Not long ago, I sat with five glasses of vodka in front of me. They all looked the same—five glasses of perfectly clear liquid. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
This is going to be a snoozer.
But I was wrong. By the end, I was in love with—and actually excited about—vodka again.
If you think vodka is like, sooo boring, guess what: These aren’t.
Vodka has become ripe for experimentation. For decades, it was all about pure neutrality, distilled multiple times and filtered through anything until all character was gone, making it—despite all the marketing—really hard to tell them apart.
But now, distillers are working with interesting, high-quality ingredients—and they’re not processing the life out of them. Rather, they’re ensuring subtle flavors and even unique textures shine through.
Bartenders like vodka because it can work in a wide range of cocktails. And after a long stint in which snooty mixologists looked down their handlebar mustaches at it, independent thinkers are bringing vodka back to bars, one small-batch bottle at a time.
“Vodka has a lot of flavor, if you’re tasting for it,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, bartender and creative director at New York City’s Seamstress, which opened in February. “It’s about the base—it changes the game—and the quality level. Vodka can be dynamic.”
This latest generation of vodka has nuance, subtle complexity and, dare we say, soul.
The New Vodkas To Try
The official definition of straight vodka is a distilled spirit that’s colorless, odorless and flavorless. These prove that it doesn’t have to be characterless, too.
1. American Harvest Organic Spirit ($24)
Origin: Idaho | Made from: Winter wheat
One sip, and it surprises with notes of melon, almond and vanilla, and a mild creaminess typical of wheated vodkas.
2. Ao Vodka ($50)
Origin: Japan | Made from: Rice
This is crisp, citrusy and so silky that it needs little adornment beyond a simple ribbon of cucumber.
Origin: Sweden | Made from: Virgin potatoes
Karlsson’s Gold is distilled once and left unfiltered, creating an unmistakably earthy, funky succulence. Its robustness will ratchet up your Bloody Marys.
4. St. Augustine Distillery Co. Florida Cane Vodka ($28)
Origin: Florida | Made from: Sugarcane
It has the sweetness of superlight white rum, making it a slam dunk for any cocktail that evokes the classic mojito.
5. Snow Leopard Vodka ($35)
Origin: Poland | Made from: Spelt
This grain-forward vodka offers soft vanilla notes, finishing crisp, clean and light. Bonus: 15 percent of profits help fund snow leopard conservation projects.