While no one is exactly giving up on beloved whiskey or gin, if you want to know what Americans are drinking, here’s the short answer: vodka.
The longer answer is that this isn’t a new trend. Vodka claims plenty of space on bar menus and liquor store shelves, and has for some time. This is a continuing trajectory: According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), vodka represented about one-third of all spirit sales volume in 2016, with the high-end “super premium” segment in particular showing rapid growth. The point is, whether you opt for small-batch bottlings, like Pinckney Bend (reviewed below) or well-known brands like Tito’s or Smirnoff, vodka sales still are going strong.
One of the hallmarks of vodka is that it can be distilled from pretty much any raw material and in any number of countries. This month’s reviews reflect that diversity, with vodkas made from grains (such as wheat, corn and rye), grapes and even whey. The selections hail from all over the U.S., in addition to locales as far-flung as Sweden, Italy, Ukraine and New Zealand. In addition to unflavored vodkas, a few newer flavored vodkas also are reviewed.
Cocktails remain the primary way vodka is consumed. In addition to the classics, bartenders look to vodka’s neutrality to help spotlight other flavors. For example, at the recent opening of the swanky Pool Lounge bar in NYC, the Tomato cocktail has been one of the stars of the menu. Compared to the classic Bloody Mary, which mixes vodka with the robust flavors of tomato juice and spices, the Tomato cocktail infuses heirloom tomatoes into the vodka, for a much more delicate effect.
The point of all this is: The variety of vodka is endless and you should drink whichever one suits your palate, however you like. Just know that you’re not alone in the enjoyment of this omnipresent spirit.
Pinckney Bend Distillery American Vodka (USA; Pinckney Bend Distillery, New Haven, MO); $28, 94 points. This small-batch vodka, made from a blend of wheat, corn and rye, is neutral overall on the nose and palate, with a notably plush feel and plenty of ginger and white pepper crackle on the finish. Would be ideal chilled and paired with savory bites. abv: 41.5%
Råvo Vodka (Sweden; Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, FL); $20, 94 points. Look for faint citrus at first, opening up to marshmallow sweetness on the midpalate and finishing with more bracing citrus and white pepper sparks. Mix into a Vesper or other martini-style drinks. Distilled from grain. abv: 40%
Purus Organic Vodka (Italy; Espiritus Group, Jupiter, FL); $20, 93 points. Subtle and refreshing, look for mild almond sweetness on the nose and palate, finishing crisp on a surprising minty note. Distilled from grain. abv: 40%
Spirit of Hven Swedish Organic Vodka (Sweden; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); $43, 93 points. Crisp and complex, this silky vodka starts with vanilla sweetness, opening up to a breezy herbaceous and mineral notes on the midpalate, finishing with white pepper on the exhale. Ideal for a dry Martini. abv: 40%.
Hierarchy Vodka (USA; HS Beverage, Henderson, NV); $30, 92 points. This corn-based vodka opens with perky lime peel on the nose and palate, expanding into earthy hints of graphite, slate and anise on the midpalate, finishing clean and citrusy. abv: 40%
Gold Star Vodka (USA; Local Choice Spirits, N. Charleston, SC); $25, 91 points. This grain-based vodka has a neutral scent. The palate hints at coconut-like sweetness, finishing crisp and clean on a dose of cinnamon heat. For each bottle purchased, $2 is donated to charities that benefit military veterans and their families. abv: 40%
Nemiroff Vodka (Ukraine, Conecuh Spirits, Manhasset, NY); $18, 91 points. Bracing and versatile for a wide range of cocktails, this wheat-based vodka is relatively neutral in terms of aroma and flavor, though the palate hints at vanilla and hot cinnamon. It feels very light, almost effervescent. Best Buy. abv: 40%
Veil Caramel Flavored Vodka (USA; Veil Brands Company, Princeton, MN); $12, 93 points. Clear in the glass, this vodka offers a sweet, nutty scent. The slightly viscous palate leads with caramel sweetness and spice, winding into pleasingly a nutty finish reminiscent of pecan pie, plus a warming cinnamon-clove kick. Sip it straight or mix into dessert-style drinks. Best Buy. abv: 35%
Cathead Pecan Flavored Vodka (USA; Bottletree Beverage Company, Madison, MS); $20, 93 points. This shows a honey hue and slightly cloudy appearance. The aroma is honeyed and rich, with a nutty hint, while the velvety palate carries a dry, walnut flavor into the clove-laced finish, showing only a trace of sweetness. Would be welcome at the dessert table or mixed into cocktails. abv: 35%
Veil Pineapple Flavored Vodka (USA; Veil Brands Company, Princeton, MN); $12, 91 points. Look for a fresh pineapple scent and a hint of caramel warmth. The palate mixes sweet and mouthwateringly tart flavors with a caramel undercurrent that suggests pineapple cake. Pour as a head start on lighter piña colada variations and other tropical drinks. Best Buy. abv: 35%
Dripping Springs Texas Orange Flavored Vodka (USA; San Luis Spirits, Dripping Springs, TX); $20, 90 points. Clear in the glass, this vodka offers light, pleasant hints of orange peel on the nose and palate. Otherwise, the palate is relatively neutral, finishing on a prickle of alcohol heat. Versatile for mixing, since it adds aroma but won’t fight with other flavors. Distilled from corn. abv: 35%
Eight Degrees Grapefruit Flavored Vodka (USA; Fairmont Ltd., Mira Loma, CA); $19, 90 points. Lime blossom freshness leads the nose, while the palate mixes sweetness with mouthwatering acidity, finishing on hints of ginger and grapefruit peel. Consider this a head-start on Gimlets and other cocktails. Base vodka is made from Dutch wheat. Best Buy.