With more than 74 million cases sold in 2019, vodka’s dominance as the top spirits category in the U.S. is unquestioned. However, when it comes to craft cocktails, vodka is often unfairly maligned for being kind of… boring.
But as some bartenders can attest, vodka is more than just an (arguably) acceptable substitute for gin in the Martini. Without it there wouldn’t be the Moscow Mule, a fresh and spicy combination of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, traditionally served in attractive copper mugs. Vodka is also forever ingrained in pop culture as the main ingredient in the iconic Cosmopolitan, a pale pink sour made famous by “Sex and the City.”
To help wade through the endless well of seemingly identical options, VinePair asked beverage professionals across the country to weigh in on the best vodka for your money. Their answers prove that vodka can hold its own against other cocktail heavyweights.
Given that many bars and restaurants are currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at the time of reporting, VinePair also asked bartenders to provide links to their personal or professional-affiliated Venmo accounts or GoFundMe campaigns to help support them. To learn more about helping the hospitality community at this time, please visit: How to Give Back to Hospitality Professionals Impacted by Covid-19.
“Call me old fashioned, but even compared to all the new vodkas that have been flooding the market in recent years, I’m a sucker for Ketel One. I love the silky mouthfeel and structure that it brings to a cocktail, and the fact that the company is still family-owned (plus the level of their involvement in the production process) means a lot to me. While it may not be the least expensive vodka on the market, I’m happy to shell out a little extra for a top-notch product made by a company that does significantly more to mitigate production-related water waste than most other vodka brands.” — Laura Newman, Owner, Queen’s Park, Birmingham, Ala.
Donate: Laura Newman Venmo
“Haku from Japan. It’s made from white rice and then bamboo-charcoal-filtered. Very unique!” — Fred Dex, Master Sommelier/Wine Entertainer/Founder, Taste Like a Master, Brooklyn
“I really like Reyka Vodka from Iceland. It is made from natural spring water, using natural energy sourced from natural geothermal vents, filtered through lava rocks. Although vodka is thought of as being tasteless, it carries great texture with bright citrus notes. It makes a great cocktail and is priced for the well.” — Ashley Guertin, Beverage Director, Barbara Lynch Collective, Boston
“Simple Vodka is my go-to vodka and the house pour at The Spice Route Company’s newest concept, Musaafer in Houston. We admire this craft spirit and its versatility in various different cocktails. Plus, potato vodka in general is much cleaner on the palate. Combine all of that with Simple’s donation of one meal per drink poured, and it’s a simple choice for us.” — Himanshu Desai, Director of Beverage, Musaafer, Houston
“The best bang-for-your-buck vodka is Wodka Poland Select Vodka. It’s clean, no-frills, and makes a tasty sour, Martini, or vodka tonic. Best of all, you can find it for under $15 a bottle, and in blind taste tests it holds its own against bottles two or three times that price.” — Rafa García Febles, Beverage Manager, Le Crocodile, Brooklyn
“Tito’s is great quality vodka for sipping, mixing, and infusions.” — Brandi Carter, Beverage Director, Elvie’s, Jackson, Miss.
Donate: Elvie’s Venmo
“There are so many great value brands of booze now, it’s hard to pick just one. Growing up, my father was a Smirnoff man, so I’m partial to that vodka. Other inexpensive brands I can recommend are: Reyka Vodka, Skyy, Russian Standard, [and] Luksusowa. I hear Kirkland has great value vodka but I haven’t had the pleasure. Many of the brands also offer 100 proof (50 percent ABV) versions as well, and they are great for infusions, if you’re into that kind of thing. (I am).” — David A. Roth, Head Bartender, Covina, NYC
Donate: The Cushman Concepts Family Fund
“I like Pickers. It’s a Nashville brand that’s made with 100 percent non-GMO corn.” — Ellen Talbot, Lead Bartender, Fable Lounge, Nashville
Donate: Ellen Talbot Venmo
“I really enjoy Six and Twenty Heirloom Rye [Vodka] because it’s not your average vodka. Hints of vanilla and black pepper add an extra oomph to your favorite vodka cocktails.” — Michell Boyd, Beverage Manager, Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta
“If I drink vodka, it’s always in a freezing cold Martini with an onion, and obviously with a premium vodka like Absolut Elyx — rich, silky smooth, and elegant, but won’t kill your wallet.” — Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer, The Rum House, NYC