Vodka continues to be one of the most popular spirits categories, valued for its pristine, invigorating character and versatility in cocktails.
Yet, it remains an elusive spirit to decode. In general, vodka is defined by both what it’s made from and how it’s made. Some are distilled from raw materials including corn, potato, wheat, rye, barley, rice and even fruit such as apple, grape and quince. Some are deliberately made to be light and neutral, others more robust and flavorful.
With all that in mind, vodka should not be characterized solely as neutral and flavorless. While more subtle than other spirits, it makes you work a little harder to understand what makes it unique.
Depending on the base product used to make the distillate, the flavors can range from citrusy and fruity, to savory and spicy.
While more subtle than other spirits, it makes you work a little harder to understand what makes it unique.
It’s easy to ignore the subtleties of the liquid and focus instead on the packaging—like the vodka that arrived in a flashy gold-plated bottle (Goldlok Supreme), a perfume bottle-like decanter (JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset), or the vodka that was presented in a cardboard box akin to boxed wine (B Square). All three of these vodkas—tasted independently of their packaging—scored 90 points or higher. Each is made from different raw materials (sugarcane, grapes, wheat) and each drinks differently.
Regardless of which bottle you select, the best way to study the subtleties of vodka is to try it in a Martini. The team at the New York City bar Death & Co insist that the cocktail gives you very little to hide behind. Their Ideal Vodka Martini, by the way, stirs 2½ ounces vodka and ½ ounce dry vermouth over ice, strained into a chilled coupe and garnished with an olive.
Vodka may not easily give away its secrets, but it’s still worth peering beyond the packaging to hear what the liquid whispers in your glass.
The Street Pumas Vodka (Poland; PM Spirits, Brooklyn, NY); $31, 92 points. Distilled in Poland and brought to proof in Jerez, Spain, this vodka is neutral on the nose and palate, with faint almond sweetness and a mouthwatering finish. It is clean, versatile and should mix like a dream. abv: 40.7%