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There are many misconceptions about vodka. Some consider the spirit tasteless, while others believe it has the flavor of rubbing alcohol—but that's not always true. Made with anything from potatoes to grains to leftover whey, vodka can be light and bright or hearty and earthy. Better yet, it can be smooth with no kickback from that too-fiery alcohol sting.
We took a look at taste, flavorings, and different distillation processes to bring you the best in show, ranging from old-school Russian sips to American vodkas made from interesting ingredients.
Here are the best vodkas.
Best Overall: Ketel One Vodka
Region: Netherlands | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Honey, lemon zest, cream
Ketel One is the drink of choice for the celebrity crowd (it’s often seen at film festivals and fashion weeks) and for good reason: the Dutch brand’s signature vodka is free of sugar and artificial flavors and made with 100 percent GMO-free grains.
“I have been drinking Ketel One Vodka since I was legal to drink,” says Fanny Chu, head bartender at Donna’s in Brooklyn, New York. “It’s been my go-to vodka for ages—the combination of modern and traditional distilling techniques that make for an incredible product.”
The Nolet family has been making spirits out of their Holland distillery for over 327 years—an eleventh-generation member of the family signs off on every batch of the silky vodka. “I like that it has a crisp sweetness to taste and is soft on the finish,” says Chu. Serve it cold, or try one of the brand’s flavored options, like the refreshing cucumber mint or aromatic peach and orange blossom.
Best Top Shelf: Belvedere Vodka
Region: Poland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, rye spice, pepper
Belvedere’s vodka is creamy and velvety with a hint of vanilla, designed for sipping in a martini or on the rocks. It's made with 100 percent non-GMO Polska rye and Polish water sources. It contains no sugar and it's great in a dry martini with Lillet blanc and garnished with pink grapefruit.
For a more upscale option, try the brand’s premium Diamond Dankowski Rye Vodka, made with rye from two different Polish terrains.
"Vodka originated somewhere in Northern or Eastern Europe and was consumed in Russia as early as the 14th century. The name takes its root from the word 'voda,' which in many Slavic languages means 'water.' So, the word "vodka" literally translates as 'dear little water,'" describes Brian Olson, founder and owner of Café Intermezzo.
Best Middle Shelf: Reyka Vodka
Region: Iceland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, cereal, pepper
The secret to Iceland’s Reyka Vodka, named after the ancient Icelandic work for steam, is water. The distillery sources its water from a glacier that runs through a 4,000-year-old lava field in the shadow of Mount Hafnarfjall. The emission-free Icelandic distillery channels that same volcanic energy to power the distilling operations.
What results from the process is one of the smoothest vodkas on the market, with a wet, clean taste and no lingering heat or biting aftertaste—perfect for people who aren’t fans of the sharp taste of the vodka.
Best Budget: Wódka Vodka
Region: Poland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Bay leaf, green pepper
This budget-friendly vodka is beloved by mixologists, particularly because it’s a great base for bloody Marys, Moscow mules, and beyond. It’s become the go-to vodka for Roldan at The Mermaid in LA. “Our bar highly recommends Wodka. It’s a Polish vodka with a high-quality taste that holds up well in cocktails.”
This Polish-made vodka is made with local rye, then distilled five times and charcoal-filtered twice for smoothness. The spicy notes of rye shine through in each sip, as do hints of minerality, but skip sipping Wodka neat: if the low price is any indication, this vodka is best sipped in cocktails.
Using a budget vodka? “I use low-brow vodka for cocktails that are higher in citrus and/or sugar content. One great way we use this category of vodka is in frozen cocktails,” says Danny Park of The Robey.
Best Flavored: Hangar 1 Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka
Region: California | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, jasmine, apricot
Hangar 1 is the brainchild of St. George Spirits’ Lance Winters, who set out to create the first-ever flavored vodka line. He ended up making Hangar 1, a brand now known for its unusually flavored vodkas (think California Rosé or Makrut Lime). Now a Proximo Spirits brand, each batch is made with a combination of pot-distilled Viognier grapes and column-distilled wheat in a repurposed aircraft hangar in San Francisco.
One of the best flavors of the bunch is Buddha’s Hand, a quirky cousin of the lemon. While many flavored vodkas on the market are packed with sugary flavors, the purified lemon extracts from the fragrant citron combined with jasmine, basil, and apricots that will make you rethink flavored vodkas forever.
“An amazingly simple vodka infusion would be to cut up some pineapple and let it soak for a few days. It will impart a very nice fruit tone that can be enjoyed neat, or mixed into a fun cocktail,” recommends Dylan Alpaugh, general manager of Sophia's Lounge.
Best Potato Vodka: Chopin Potato Vodka
Region: Poland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Earth, grain, cream
Potato vodkas tend to take a backseat to grain vodkas, but Chopin vodka makes a case for a smooth, sippable potato vodka. Earthy, light, and arguably just as smooth as the music of the Polish composer it's named after, this vodka stands up on its own at room temperature or mixed into a martini.
Each batch is made with potatoes sourced from within 18 miles of the Krzesk distillery, then distilled four times through a copper column still and bottled at a neat 40 percent. What comes out of the still is an earthy, savory vodka with a warm hug of a finish. Also from Chopin is the splurge-worthy Single Young Potato line—a single-origin sipping vodka made with low-starch Denar potatoes.
Best Organic Vodka: Prairie Organic Vodka
Region: Minnesota | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Melon, pear, creaminess
For the sustainability-minded, Prairie Organic Vodka is great: the Minnesota-made spirit uses organic ingredients like yellow corn harvested by hand (the same way the settlers did) by a co-op of local family farmers. All the distilleries’ offerings (they also turn out gins and cucumber-flavored vodkas) are made without GMOs or gluten.
