With cocktail culture spreading rapidly across the globe, vodka – Slavic for “little water” — is experiencing a renewed wave of popularity.
Clear, colorless and with a neutral taste — according to the strict US definition — the spirit provides the ultimate mixer and a blank canvas for unlimited possibilities in terms of production and branding. All part of its contemporary allure, according to the industry experts. Here, Elite Traveler counts down 10 of the very best premium vodkas on the market.
“As much has happened in the past twenty years for vodka as in all of the centuries before that,” renowned UK spirits writer Ian Wisniewski, author of Classic Vodka, tells Elite Traveler during a recent chat. “There are so many brands now that have a very interesting production story, but it all has to come together to create a great tasting product. It’s an incredibly competitive market, but particularly for vodka,” he notes.
The birthplace of vodka has been debated, with both Russia and Poland laying claim to its invention. Produced in Eastern Europe as early as the 8th century, the “aqua vitae” is made through the fermenting and distilling of sugars — predominantly from grain, but also from potatoes, fruits and molasses. With vodka’s base ingredients, it seems, anything goes; a fortuitous fact that the drinks industry has taken advantage of in recent times.
“For the last ten years, brands promoted different elements of the production story, which can be quite difficult for customers to get into. The next phase is definitely ingredients,” explains Wisniewski.
Fortifying this theory is the recent rise in popularity of the P.Diddy-fronted brand, Cîroc, produced from frozen grapes from the Cognac region instead of more traditional wheat or rye grain.
But with such a pure-tasting and neutral spirit, how can one gauge whether one vodka product is truly superior to another? When it comes to premium vodka, the focus is mainly on branding and packaging, says Wisniewski — plus finding a fresh concept that works.
Also key to the label “premium” is the distillation process. Cîroc uses its (quintuple) distillation as a unique selling point, as do other premium vodka purveyors such as Absolut and Belvedere, highlighting their purity and the absence of headache-inducing fusel oils to consumers.
These high quality brands also manage their production process right from the beginning through to the end bottling – from harvesting their own grain, using pure spring water from artisan wells to creating naturally flavored versions via organic produce. UK micro distillery Chase Vodka even produces its own marmalade-flavored vodka by marinating it in Seville marmalade and harvests potatoes from its onsite farm to create the spirit’s base.
But which are some of the very best and most exciting premium vodka brands currently on the market? Together with the help of vodka connoisseur Wisniewski, we have compiled a list of some of the brightest and best for your reading (and drinking) pleasure. Read on to discover more about the best vodka in the world.
Made from six-row barley in “the land of the midnight sun,” Finlandia vodka has been highly praised internationally ever since it first appeared on shelves in Scandinavia and the US in 1970.
Produced in the Finnish village of Koskenkorva with a bottle designed to convey “melting ice,” this crisp, neutral vodka is the end result of a lengthy distillation process involving over 200 individual steps.
The final vodka is pure blended with unfiltered glacial spring water and also comes in a number of innovative flavored versions.
The brand’s grapefruit flavor has proved particularly popular with critics, winning Double Gold in the flavored vodka category at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition an impressive three times since its 2006 launch.
Dubbing itself “The Most Beautiful Vodka of Them All,” Kazakhstan-produced Snow Queen is a vodka brand to bewitch any premium spirit enthusiast.
Originating from organic wheat blended with spring water from the foot of the Himalayas, this quintuple distilled product uses a state-of-the art purifying process involving Kazakh birch charcoal.
Another previous Double Gold winner at San Francisco, ice cool Snow Queen is described as having a fresh nose with a hint of mellow spice, a luxurious, silky texture on the palette and a fresh and a creamy aniseed finish with a “hint of juicy sweetness and underlying grainy dryness.” Don’t mind if we do!
The fourth most purchased spirit brand in the world at the time of writing, Absolut Vodka has gone from strength to strength ever since it launched in New York back in 1979.
Bought for $6.74 billion in 2008 by Pernod Ricard, the premium vodka label — produced in the small Swedish village of Åhus — is made from robust winter wheat and uses a unique continuous distillation process, meaning the spirit is distilled hundreds of times over.
