When it comes to the best vodkas in the world, it’s all about laying low.
Very few things strive to be all about nothing; in fact, much of humanity is focused on the exact opposite.
The great pharaohs of Egypt built the pyramids on a giant multi-generational journey with the aim of leaving their mark on the world. The Taj Mahal, a beautiful, extravagant and, above all, permanent expression of a man’s love for his wife is an instantly recognizable postcard. Even ordinary families who don’t have access to large amounts of wealth (or unpaid labor) from little things like recipes – shepherd’s pie like what Mom made – tend to be passed down with visceral pride.
All of these things are made worthy by their distinction – be it lavish architecture, imbued sense, or spice – except vodka whose pinnacle is to make everyone believe that she is not there; really great vodka will make people think it doesn’t exist at all.
Vodka is a special substance – when unflavoured it should be clear, odorless and tasteless – nothing more than a neutral dose of ethanol. The real word vodka comes from the Slavic word voda, that is to say the water which, together with ethanol, constitutes the components of the spirit and tells all you need to know about its aromatic profile. Please note that flavored vodkas are a completely different story and seem to come in every flavor under the sun – bacon flavor anyone? Or how about some tobacco? Anyway, back to pure vodka.
So if vodka aims to be as nihilistic as possible, it would appear to be a difficult spirit to judge or classify due to its lack of characteristics. However, his lack of character is precisely what he is judged on – the more invisible he is, the better.
For example, in a Bloody Mary, you should taste all the other ingredients, from tomato juice to Worcestershire sauce, but not the vodka. In a Dry Martini, it’s vermouth and lemon zest that should dance on your lips, in a Screwdriver – you should only get sweet, sweet orange juice, and in a Moscow Mule, you want those shots. foot with ginger. Therein lies the beauty of vodka, it clears the stage and allows everyone else to play their part, it’s the flat piece of land the pyramid was built on, not the pyramid itself.
Although its history dates back over a thousand years in Russia, at Wine-Searcher we no longer list Russian products due to the country’s outbreak of the current illegal war in Ukraine. Fortunately, however, the tradition has long since spread across Europe and beyond, meaning our top 10 vodkas are a diverse bunch, with one flying the flag of beleaguered Ukraine.
Back to how they are judged – in essence – the more invisible a vodka is, the better. Although it can be distilled from almost anything, from rice and soybeans to potatoes, grains like corn and wheat are now usually the base ingredient which is then distilled.
Sweetness is the key, usually the result of various spirit distillations, normally double but sometimes triple, to remove impurities and achieve maximum sweetness. For consumers drinking it neat, it should go down like silk, in cocktails, imperceptibly. However, aside from sweetness, some elements of flavor – whether through the source material or the process – can creep through which gives a subtle distinction.
The best vodkas in the world on Wine-Searcher:
As for Wine-Searcher’s top 10, the first – with a score of 96 points – is Elit Vodka from Latvia. Made from triple-distilled single-source beans blended with pure water from natural wells, the white spirit then undergoes freeze-drying at -18°C. If it sounds premium, that’s because it is, ultra-premium to be precise, with very subtle sweet notes of smoke and ash.
Next is Swiss vodka Xellent, another ultra-premium spirit with an eye-catching red bottle reminiscent of Victorinox knives. This vodka is made from rye bread mash, which is then triple distilled and mixed with glacial water. Neutral as always, this Swiss spirit still has very subtle floral notes of jasmine and tea.
The third is an American entry, Charbay Vodka distilled from corn kernels and rye. Always popular with critics, it’s mostly a blank canvas with a slight hint of nuttiness. Fourth, Stoichnaya which, although originating in Russia, is now produced in Latvia. Their Gold Vodka is filtered through shungite – don’t worry, you have no idea what that is either – and has light citrus notes.
Number five comes from Sweden, Purity’s The Connoisseur 51 Reserve Vodka which, after being showered with awards, is a critical darling. Using copper pot stills, the Connoisseur 51 Reserve strives to achieve a level of smoothness that would make Sade proud.
Another offering from Sweden is Absolut’s Elyx vodka. Still emphasizing the copper stills – underlined by the packaging – the Elyx is meant to be a luxury item. With its slight hint of marshmallow, which critics love, we can expect fabulous cocktails.
Number seven is the cheapest on the list at $15, and where else but mighty Ukraine. Nemiroff’s original vodka is award-winning for being mostly neutral with light spicy notes of cinnamon and vanilla. All sales are currently going to help Ukrainians whose lives have been turned upside down by the current war.
Number eight is the only offering from Italy, the Purus Organic Wheat Vodka is exactly what it says – as its website currently redirects to GoDaddy.com – all we can say at this time is that it is organic and distilled from wheat.
Number nine is Reyka vodka from – no prizes for guessing where – Iceland. Produced from natural glacial spring waters, this vodka is extremely pure, meaning it only requires one distillation to achieve its smooth finish with tiny notes of candied lemon and coriander.
Finally, number 10 comes from Poland. Zubrówka ZU Bison Grass vodka is, in a list boasting for its blandness, perhaps the richest in flavor. Said to have notes of grass, spice, chocolate, egg (?) and even green pepper, Zubrówka ZU proves that maybe some vodkas really want to take center stage after all.
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