Fueled by recent nostalgia for ‘90s retro classics like the Cosmo and Espresso Martini, vodka has surreptitiously found its way onto more bar menus than ever. With soaring sales in the U.S., the once overlooked spirit appears to be finding newfound respect within the bartending community.
To help wade through a host of nuanced expressions and innovative ingredients, we asked experts around the country to weigh in on the vodkas they believe offer the best value, without compromising quality. From a cost-effective and cocktail-friendly Ukrainian producer to a small batch Polish vodka that mixes a mean Martini, read on for the bottles that showcase the spirit’s surprising range while also being kind to your wallet.
Vodkas That Offer the Best Bang for Your Buck, According to Bartenders
- Luksusowa Potato Vodka
- American Liquor Co. Vodka
- Khortytsa Platinum Vodka
- Charbay Vodka
- Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
- Pau Maui Vodka
- Bedlam Vodka
- Dripping Springs Vodka
- Ketel One Vodka
- WÓDKA Vodka
- Stoli Vodka
- Timberline Vodka
- The Community Spirit Vodka
- Beluga Transatlantic Racing Vodka
- Hangar One Vodka
- NEFT Vodka
- Konik’s Tail Vodka
“Ah yes, vodka, vodka, vodka. Most bartenders turn their nose up to the stuff, but we cannot deny it is our unsung hero behind the bar, often tipping the profitability of a bar program. American Liquor Co. Vodka doesn’t get the award for least expensive, but for the quality of product to price point, they take the crown. The combination of wheat, rye, potato, and corn make for a clean and crisp taste, and silky mouthfeel.” —Liz Dabecco, head bartender, Evening Bar at the Shinola Hotel, Detroit
“Khortytsa Platinum Vodka: It’s a clean, easygoing vodka that comes in at $24 for a 1.75-liter jug. I’m not a vodka drinker, but it satisfies those that do drink vodka and works wonderfully in cocktails.” —Dustin Grilli, beverage director, Funkenhausen, Chicago
“Charbay is one of my favorite vodkas, as they offer something for everyone with the same price point. It’s from a family-owned winery where the son became really passionate about distilling. They produce organic vodkas in a variety of flavors and focus on sustainability, which I find important. A vodka worth taking a shot of or adding to your favorite mixed drink.” —Ariele Ramano, bartender, Agriculture Public House at Dawn Ranch, Guerneville, Calif.
“Zubrowka is far and away my favorite vodka; it just happens to also be very affordable. Filtered through bison grass, a plant native to Poland, the result is an earthy, vanilla-tinged profile that is delicious on its own or as a modifier in cocktails. Pro tip: Combine it with apple juice or cider in a highball for a hall of fame flavor pairing.” —Mark Phelan, beverage director, 16 On Center, Chicago
“Pau Maui Vodka is a great choice for not breaking the bank. It has a hint of pineapple from the pineapple distillate that is blended into it, giving it a little more character than a standard neutral grain vodka.” —Dimitre Darrocca, lead bar director, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
“Monopolowa is the clear winner for our Abigail Hall patrons, and for us. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or elaborate marketing ploys to pump up and sell its product. The cost-to-product quality ratio is mutually beneficial. Now Austrian-made, this vodka has an exceptional mouthfeel, a sweet palate, and a creamy finish.” —Derek Jacobi, beverage director, Abigail Hall at the Woodlark Hotel, Portland, Ore.
“Honestly, if you are getting crafty, I highly recommend Bedlam Vodka ($20). It’s distilled in Durham, N.C., and is made from long-grain white rice. Unlike most vodkas, it has body, flavor, and a finish. After putting it in my cocktails, I found out it was owned by Jason Derulo. This is the only celebrity-owned spirit I use, as the spirit is actually great.” —Judy Elahi, bar director, Gravitas and 101 Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“Dripping Springs Vodka is the best bang-for-your-buck vodka on the market today, with prices averaging around $18 a bottle. What stands out about Dripping Springs Vodka is their ability to remain dedicated to distilling their product in small, 50-gallon batches to ensure a flawless finish and quality you can taste. This quality, paired with its wallet-friendly price point, makes it an easy choice in my house and my bar!” —Brittany Lack, general manager, Electric Shuffle, Austin
“Widely available with refined, consistent quality, Ketel One is my go-to on the crowded vodka shelf. With 750-milliliter bottles around $20, you can’t go wrong. (If you’re mixing for a crowd, you can stretch your dollar even further by picking up a 1.75-liter.) Over my years as a bartender, I’ve raised a glass with three generations of the Nolet family and had the opportunity to see the distillery in the Netherlands firsthand. No gimmicks here, just great vodka at a fair price.” —Charles Joly, mixologist and co-founder, Crafthouse Cocktails, Chicago
“With so many overpriced vodkas on the market today, there is quite a bit of false advertisement with limited varieties and quality differences. It can be hard to find a decent smooth vodka, versatile for mixed drinks, Martinis, cocktails, or just consumed straight. WÓDKA Vodka is an authentic Polish rye vodka that is distilled five times and charcoal-filtered twice, so the result is clean and high-quality. The fact that it’s a rye vodka, sourced from the town of Kalisz (known for its rye since ancient times), makes their product more complex with an extra layer and depth that serves an excellent Martini. This old traditional Polish vodka has an oily body with lots of grain and rye aromas and by far exceeds all others in the market when cost and quality are a daily concern for bar managers.” —Amir Babayoff, bar director, Ophelia, NYC
“I would have to choose WÓDKA. For a liter or even a handle, it’s the best price for good-quality juice. I always have this vodka in my well and always recommend it to my non-industry friends. Branding and marketing can definitely lend you to spend more money on a vodka. You tend to look over some smaller brands that make just as good spirits as anyone else. Some fun facts about WÓDKA, which makes it even more appealing: It’s one of the last estate-grown Polish rye vodkas left; the distillery is near Kalisz, the oldest town in Poland, famous even in Roman times for its rye; and everything WÓDKA uses is Polish, even the charcoal (a unique Polish birch), and especially the rye, locally grown Dankowskie (a golden winter variant).” —Meaghan Montagano, bar queen and manager, Strange Bird Hospitality, NYC