The company launched a new premium luxury line, Absolut Elyx, earlier this year, as well as Absolut Amber — vodka rested in oak barrels — available exclusively in travel retail within Panama and the US.
Made from Cognac grapes rather than from grain, ultra premium Cîroc vodka offers something a little different to the spirits market.
A silky smooth vodka distilled from grapes harvested when frozen, the Mauzac and Ugni Blanc fruits are then cold-fermented into wine and distilled an impressive five times — a key selling point for this top-end vodka.
Cîroc’s popularity has climbed rapidly among affluent young consumers in recent years with the introduction of rapper P.Diddy as brand ambassador in 2007.
In addition to its coconut, red berry and peach flavors, the brand launched the first ever amaretto-flavored vodka in the US.
On a family farm in Herefordshire, the only potato-based vodka created from scratch in the UK is made using traditional artisanal techniques.
Chase Vodka is produced from King Edward and Lady Claire potatoes grown on the Chase family’s very own estate, which are then distilled using a bespoke copper batch pot and the tallest rectification column in Europe.
Apart from their original potato vodka, the entrepreneurial family — also responsible for devising Tyrrells Potato Crisps — offer award-winning rhubarb, marmalade, oak smoked and apple cider-flavored vodkas, all of which are bottled and corked by hand. True vodka inspiration.
French Grey Goose may be one of the best-known vodkas on the market, but accessibility and quality are not mutually exclusive, according to our expert.
“Some people are looking for less well-known brands,” says Wisniewski. “But however successful you are, it shouldn’t compromise people’s perception of your product.”
The premium brand was created for the American market in the nineties by billionaire entrepreneur Sidney Frank, who later sold the business to Bacardi for $2.2 billion.
Produced using local winter wheat from Picardy and spring water from the hills of the Cognac region, Grey Goose aims to exemplify France’s focus on quality and excellence. It also comes in a variety of premium flavored versions ideal for the everyday cocktail connoisseur, including black cherry, pear, lemon and orange.
The Dutch Ketel One brand may now be under the control of drinks giant Diageo, but it is also one that is genuinely steeped in a lengthy history.
The label is produced at the Nolet Distillery in Schiedam, the Netherlands, which first swung its gates open in 1691, with the Ketel One brand only launched onto the US market in the 1980s.
This small batch-produced vodka is made from pure wheat distilled in copper pot stills and filtered over loose charcoal.
Now sold in over 50 countries, this legendary brand can also lay claim to the production of the first ever naturally flavored premium vodka, with the launch of Ketel One Citroen in 2000.
Polish potato vodka Luksusowa is one of the only non grain-based vodkas available on the international market, instantly marking it out as something that bit special.
“Generally, the number of potato vodkas has been very, very small,” says Wisniewski. “The category has been dominated by wheat vodka, with rye in second place, but recently the numbers have begun to grow.”
First established in 1928, the premium brand has won 42 medals and awards since the early sixties and has an impressive Beverage Testing Institute score of 93 out of 100 at the time of writing.
Named after the Polish word for “luxurious,” this wodka is certainly worth a try for any true spirit enthusiast — it’s as close to the authentic Eastern European vodka experience as one could ever hope to get.
Featuring an image of the Belvedere Presidential Palace on its bottle, Polish brand Belvedere appeared in the US as the world’s first “super premium” vodka label in 1996.
Distilled four times from Dankowskie gold rye and artesian water, Belvedere aimed to capture the imagination of the luxury market by “balancing purity while retaining character.”
In more recent times, its launched flavored vodkas in black raspberry, pink grapefruit, citrus and orange flavors — with the brand securing over 20 international medals in just four years.
Produced in small batches at a West London micro-distillery, Sipsmith Vodka is an archetype of the modern drinks industry’s old-meets-new approach.
Using a unique copper still (named “Prudence” by its owners), Sipsmith has abandoned filtration, instead allowing the copper to efficiently remove all impurities — making for a unique barley-based vodka.
The innovative drink is described as having a nutty nose with a hint of spice, an elegant texture and a “sweet-dry” finish.
The independent spirits company also produces very British dry and sloe gin, as well as a tasty plum-flavored damson vodka.