Prized for its pristine, neutral profile, some might suspect that vodka has little to say. That would be a mistake. This spirit speaks volumes.
It’s also seen plenty of innovation.
To understand its roots, look to Russia, the spiritual home of vodka. Even the word is rooted in Russian. It’s a diminutive, affectionate term for “water.”
“Vodkas vary wildly depending on their base ingredient and how each variety is crafted,” writes Darra Goldstein in Beyond the North Wind (Ten Speed Press, 2020), a cookbook about Russia’s food and culture.
“The spirit can be distilled from any fermentable ingredient,” says Goldstein in the book. Grains like rye, corn or wheat are common. They yield brisk, crisp spirits that have “a bit of an afterbite,” which enhances pairing with fried foods or other rich bites like Russia’s iconic caviar. Potato is another staple, providing earthy softness.
It doesn’t stop there. Vodka has been crafted from fine wine grapes, all manner of fruits, vegetables, dairy products. Even excess baked goods have been turned into vodka.
What characteristics should vodka possess? “Good vodka should have a pleasant aroma, with no hit of ethanol or oily finish,” writes Goldstein.
All of the following vodkas have a story to tell, whether distilled from unusual raw ingredients, made in a unique way or distinctive location. While cocktail ideas are suggested for each bottle, another option is Goldstein’s preferred way to enjoy Russian vodka: right from the freezer, served straight up and icy-cold.