14 best vodkas
Once thought of as a bland white spirit, vodka is making a fashionable comeback
Hold the fashionable gin and make ours a Vodka Martini. No longer viewed as the bland and characterless white spirit on the shelf, vodka is fast-becoming the tipple of choice on everyone’s lips.
Once the star drink of the 80s and 90s, vodka fell out of favour for a time and became dismissed as dull and flavourless. But fast-forward to today and there are plenty of characterful vodkas out there, so much so that you’ll find many of them listed on the cocktail menus of some of the world’s best bars. But fancy cocktails aside, let’s face it, the beauty of vodka is that it’s so easy to mix and make great tasting drinks at home.
So, what do we mean by flavourful? If you thought vodka’s role was to sit in the background as a ‘neutral’ component in a drink, you’d be wrong. Vodka can be made using a vast array of different methods and ingredients, resulting in a range of different tastes. And while techniques such as copper distillation can help add and retain flavour, much of the character of the liquid comes from the distillates itself. From milk to grapes, potato to quinoa, our list includes them all.
In our taste test, we’re looking for vodkas that not only have flavour, but have texture and body too. From the creamy and sweet to the peppery and spiced, we’re looking for vodka that retains the spirit’s characteristic smoothness but has something distinctive to offer. And as always, we’re looking for balance. A vodka can be boisterous and complex as long as it makes sense as a whole. And while many of these vodkas are lovely enough to be sipped neat, we’re also looking at how well they mix.
Black Cow Vodka, 40%: £28 for 700ml, Sainsbury’s
The world’s first pure milk vodka, Black Cow is the brainchild of West Dorset dairy farmer Jason Barber. Looking for another way to make money from his herd, he hit upon the idea of distilling the milk to make alcohol. And, as what doesn’t go into the vodka actually goes on to make Barber’s 1833 cheddar, we’d just like to say a big thank you to the cows. Vodka and cheese; what a life.
If you’re looking for overtly milky notes here, you’ll likely be disappointed. But a thick, round mouthfeel, slight oily texture and a velvety finish characterise this creamy-soft vodka. There’s only a slight amount of heat, and a clean, mineral-like finish with hints of burnt sugar. To mix, cut through it with some citrus or spice. Though we’re quite taken with the brand’s summer cocktail made with blueberry sorbet and Perry cider. Representing great value for money, this vodka is easy-drinking but still characterful.
Absolut Elyx, 42.3%: £34.99 for 700ml, Drink Supermarket
It’s not only the brand’s extremely covetable range of cocktail glasses (think giant copper pineapples) that has us drooling over this vodka. While indisputably stylish, it also has the great taste to back it up. So, what makes it different from the regular Absolut range? This Swedish vodka is manually made on a vintage copper still from the 1920s, with winter wheat from a single source. Incredibly smooth, there’s something fresh and almost apple-like on the nose, with some butter-like notes and a hint of green fruit to sip. Perfect for mixing; just add apple juice and a splash of soda water. Alternatively, adding a splash to a ginger beer does it for us too.
Fair Quinoa Vodka, 40%: £29.45 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
Hold the eye-roll. Yes, this vodka is organic, gluten-free and every other ‘health food’ buzzword you could name. But it’s made our list for its great taste alone. However, we’d be remiss not to mention its strong ethical credentials. The sustainably sourced Fair range – which also includes a rum, gin, and a number of liqueurs – claims to be the world’s first Fair Trade Certified spirits brand. Made in the Cognac region of France, the vodka is slightly fruity, with a long peppery finish. But there’s also something buttery about that big, bold mouthfeel, and even something slightly sour. Yet, it all comes together and is pretty light. It’s great sipped neat when chilled, or served with lime and ginger beer.
Adnams East Coast Vodka, 40%: £24.99 for 700ml, Adnams
Smooth and soft, but with enough character to withstand even the boldest of mixers, this vodka from the Southwold-based brewer is made using the same malted barley used to make its beers. Copper distilled, underneath the pleasing smoothness there’s a hint of berry fruits, some grain character, and a little peppery heat. It’s quality enough to sip, but robust enough to mix and still get that lovely pepper character.
LoneWolf Pure Grain Vodka, 40%: £32.00 for 700ml, LoneWolf
‘Maverick’ Scottish brewers BrewDog are not content with turning the beer world upside down. Now they’re reinventing spirits, too. This eagerly awaited vodka comes from the company’s brand-new distillery, which if you’re looking for the specifics boasts the world’s only triple-bubble still, and the tallest rectification column of any craft distiller in Europe. So, there you go. But what does that mean for the vodka? Well, BrewDog says its mission is to create spirits that retain their character. Notably, this one is filtered just once, keeping the qualities that are usually stripped out. Green on the nose, and initially pretty sweet, this vodka settles down to a peppery but light and smooth finish, but with a lot of heat. LoneWolf’s recommended serve is on the rocks with pink grapefruit peel, but we think pink grapefruit juice and a splash of tonic is a nice way to drink it long.
