Like everything else in life, we want to know which is the ‘best’ vodka. Which vodka is most superior to others. And like everything else in life, we realize that there is no one single answer. For example, I use the latest Intel Pentium Core Duo Processor, as I require it to power my media center, on the other hand, my Grandfather still uses a 11 year old IBM Thinkpad with 4 MB RAM running Windows 3.11 with Wordpad!
Anyway, back to Vodka. Vodka is defined as a neutral spirit devoid of any distinct characteristics such as odour, taste or colour. Considering the above definition all vodkas should be the same and vodka the brand shouldn’t matter. This is true to some extent, in the sense, that the final product of all the brands are more or less similar to each other and while mixed in a blood mary, there is little or no discernable distinction between them. However, if you plan to have them as shots, on the rocks or in a martini, then you are well advised to consume a premium brand.
There are a lot of vodkas out there. And each one is trying to catch your eye, with refreshing marketing, stylish bottles and happening events. This is because of the above noted fact, that the product is more or less same, and hence, marketing plays a big role.
Okay. Now since we are clear about what vodka actually is, lets look at some of the brands. (If you are interested more about the history and other nuances of Vodka, read my article ‘All About Vodka’) I am not affiliated with any of them and I have no particular favourite among them either. So be assured that whatever is said herein is completely unbiased and in the best interest of vodka.
Lets start with the world best selling vodka. Remember, the phrase is ‘best selling’, it doesn’t make the best vodka on the planet. I guess every vodka drinker knows it. Smirnoff. Smirnoff was the first American brand of Vodka, which was bought over from Vladimir Smirnov of Russia. The Smirnoff No. 21 is the most widely sold vodka in the world and is an extremely good example of classical vodka. It has little discerning character, and does not pamper you with slight flavours or a mellow follow through. If you don’t like to think too much and are on a budget, this is the vodka to go for. Have it chilled and experience the Russian in you. Smirnoff also comes in blue and black labels which are of increasing strength. It has also launched numerous flavoured vodkas such as Green Apple Twist, Citrus Twist, Lemon Twist and many more. They are great to have in martinis and light cocktails.
Next up, Grey Groose. Now this is on that has had its fair share of Hollywood exposure. You can hear almost every celebrity asking for a Grey Goose Martini. This vodka brand is truly a marketing brilliance. Winter wheat being distilled with natural spring waters in a French Distillery is surely going to make some heads turn. It is this approach to vodka, that has made Grey Goose a brand to reckon with. But, nothing to be taken away, this is really great vodka to have in your martini. It comes in three flavours: L’Orange, Le Citron and La Vanille. The Citron is great to have in a Lemon Drop Martini.
The third among the most marketed brands is Absolut. This Swedish vodka has the one of the largest number of flavoured vodkas in the market. Its global marketing strategy seems to have paid off in recent times and is considered to be a truly superior vodka in many places in the world. Its neutral variety comes in blue and red labels with increasing strengths. The red bottle (50 % vol) is a really smooth spirit with almost no discernarable taste of its own. The blue bottle mixes extremely well with almost all mixers and makes it great in most cocktails. The flavoured varieties too are very good and for the adventurous there are no dearth of varieties to try from.
Now, lets move onto the lesser marketed, premium brands. I’ll start with what most vodka drinkers and experts consider a truly great and ‘almost perfect’ vodka. Stolichnaya is what it claims to be “a true Russian vodka”. It was founded at the Cristill Distillery in Moscow and is now manufactured in ex-Soviet republics (Kazakhstan and Ukraine). It is quadruple distilled though quartz sand and finally passed through a woven cloth, to give you a vodka free from any flavours or odours. This one is great to have on the rocks.
Next on the list is Belvedere. This is a Polish vodka. However, unlike other Polish vodka this one is made from rye rather than potatoes. The experts are always confused about this one. Many hold it in high regard, while others suggest that the other brands mentioned here, are far superior. For the record, I like it. Still one could argue that with so many different brands with better marketing and “brand appeal”, this vodka still leaves you with something to desire more from.
Our last entry on this discussion would be Belvedere’s sibling: Chopin. However, unlike its sibling, Chopin is made from potatoes; the way authentic polish vodka should. Even though for many years, potato based vodkas have been frowned upon by Russians as inferior, the truth lies in the fact, that with the right distillery, whatever be the ingredient, you can produce superior vodka. And Chopin is a great example of the same. This vodka is crisp and has a sweet and sour green apple tinge to it. It’s the only potato based vodka that is held with such high regard and just for this sake, I urge you to try it at least once. Your Polish experience will definitely be worth it.