Vodka remains one of the biggest-selling spirits in the world. The neutral spirit is often dismissed as a shooter or mixer with little value beyond getting you lit. But while the clear sauce is often very neutral, there are a lot of nuances at play — as with any spirit made with sugars, yeast, and water. To find those nuances, I decided to run a blind taste test of eight bottles from my shelf.
The litmus for this blind tasting is pretty easy, which of these eight random bottles actually tastes good? What’s in these vodkas besides just mineral water and “neutrality” when it comes to a flavor profile? Are any of them actually worth sipping? Valid questions for a spirit that tends to be very affordable these days — the most expensive bottle in this blind tasting is $45.
The lineup today is:
- Russian Standard Platinum
- Skyy Vodka
- Green Mark Vodka
- Ketel One Vodka
- Ciroc Vodka
- Highway Vodka With Hemp Seed
- Crystal Head
- Absolut Elyx
Let’s dive in and see which of these bottles pop on the palate!
Also Read: The Top Vodka Posts On UPROXX From The Last Six Months
- Our Staff Names Their Favorite Spirits To Bring To A Holiday Party
- The Absolute Best Vodkas For Shots, According To Bartenders
- A Very Serious Review Of Lay’s New Potato Chip Vodka
- The Full List Of ‘Best In Class’ Spirits From The 2022 Ascot Awards
- The Vesper Martini Is The Elevated Martini You Need Right Now
Part 1: The Tasting
A hint of Graham Cracker mingles with a soft mineral water clarity on the nose. The palate has a wet grain vibe that’s ever-so-slightly bitter with a hint of orange zest. That orange zest pops on the finish with a hint of cardamom and more of that super soft mineral water.
This is a pretty nice place to start, there’s nuance and a complex flavor profile. It’s also super smooth.
This is super light and watery with a hint of peppercorn on the nose. The palate is all about the soft mineral water with a faint whisper of dried mint and chewing gum with a tiny echo of that pepper from the nose. Ultimately, it’s pretty watery.
“Meh” was my reaction to this one. Not sure where it’ll land in the ranking, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too high.
This is seriously interesting with hints of soft and wet sweetgrass, rye bread crusts, and almond shells on the nose. The palate is lush with a hint of soft mineral water (the kind that comes in a glass bottle) next to that soft sweetgrass. The end is slightly nutty with a very minor note of citrus.
This is good. This feels like the pour to beat.
This has a strong nose with hints of lemon oils and dry grains with a hint of spice that leans toward cumin but not quite. The taste lets the lemon shine on the palate as fresh green herbs and a hint of olive oil arrive. The end is very soft but kind of washed out in a tap water feel.
This is promising but kind of lacks a big finish.
Ugh. This is like an overly sweet and very cheap lemon soda out of a plastic bottle on the nose. The palate is the same but it’s like hot and flat lemon soda that was nowhere near a lemon in its entire existence. It feels like fake sugar meets fake lemon meets flat and hot soda pop.
This has a creamy nose with a hint of leather, whole oats, and maybe a hint of orange oil. The palate holds onto that full-bodied creaminess with a light touch of Graham Cracker next to a whisper of wet green grass. The end washes out and is mostly water.
This was interesting up until the end.
Cornbread and vanilla frosting dominate the nose. The palate is a little subtler, more like a vanilla sugar cookie with a hint of dry corn husk in the background. The finish is balanced with a hint of black licorice, sea salt, and a sweet hint of citrus.
This was a departure but still pretty deep for a vodka.
The nose opens with soft mineral water that leans into a wheat field after a rainstorm with a hint of vanilla lurking in the background. The palate holds onto that rain-soaked wheat as moist black soil and lemon meringue lead back that hint of vanilla pod. The end marries the lemon and vanilla with softness from the rainwater that’s well balanced.
Okay, this was something special.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Ciroc Vodka — Taste 5
Average Price: $29
This French vodka is made with 100 percent Ugni Blanc grapes. It’s then distilled five times in a bespoke copper still. Finally, the spirit is cut with local water and bottled.
It’s ridiculous to even rank this as a vodka. It’s so out there that it just doesn’t feel right. Plus, it’s hot garbage.
7. Skyy Vodka — Taste 2
Average Price: $12
SKYY Vodka has become a classic American vodka over the last nearly 30 years. The vodka is a grain spirit that’s cut with triple-filtered spring water. Though, starting next month, this will be the “classic” SKYY as a new version is coming out with mineral-enriched water at its core.
This very much felt like a vodka for adding alcohol to something with flavors. That’s it.
6. Ketel One Vodka — Taste 4
Average Price: $21
This Dutch vodka is made with European wheat. The mash is then distilled in a column still and an old coal-fired pot still. The two vodkas are then vatted and cut down with local water.
This was fine. It lost a little luster on the end, which basically means that this is good for mixing cocktails, or a vodka soda with plenty of lime.
5. Highway Vodka With Hemp Seed — Taste 6
Average Price: $21
This Texas vodka is made with, yep, hemp seeds along with locally-grown Texas yellow corn and water from an artesian aquifer. The spirit is then distilled six times before it’s proofed and bottled.
This was a good middle-of-the-road pour today. It didn’t pop but it was perfectly fine. I’d probably use it in a vodka soda.
4. Crystal Head — Taste 7
Average Price: $45
Dan Akroyd’s vodka is as Canadian as the comedian. The vodka is made from peaches and cream corn in Newfoundland. The distillate is filtered through a crystal known as a Herkimer diamond. The vodka is then cut with glacial water from Newfoundland and is bottled in a bespoke crystal head.
This had a nice corn vibe but really felt like it was made for mixing rather than sipping. Still, this did have complexity and depth. It just wasn’t something that grabbed my attention today.
3. Russian Standard Platinum — Taste 1
Average Price: $27
This classic Russian vodka from St. Petersburg is made with locally grown winter wheat. The spirit is then filtered through silver before it’s cut with local well water and bottled.
This was pretty damn good. It was initially very neutral but built a nice flavor profile. I could see sipping this over a rock with a twist of lime and enjoying it.
2. Green Mark Vodka — Taste 3
Average Price: $15
This 100 percent winter wheat vodka from Russia feels like a throwback classic. The spirit is cut with local spring water and then bottled in an old-school bottle with a pop cap.
This has a serious flavor profile and felt like a good sipper overall. You don’t even need a lime twist to open it up, it’s ready as-is.
1. Absolut Elyx — Taste 8
Average Price: $35
Elyx (pronounced “ee-lix”) is a single-estate vodka made from winter wheat grown only at Råbelöf Castle near Åhus in Sweden. The vodka is mashed and distilled on antique copper gear and is then cut with local well water.
This was the most complex and easy drinking by far. You can sip this and find new flavors with each new sip. That’s saying something for a very neutral spirit. It’s also a good workhorse if you’re mixing bespoke, high end cocktails.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There’s a lot going on in vodka if you just give it a chance. Look at it this way, nearly half of the flavor profile of your favorite whiskey or brandy or rum comes from the sugar, yeast, and water during fermentation. That’s 100 percent true of vodka too. The difference is that a lot of those flavors can get distilled and washed out to create a “neutral” spirit.
This blind taste shows that there are flavor notes in these vodkas. You just have to look for them. And while there are some clunkers on this list, the top four or five are all pretty solid, with the top two really hitting something special when it comes to having a real depth of flavor.