepared (read: charcoal filtered) products.

                                    Admittedly, I could be talking through my hat. But there's some support for the notion in applejack, a/k/a Jersey lightning. This is the American apple brandy that was originally produced by freeze-drying hard cider. You leave it outside in the freezing winter night, remove the ice the next morning, repeat a few times, and voila: a higher-alcohol product than you could produce via fermentation alone, yet not using distilling. This stuff also purportedly produced blinding hangovers. Modern applejacks like Laird's Bonded use traditional distillation as their second step.

                                    There's also this study: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/841...

                                    I don't recommend drinking Smirnoff straight, or any relatively flavorless vodka straight, anymore than I would recommend drinking ethanol and water, which is essentially where you're at with most vodkas. It's a cocktail mixer for me, and I frankly don't make many vodka cocktails at home: the odd Bloody or fresh-juice Greyhound, mostly.

                                    I do enjoy a vodka chilled/neat or iced when it has a bit of its own flavor, like Karlsson's. I imagine Tito's to be in this category, too. But I think such products aren't passing the technical legal standard for vodka. It's not the most pressing enforcement priority for the ATF, I'm sure, but that is their definition. I think the vast majority of super-premium brands would pass.


                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I'm sure some folks in this thread have seen it mentioned in other vodka threads, but the the NYT did a rather well-known blind tasting of something like a dozen vodkas a few years back, with a panel of spirits experts and self-described vodka geeks. Smirnoff came out on top and Ketel One and Grey Goose got some surprisingly negative critiques.

                                      As others have said, marketing does a lot to make you believe what you believe about the various brands of vodka on the market.

                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                        Loved that NY Times vodka piece, a real eye-opener: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/26/din...

                                        Smirnoff wasn't even chosen for the original sample; a tech slipped it in as a joke. Turns out it won "best value" in the tasting as well as the highest rating overall.


                                    2. re: jon44

                                      Different alcohol? If you're drinking methanol I'd start to get worried. Otherwise all ethanol is simply ethanol.

                                      1. re: kagemusha49

                                        Yeah, I can't find the original source on that and must have misunderstood it. Their point was something along the lines of distillation methods and starting materials gives you different components in the end product.

                                    3. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Well the ATF can define 10W40 engine oil to be vodka if it wishes. I don't believe that all marketed vodkas are tasteless although many seem to strive for that goal. I've never filtered vodka but am aware of people using Brita filters and claiming good results - seems like a waste of time to me.

                                2. I drink vodka neat and on the rocks. At common bars I order Tito's first as they're Texas boys. Next is Stoli or Kettle. Mid price range, never seen in rap videos, pleasant flavors when I sip them neat.

                                  Vodka is grain neutral, not neutral flavored, not flavor less. Enjoy something for it's own subtle nuances, not how it compares to something else. I don't enjoy vodka because of bourbon.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: AnyaTika

                                    Could you please explain "grain neutral"--does that mean the final product just reflects "neutrally" the grain it was distilled from?

                                    (And I still don't understanding the Smirnoff/Paint Thinner similarities?)

                                  2. If it's available to you, I really enjoy Slavianskaya. It runs about $10 a bottle in the southeast. I had the gift of tasting a lot of vodkas while working at a wine/spirits shop and this stuff remains to be my go-to bottle(regardless of budget). Tito's is also pretty tasty.

                                    1. I have been drinking vodka for 20+ years and I enjoy Stoli as my favorite. I started drinking Stoli as more of a tradition than a pure choice of my own….it’s kind of what I started with and stuck with. I will say Grey Goose and Kettle One are a bit smoother in my opinion but they are also on the top side of the price scale.

                                      At home I stock Stoli for myself so if I want to drink it straight as I tend to do from time to time I have it on hand. I also keep Svedka (although not getting many praises) for mixed drinks because I hate wasting the good stuff on drinks that are cut with a mixer. I have drank Svedka straight up as well and found the taste to be rather smooth for a discount priced vodka.

                                      I also recently tried Russian Standard which is at about the same price point at Svedka but was of a very smooth taste as well.

                                      Like anything else I say keep trying and find what satisfies your tastes specifically rarely do two people enjoy the exact same tastes.

                                      1. Best value, for my money is Stoli (Stolychnaya) I've read a few times/places that if you put a cheap vodka through a Britta filter a few times, it will stand up against the better vodkas.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hambone

                                          If I was on their PR team, I'd use this for the next ad campaign


                                        2. I prefer drinking vodka straight The cheapest vodka is just nasty: the flavor & odor it does have reminds me of the industrial solvents poor kids huffed in my old neighborhood, and has given me headaches even before I go to sleep. On the other hand paying more than say ~$13 for a fifth of "regular" grain or corn vodka is silly. My favorite of these is New Amsterdam because it has almost no taste, no odor I can sense, goes down smoothly straight without any burn to speak of, and is only about $11 (and recently had a $2 off coupon hanging from the neck). I can drink New Amsterdam like water. I've had one potato vodka (Luksusowa) and one rye vodka (Sobieski) and liked them for their (slight) flavor and more substantial mouth-feel, but to answer your question I'd recommend New Amsterdam. My usual drink is bourbon or sometimes rye, though I've gotten bored enough with these to branch out into Scotch (lower-priced single malts and ~$20 blends); yet I just bought a bottle of New Amsterdam vodka because sometimes I just want to get drunk instead of savoring the flavor and for that purpose decent whisky costs too much and gives me hangovers.

                                          1. Russian Standard is good and reliable, and surprisingly close to what we were served in Ekaterinburg.

                                            1. I've found Polish vodkas to be superior. Wyborowa and Sobieski are both excellent. Tito's (a Texas vodka) is also tremendous, but the price of that stuff has crept up almost into the premium range.

                                              1. Hi,

                                                IMHO, Polish vodkas come out best (I might be biased having been to Poland) as they tend to be rather smooth and yummie.

                                                Personally, I disagree with the idea that good vodka does not taste of anything. If so, you have or a) the wrong vodka or b) the wrong taste buds. As a general Scotch-fan, I can tell you, there is a significant difference between decent vodkas.

                                                I know you specified non-straight drinking, so you probably already got some good recommendations for that. If you would like to try straight, I would advise Zubrowka ( http://www.zubrowka.com/index2.php ). It is reasonably priced in Europe at least and is Bison-grass vodka. Cool story for parties bro :p
                                                It is a bit more tasty and goes great on the rocks!


                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: LeYak

                                                  Thanks to the FDA regulating Coumadin (which is found in Bison grass), the Zubrowka sold in the US has no actual Bison grass but is artificially flavored and not supposed to be anywhere near as good as the real stuff.

                                                  1. re: ncyankee101

                                                    Well damn :s that's at least one thing that s*cks for US residents then. Sorry to make people look forward to the yummies ^_^

                                                    I would maybe try the artificial stuff though, might still be decent when compared to a lot of others. I have no idea about the price over there though..