Arbikie Potato Vodka, 43%: £41.88 for 700ml, Master of Malt
How much? Ouch. We know, we know. That’s quite the outlay for a vodka. But when you know a bit more about it, perhaps it will be clear why. Made in the Scottish Highlands, Arbikie claims to put all the passion of whisky making into its vodka. All ingredients are farmed on-site making this truly a farm-to-bottle distiller. And by ingredients, this time we’re talking potatoes. In this case Maris Piper, King Edwards and Cultra potatoes. Ultra-smooth and velvety, there’s a fresh, sweetness to this vodka that’s undercut with quite a fruity grape-like kick, and some deep biscuit notes on the finish. In our mind, these are all notes that go well with the humble cola. But if that’s too blasphemous for you, sip it neat. Quite boisterous; but that’s why we like it.
Grey Goose, 40%: £48 for 700ml, Harvey Nichols
Sweet, smooth, and almost nutty, this well-known French vodka earns its place on our list for its creamy, rounded, and eminently sippable taste. And currently available in limited edition packaging inspired by the French Riviera, this wheat-based vodka looks pretty nice too. Serve in a fizz, by mixing with elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and soda water to best enjoy its long, bright finish.
Ramsbury Vodka, 43%: £34.55 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
Hold the foam, we may have just found our perfect vodka for an Espresso Martini. With a hint of cherry, a touch of chocolate and a little nutmeg spice, this vodka from Wiltshire has a depth of flavour that we love. Starting off a little thin, the taste quickly expands upon sipping to include something caramel-like, with a very light pepper finish. All that flavour comes from the variety of wheat used, with each bottle proudly displaying the exact field from where it was sourced. Perfect sipped on its own, but really, try it in an Espresso Martini. Go on.
Beluga Noble, 40%: £34.45 for 700ml, 31Dover
There’s something slightly savoury about this Russian vodka, which is made with water drawn from the Siberian bedrock, and triple filtered and then ‘rested’ for 30 days. Light, but flavourful, there’s some subtle oat notes, with a kick of spice cut through with some citrus sweetness and even a little honey. But it’s the lingering, smooth endnote we love.
Ketel One, 40%: £23.45 for 700ml, The Whisky Exchange
The Dutch distillery behind Ketel One celebrated its 325th anniversary last year, so they should know a thing or two about what makes a decent vodka. This stalwart still holds its own amongst newer competition, for its tight and together taste profile. Made using wheat and a combination of modern and traditional distilling techniques, there’s hints of honey and citrus (specifically some bursts of orange) alongside an almost buttery finish. But there’s still a little spice and heat to keep things interesting. A dependable favourite.
Chilgrove Vodka, 40%: £34 for 700ml, Master of Malt
The bottle boasts that this is a “seriously smooth” vodka, and they’re not joking. With strong butterscotch and crème brûlée notes, there’s something earthy to this spirit too. Perhaps that comes from the mineral water, which is filtered through the chalky South Downs. Produced in its namesake hamlet in the heart of the South Downs National Park, Chilgrove is actually distilled from grapes. Only 3,500 individually numbered bottles have been produced, so you better be quick.
The Lakes Distillery Vodka, 40%: £29.95 for 700ml, The Lakes Distillery
With a fruity and citrus-forward taste profile, this vodka from – you guessed it – the Lake District – reminded us somewhat of a gin. The vodka uses wheat, and water sourced from the River Derwent, which is distilled in a hand-made copper pot still. Not as smooth as some of the others on our list, it’s none-the-less packed with flavour. Punchy and peppery, there’s enough heat and character here for the flavour to still shine through when mixed.
Reyka, 40%: £28.63 for 700ml, Master of Malt
There’s not many vodkas that can claim to use water drawn from a lava field. We think that brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘On the rocks’. This Icelandic vodka is made using wheat and barley. The Icelandic are smart folk. Aside from its use of glacial water, this vodka is also distilled using sustainable energy from geothermal heat. But what does it taste like? Very sweet and straight-forward, this is quite a one-dimensional spirit, but that does mean its super accessible. This is one to enjoy mixed. And we think combining it with lemon, blackberries and a sprig of mint sounds perfect.
Crystal Head Vodka, 40%: £42.45 for 700ml, The Whiskey Exchange
You might be forgiven that this vodka could perhaps be a case of style over substance. Or, when you find out it’s the brainchild of Ghostbuster’s star, Dan Aykroyd, dismiss it as another celebrity endorsement. But Aykroyd and US artist John Alexander, apparently frustrated by the lack of additive-free vodkas on the market, launched the brand in 2007. And since then, it’s done pretty well. There’s no escaping the bling factor; this vodka is even made with pure Newfoundland water and filtered through 500 million-year-old crystals known as Herkimer diamonds. With slight caramel notes, this is smooth, sweet, and unchallenging. And with that showstopper bottle, it’s an excellent gift for the vodka, skull, or indeed art lover in your life.
The Verdict: Best vodkas
With so many quality vodkas now on the market, we were truly spoilt for choice. But it’s the easy-sipping and uniquely flavoursome Black Cow that really won us over. And it’s very reasonably priced, too.
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