“My personal go-to for vodka would be Stoli. For the price, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘cleaner’ tasting vodka in the market. I believe that the mellow flavor profile made from wheat and rye grain tends to be my all-around vodka of choice.” —Scott Taylor, beverage director, Harris’ Restaurant, San Francisco
“Timberline Vodka: Available across the country, this incredible vodka usually retails for around $25 or less. Vodka is so much more complex than most people know. The texture and taste can be transformed through its ingredients, whether it’s made from wheat, potatoes, rye, or corn. Timberline Vodka is made in Hood River, Ore. At the core, Timberline is made using a proprietary blend of grain, 14 varieties of non-GMP Pacific Northwest apples, and pristine glacier water from Mt. Hood. Next, it is distilled in an incredible 46-level, dual-column, 2,000-liter pot still. This vodka blew me away the first time, and every subsequent time that I have tasted it. The nose is rich and pleasant, rather than an alarming ethanol attack that most vodkas put off. On the palate, you get this gentle richness from the apple and grain that’s smooth, soft, creamy, and juicy. It has a weight to it that is elegant but demands my attention. It’s semi-dry, mineral, anise, and juicy apple all in one. It’s voluptuous and full. Timberline can be used in many applications — my personal go-to is a 50/50 Martini, with a lemon twist. —Lydia McLuen, bar manager, Takibi, Portland, Ore.
“It’s really hard to find a vodka that truly stands out in the market. The Community Spirit Vodka is 100 percent American corn and does a really great job of offering sweeter nuances, making it perfect to sip and mix. Not only is it delicious; the company makes a strong effort to usher in social change and support the hospitality industry as a whole. It may be a few dollars more than your everyday vodka, but it should make you feel better to know that those extra few dollars are going to support social initiatives and your favorite bartenders!” —Phil Collins, beverage director, TableOne Hospitality (Mother Tongue, Los Angeles/La Société Bar & Cafe, San Francisco), NYC
“Best vodka for your buck is The Community Spirit Vodka — a delicious vodka in a beautiful bottle with added worth. The Community Spirit isn’t just great vodka; it is a project devoted to amplifying the voices of those who strive for a better and more equal world and supporting them in their various endeavors. At Lighthouse, one of our core values is ‘voting with our dollar,’ and we see our restaurant as the bridge between our guests and suppliers. Supporting farms, growers, and producers that align with our beliefs makes a difference and gets us closer to the changes we want to see in our world.” —Naama Tamir, co-owner, Lighthouse and Lighthouse Output, Brooklyn/Manhattan
“Beluga Transatlantic Racing: With the market flooded with vodkas all in an arms race with one another to be ‘x’ many times distilled, ‘y’ many times filtered, and ‘luxury’ (whatever that means), it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Beluga does something interesting to make it stand out from the rest: resting. Many brands across many categories incorporate resting in their process, but Beluga is very intentional with their methods. Label depending, their vodkas rest anywhere from 30 to 120 days, drastically altering the taste and texture of the products through oxidation. Transatlantic Racing sits at 45 days but also gets filtered through cotton. ‘Filtered through cotton?’ I hear you say. ‘Who cares? That’s a gimmick.’ Think about it like this: The cotton extracts undesirable flavors from the vodka, but in turn, the vodka extracts desirable flavors from the cotton. It’s cotton-infused vodka; how cool is that!? The end result is a lush, satisfying texture and a soft, powdery, ambrette flavor that makes you want to dive into a basket of clean laundry like Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear. No more than $35, this vodka is delightful on its own and can be used in any application, but will do best in a dry Martini.” —Mark Mentzel, lead bartender, The Elk Room, Baltimore
“Top-shelf without the price tag to match, Hangar One vodka is expertly balanced and crafted in small batches. Unlike the commercial factory settings of most distilleries, this brand is made in an old aircraft hangar near San Francisco. Adding extra steps to their already labor-intensive process makes for a spirit with a wonderful, almost creamy mouthfeel. Good on its own, it makes for an outstanding Martini.” —Karl Paredes, head bartender, Big Alma, San Francisco
“Having grown up and worked professionally in California, where vodka is very sought after, I’ve watched the category become more convoluted and consumers looking for a tasteless liquid from a recognizable brand. People have forgotten that craft vodkas exist with distinguishing character and flavor. I’ve started seeking out more craft distilleries who are trying to create something unique. Recently, I’ve come to discover NEFT Vodka and was immediately blown away. With the major brands being corn- and potato-based, NEFT breaks the norm with their Austrian spring water and rye-based formula. I was drawn to its flavor even before knowing its affordable price point.” —Natalia Farfan, lead bar manager, Lark Restaurant, Santa Barbara, Calif.
“Given the incredible amount of vodkas on the market right now, it’s a difficult choice, but I would go with Konik’s Tail, an incredibly small-production vodka made out of spelt, rye, and winter wheat. This natural spirit comes from Poland and just reached the U.S. market a few months ago. It is both creamy and peppery, making it perfect for Martinis of all kinds, from a classic dry to a more complex Espresso Martini. We use it in our Vodka Martini at Coffee & Cocktails at Gansevoort Meatpacking. Come by and try it!” —Federico Doldi, director of food & beverage, Gansevoort Meatpacking, NYC