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Vodka is one of the most versatile and popular spirits in the world. It can be made from any number of ingredients in a variety of methods, and as such, there is a surprisingly vast array of flavors to be uncovered. Vodka means different things to different people, and different vodkas serve different purposes. Whether you're after a high-quality sipping spirit or the best value for mixing easy vodka cocktail recipes, these are the best vodkas to keep in your liquor cabinet for any situation.
Stolichnoya makes one of the oldest vodkas to come out of Russia. Although it is ubiquitous today, it was once a luxury item in the United States due to being imported from the Soviet Union. While there are probably higher quality vodkas elsewhere in the world, Russia has a special relationship with the neutral spirit, so there is a certain special quality to enjoying a Russian vodka. Stoli has a thick catalog of flavors and varieties, but you need only pay attention to the classic red label.
Tito's is the definitive craft vodka and one of the best ever to come out of the United States. In true American fashion, Tito's is distilled from corn like bourbon, rather than wheat, rye, or potatoes. This gives the vodka a sweet, smooth taste that works equally well as a sipper or mixer. Tito's other unique feature is its distillation process. Instead of the more common column still method, used by almost every other vodka distillery, Tito's used hand-made pot stills—the same equipment used to distill high quality scotch. This gives it a more complex flavor, perfect for any variety of applications. Plus, how Tito's vodka became a success story is actually quite fascinating.
Chopin Potato Vodka
Vodka can be produced from just about any grain or fruit as well as potatoes. While the latter was once the preferred ingredient of the world's distilleries, it has since diminished in popularity in favor of far cheaper grains like wheat and rye. Chopin is one of few distilleries to produce a vodka distilled solely from potatoes. Named after the famed pianist and composer, Chopin Vodka is a Polish company that also produces rye and wheat vodkas, but their potato variety is the flagship, and deservingly so. Compared to grain vodkas, you'll find a much more fulfilling and complex flavor profile with hints of fruit and an almost creamy mouthfeel. This is one of the best vodkas to complement your liquor cabinet, especially if you enjoy tasting vodka on its own rather than as a mixer.
Not all vodkas are destined to be sipped and savored. One of the reasons vodka is one of the most popular spirits in the world is because of its cheapness and its ease of use in mixed drinks. If it's poured in a glass with cranberry juice or mixed with ginger beer in copper Moscow Mule cups, the vodka doesn't need to be particularly fancy. For such occasions, there's no need to break the bank with a fancy, expensive brand. Sobieski is a Polish rye vodka that is the perfect combination of cheap and clean. It has a pure flavor that works well in a wide variety of cocktails, making it one of the greatest vodkas to keep on hand for parties.
OYO is a lesser-known craft vodka, but it's one of the best vodkas you have to try if you prefer sipping your spirits. Distilled near the Ohio River Valley from local soft red winter wheat, OYO vodka has a deeply complex flavor profile. The flavors open with vanilla and caramel notes, reminiscent of bourbon, before fading into a fruity, mineral-y finish. The impressive depth of flavor has the downside of being difficult to mix compared to more neutral vodkas, but this is one vodka that has to be tasted to be believed.
If you're looking to really up the wow factor in your liquor cabinet, Crystal Head Vodka makes not just one of the best vodkas, but one of the best bottles as well. Co-founded by Dan Aykroyd, this Canadian company distills its spirit with sweet corn and quadruple filters it with the goal of producing the purest, cleanest vodka in the world. Personally, I prefer a bit of edge in my vodka to enjoy its flavor. Crystal Head is so pure, it's practically like drinking water (make no mistake, it's 40% alcohol!), but you're mileage will of course vary. And in any case, the striking, skull-shaped bottle is certainly a conversation starter.
Generally speaking, I abhor flavored vodkas. I think they are cloying sweet and disgustingly artificial. Absolut Peppar is one of the few exceptions. First introduced in 1986, this was actually the first flavored vodka in the world. As the name implies, Absolut Peppar is naturally flavored with fresh peppers, including green bell and jalapeño. Perhaps the flavor works so well because Absolut doesn't have to resort to sugar to mask a terrible artificial fruit flavor. (The fact that regular Absolut is one of the greatest vodkas doesn't hurt either.) Though its uses are admittedly limited, once you try a Bloody Mary with Absolut Peppar, you'll never be able to enjoy a Peppar-less Bloody Mary ever again.
I'm not even going to try and hide my bias here: Cardinal Spirits makes the best vodka I've ever tasted. Distilled from white grapes in Bloomington, Indiana, this vodka has character and depth of flavor in spades. There is a fruity sweetness that allows for a rewarding sipping experience, but also works excellently in cocktails. The only downside to this vodka is its limited distribution. Bottles from Cardinal Spirits's lineup are only available near its home in Indiana and in a few specialty shops in New York City.
While Ciroc has not been immune to the epidemic of painfully sweet flavored varieties that has plagued most large-scale vodka distilleries, their original is a clean and flavorful vodka. Like my personal favorite vodka from Cardinal Spirits, Ciroc is distilled from grapes. In this case, the grapes come from the Gaillac and Cognac regions of France, so you can trust the quality. Grape-distilled vodka is globally underrepresented and absurdly delicious. Simply put, I think grapes make the best vodkas around, so if you can't get your hands on a bottle from Cardinal Spirits, Ciroc is another excellent option.
Ketel One is a Netherlandish vodka that is my go-to for all general cocktail needs. Distilled from wheat in pot stills, it is a smooth vodka that works in any vodka cocktail you could ask for, while also having just enough character to make it worth purchasing over a cheaper mixing vodka like Sobieski. It has subtle notes of honey and lemon that make it rewarding when enjoyed neat or on the rocks as well. Simply put, Ketel One is one of the best vodkas for all-around use.