This guide to vodka and choosing the right vodka for your drink is part of the Home Bar series, which was written to encourage you to develop deeper relationships with your friends, family and neighbors by entertaining in your home.
Other posts in the Home Bar series:
Home Bar Part 2 – The Single Gal’s Guide to Vodka
Choosing the right vodka for your drink may not mean choosing the best vodka there is.
While there seems to be an endless and ever changing list of vodka brands and flavors available, there are a few things to consider when choosing the right vodka for your home bar and the best vodka for your cocktails.
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Let’s start with quality. Quality of a bottle can generally be classified as cheap, middle of the road, and top-shelf.
Cheap vodkas – I’m just going to go out on a limb here and tell you that you should NEVER buy cheap vodka. There is no reason for it. Cheap vodka tastes cheap and is harsh to drink – think brands like Hawkeye, Aristocrat. Cheap vodkas are used as the “rail” bottles in the bars. Even a drink full of other heavy or fruity flavors will taste much better if you buy middle of the road brands. If your budget is on the low side, then go with something on the lower end of the middle range vodkas.
Middle range vodkas – You can find some surprisingly good brands for a pretty affordable price tag. Middle range vodkas are great for mixed drinks and fruity cocktails. These are normally the “call” vodkas when ordering drinks at the bar. Mid-range bottles include brands like Smirnoff, Pinnacle, Svedka, Skyy, and New Amsterdam, up to Tito’s, Finlandia, Stolichnaya (usually referred to as Stoli’s), and Absolut.
Top-shelf vodkas – Mmmmm, I love a great quality vodka with just a splash of something added. Definitely have at least one top-shelf vodka available in your home bar for serving chilled, on the rocks and in drinks where vodka is the star. These brands are called “premium” or “top-shelf” when ordering at a bar. Popular brands to try include Ketel One, Three Olives, Grey Goose, and Belvedere.
In a bar or restaurant, what usually distinguishes the class of “rail”, “call” or “premium” is the wholesale cost for the business. So you may get one bar that charges “premium” prices for Absolut or Stoli’s and another bar that includes these in their “call” pricing. Or some bars will use Smirnoff as a “rail” vodka and others make it a “call” brand.
In liquor stores, the cheapest stuff is usually on the bottom shelf, the middle of the road brands on the next couple of shelves up and the high quality stuff, you guessed it, on the top-shelf. Paying attention the the store placement on the shelf can give you a general sense of the vodka’s quality.
Place of Origin
The country in which the vodka was made doesn’t play as big a part in the quality of the bottle as it once did. Quality vodkas are now being produced all over the world, including the U.S.A. It is kind of nice to know where your bottle came from, but the country of origin doesn’t really matter in the taste.
A label may boast that the vodka has been distilled 5x or distilled 3x. While its true that the more times a vodka is distilled the higher quality it should be, sometimes it’s just a marketing ploy. Be careful when choosing on this concept.
Vodka will always have it’s big brand names, but now you can find many quality vodkas in some of the lesser known labels. Smaller distillers take great pride in producing their boutique bottles. Unfortunately, it is really hard for these smaller boutique brands to make it and many only produce for a limited time.
Flavored vodkas are everywhere now. While you used to only find citrus, now you can find just about any flavor you’re heart desires including toasted marshmallow, rootbeer float, rainbow sherbert, and strawberry shortcake. While some of these are fun, I wouldn’t invest in too many unless you are making a lot of specialty drinks or shots. A citrus or berry flavor can be used to add a spin to some drinks that ordinarily call for unflavored vodka.
What Should You Use?
It’s best to have a few different vodkas stocked in your home bar so you can use what’s most appropriate for the application.
If you are making a Bloody Mary or Moscow Mule you can use a less expensive (not cheap!), middle of the road brand of vodka as the other flavors are heavy.
If you are making a Cosmopolitan, Lemon Drop Martini or other lighter fruity cocktails I’d stick with a good mid-range brand.
If you are making a Vodka Martini, Vodka Gimlet, serving on the rocks, or in shooters be sure to go with a top-shelf brand. The taste and smoothness is well worth the added expense.
As with all liquors, everyone will have their favorites. Use this guide as a starting point and experiment with different brands to find what works for you. Also, you can try different brands when you are out and about at restaurants and bars. This is a great way to figure out what brands to invest in for your home bar.
The whole purpose of this Home Bar series is to encourage you to reach out and invite people into your life. Inviting people over to hang out in your home helps develop deeper relationships, and as a single gal, these relationships go a long way in helping your feel happy and content with your life.