The all-American vodka is bright and crisp with a creamy palate and lingering floral and melon notes—try it in cocktails, or chill it down and sip it over ice with a bit of lemon. To ensure the vodkas are meeting quality standards, every batch is taste-tested by the “Guardians of Prairie,” a panel of highly trained and highly picky employees.
Best Artisanal: Loft & Bear Artisanal Vodka
Region: California | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, butter, herbal
Roldan's favorite local brand, Loft & Bear, was founded in 2013 by Paul Ryan Elliott, one of the youngest master distillers in the country and one of the few of color. What started as Elliott’s small operation in a downtown loft has turned into a full-fledged spirits brand. Each batch is still made with care—the team signs and labels each bottle by hand.
The award-winning artisanal vodkas are made with soft winter wheat and mountain spring water from California. This locally-driven spirit has a full, floral, silky flavor with rose, vanilla bean, and buttery notes. It's a crowd-pleasing sip, perfect for simple vermouth martinis or a sweet Bee's Knees. And that’s why bartenders love the spirit brand: Loft & Bear vodka boasts an easy, super sippable palate that lends itself well to a spectrum of cocktails.
Best for Martinis: Mulholland Vodka
Region: California | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Biscuits, citrus, mint
The Mermaid’s Roldan is also a fan of her local Mulholland Vodka: a small-batch brand that sources non-GMO corn from Missouri and distills and bottles it right in the heart of Los Angeles. The brand then screens the spirit and runs it through charcoal filters twice to make a very smooth sip at a spicy 43 percent ABV.
Roldan cites it as one of her favorite vodkas: "It tastes great chilled or in a variety of cocktails, and it has a smooth mouthfeel finish.” For a celebrity co-sign, the brand is owned by Actor Walton Goggins of HBO’s "Vice Principals," who has a hand in the brand’s vodka production, as well as the creation of Mulholland’s juniper gin and American whiskey.
Love an ice-cold martini? Keep your vodka in the freezer. “Vodka cannot freeze due to its ethanol content; in fact, it is best served after being taken out of a freezer and served chilled,” describes Alpaugh.
What to Look for When Buying Vodka
All vodka begins in a column still, but apart from that, vodka production changes quite drastically from producer to producer. Some makers triple distill for extra smoothness, while others filter through carbon or charcoal to remove any bite.
Water is a crucial part of vodka production, and many brands will source theirs with the utmost care using glacier or mountain spring water to craft a crisp, clean vodka. To ensure your vodka is top-notch, keep an eye on producers who are practicing small-batch distillation.
A common misconception about the vodka category is that good vodka should taste like absolutely nothing. But your vodka shouldn't be flavorless; it should have a nuanced, interesting flavor that adds depth to cocktails and martinis. Flavors can differ wildly depending on the production process, from spicy and bold to bright and citrusy.
Vodka brands will often add slight flavorings and colorings to achieve the final liquid. Sometimes these flavorings can be subtle and natural, while other times, brands will dose their bottles with fake fruit and processed flavors. Check the ingredients to know what’s truly in your vodka.
What is vodka made from?
Vodka was originally made from potatoes, but it can also be made from corn, wheat, or rye, which is most common, says Danny Park, food and beverage director of The Robey. Versions made using whey, grape (like Ciroc), or beet can also be found.
How is vodka made?
Traditionally, vodka is made from cereal grains, such as corn, sorghum, wheat and rye, which are then added to water and heated, explains Alpaugh. Yeast is then added to the pulp mixture, which starts the fermentation process and converts sugars into alcohol. The liquid is then distilled and filtered to become its final form.
What can you mix with vodka?
“I feel that Vodka is the most forgiving of all spirits when one thinks about what types of flavors will go well with it,” says Park. “In the simplest forms, citrus-flavored sodas, other sodas, and fruit juices— orange, pineapple, lime, cranberry, etc.” Here's our recipe guide to essential and popular vodka cocktails.
Does vodka go bad?
Technically, vodka does not go bad. However, vodka will evaporate and weaken over time, so if your bottle has been sitting for decades, it will have lost most of its flavor and strength.
Does vodka freeze?
“Vodka in its purest form will not freeze the traditional way we freeze water, for example, at home,” describes The Robey’s Park. “To get to the point of freezing, the water content of the vodka must be made higher. The only other way to freeze vodka in its raw form would be to use liquid nitrogen or dry ice.”
How much vodka is in a handle?
A handle holds 59.2 fluid ounces (or 1.75 liters) of vodka.
Does vodka have gluten?
While many vodkas are wheat- and rye-based, the distillation process removes any traces of gluten. That said, many companies will add flavorings with gluten, so take note of ingredients or look to the brand’s website to ensure it is safe.
How do you infuse vodka?
“Infusions are actually extremely simple to do,” says Park. “All it takes is picking out your ingredient(s) to create the flavor profile you wish and sealing them in an airtight vessel with the vodka to infuse together. It can be done in as early as 24 hours, but some do take quite a bit longer. Generally, the higher the water and sugar content, the quicker it will infuse.”
Does vodka sauce have vodka in it?
Yes. Vodka adds a sharp bite to balance out the bright flavors of the tomato. “If you are using it for cooking, however,” Park continues. “I highly recommend you closely follow a recipe for accurate measurements and time to ensure you have cooked out all the alcohol content."
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years and has her BarSmarts and WSET certification. She loves a good martini. She interviewed four experts for this roundup.