In most people’s minds, vodka and Russia are firmly intertwined. Travel to Russia, and you’ll see plenty of vodka being served—and no, it’s not just for the tourists.
But take a look at the vodka section of your local retailer and you’ll notice there are a huge number of countries producing the stuff. Not to mention a handful of artisanal producers right here in the United States.
Although vodka can be made almost anywhere and from almost any raw material, here the focus is on two specific categories: Vodka made in Scandinavia and vodka made from potatoes. Two brands reviewed, Karlsson’s and Vikingfjord, actually fit in both categories.
Interestingly, certain patterns emerged. The vodkas from Scandinavian countries tended to be remarkably crisp and light, with many showing ever-so-faint citrus and spice notes (coriander and black pepper in particular). Overall, they seemed to have fewer sweet and fruity notes compared to vodkas from other regions. Meanwhile, the potato vodkas were often marked by a pleasantly creamy or oily texture.
Perhaps the widest contrast was between the polar opposites of funky, mouth-filling Karlsson’s, distilled once and deliberately unfiltered, versus the pristine neutrality of Purity Vodka, distilled a total of 34 times. Considering how often vodka is assessed as “odorless and tasteless,” it’s fascinating to see just how wide the range can be between bottlings.
To round things out, here are a handful of new and notable vodka bottlings from outside these two categories.
Karlsson’s Gold Vodka (Sweden; MHW Ltd., Manhasset, NY); $33, 94 points
This is a vodka with character. A distinct counterpoint to ultradistilled vodkas, this potato vodka is distilled only once and left unfiltered, which accounts for its unique earthiness. Initial notes have a funkiness reminiscent of truffles. It finishes with black pepper and ginger, and a buttery mouthfeel. A standout for a bloody mary, dirty martini or any other savory cocktail.
Aylesbury Duck Vodka (Canada; The 86 Company, New York, NY); $31/1 L, 93 points
Made in the Western Rockies of Canada, Aylesbury is clean and crisp, with lightly sweet, citrusy characteristics. It was created by bartenders to blend well in cocktails—mission accomplished. This would be nice simply chilled and mixed with dry vermouth, too.
Reyka Small Batch Vodka (Iceland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY); $30, 93 points
Overall, this is a clean and neutral vodka that’s smooth and nicely balanced. It’s muscular enough for chilled martinis, but is laced with subtle, delicate notes of candied lemon peel and coriander. Distilled from grain and “filtered through ancient arctic lava rocks.”
Woody Creek Colorado Vodka (USA; Woody Creek Distillers, Basalt, CO); $35, 93 points
Neutral and refreshing, this vodka suggests hints of mint, rosemary, grapefruit peel and black pepper on the finish. Made from Colorado potatoes. The attractive bottle is wider at the bottom, and morphs from clear at the top to frosted at the base.
Grand Teton Potato Vodka (USA; Grand Teton Vodka, Driggs, Idaho); $19, 92 points
Faintly marshmallow-sweet, smooth and slightly viscous, this is an ideal mixer for cocktails. Consider also sipping this vodka, well chilled and paired with smoked salmon. Made from Idaho potatoes. Best Buy.
Five Lakes (Russia; MDG Spirits, Davie, FL); $14, 91 points
This vodka hails from Siberia, and has a neutral aroma and lingering marshmallow-vanilla sweetness on the palate. Despite brisk alcohol presence, it still feels soft and light. The label specifies “vodka with natural flavor added,” but there are no additional flavors to detect. Best Buy.
Purity Vodka (Sweden; MWH Importers, Manhasset, NY); $40, 91 points
Packaged in a luxe bottle with diamond-like facets, Purity is made from organic wheat and barley, and distilled a whopping 34 times. Remarkably bright in appearance, this vodka is lightly sweet on the nose and palate, mildly citrusy and has a crisp, almost effervescent feel.
Sir Reginald’s Swill Ultra Premium Vodka (USA; Swill Beverages, Gwyned Valley, PA); $18, 91 points
The amusing name and funny label, with a cartoon pig in a top hat, nods to this spirit’s primary ingredient, corn sourced “from family farms.” With its subtle sweetness and citrusy, crisp finish, this vodka has all the right attributes for ice-cold vodka martinis. Best Buy.
Finlandia Vodka (Finland; Brown-Forman Beverages, Louisville, KY); $18, 90 points
Bracing and sweet, look for spicy ginger, coriander and black pepper on the well-balanced finish. Made from barley. Best Buy.
Ice Cloud Vodka (Holland; Winery Exchange, Novato, CA); $12, 90 points
Soft and smooth, with a light vanilla note on the nose and palate, this versatile vodka is recommended for cocktails. Best Buy.
Ketel One Vodka (Holland; Diageo, New York, NY); $25, 90 points
Best well chilled, this classic brand has a mild sweetness that hints at marshmallow and cocoa bean, plus flares of citrus peel, cassia bark and ginger on the clean finish.