The Wine Detective


Best Premium Imported Vodka - 2008

Click here for the latest Imported Vodka tasting results

New brands seemingly appear every week, much to the delight of vodka devotees and disciples. The Adams Beverage Group stated that there were almost 300 new vodka brands introduced in the US in the last 5 years. So it is time for another update. held a private tasting with 31 premium vodkas, all imports, all 80 proof and all without flavors. The tasters invited were all professional vodka drinkers. They included: chefs, restaurant owners, bartenders, wine and spirits journalists, retailers, mingled among a number of aficionados.


The Great Vodka Tasting of 2008


Method: The products were served "blindly" to the tasters, completely unaware of the brand being tasted. The order of service was randomly selected through a lottery system. Each of the vodkas were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served slightly above room temperature, one brand at a time. Then, everyone was asked to write down their impressions of each product. Tasters were given the opportunity and option of a retest, if needed. Water on the side and rice crackers were provided to cleanse the palate following each taste of a brand of vodka. There was a resting period after the first flight of 10 vodkas, with a food break after the second flight. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. There was no discussion amongst the tasters until their scorecards had been completed. The entire total was added up and the winners were determined from 1 to 31, solely based on the score received. The tasting notes that follow the rankings are a summary of the results, and all replicate commentary has been eliminated while contrasting opinions have been summarized. Prices quoted are for 750ml sizes. Prices will vary by state. Country of origin is given, with a few tidbits added for each brand.

History: The word, vodka, is a derivation of the Russian word for "little water." Vodka came to be a huge part of the Russian culture, as it was being distilled even before the word vodka came into general use. Polish historians claim that vodka was first produced in 1405, and history coupled with rumor state that it reached Russia from Poland. Vodka can be made from potatoes or various cereal grains that contain starch, principally corn, rye and wheat, but it can also be made from fruits and vegetables if you feel like setting up your own distillery in a corner of the backyard or kitchen some time later today.

A common property of vodkas produced in the USA and Europe is the extensive use of filtration prior to any additional processing, such as the addition of flavorings. Filtering is sometimes done in the still during distillation, as well as afterwards, when the distilled vodka is filtered through charcoal and other media. The U.S. government officially describes vodka as "a neutral spirit, so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal and other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka producing nations; so many distillers from these countries prefer to use very accurate distillation but minimal filtering thus preserving the unique flavors and characteristics of their products. This tasting proved vodka’s range of aroma, texture and flavor. The governmental definition was correct on one point however - vodka does not have any color. Today, vodka is the largest category of distilled spirits (25%) on the market. The super-premium category (over $25) is the fastest growing segment.

Although vodka is traditionally drunk neat in Eastern European and Nordic countries, its popularity elsewhere owes much to its usefulness in cocktails and other mixed drinks, such as the Bloody Mary, the Screwdriver, the Cosmopolitan, the vodka tonic and the vodka martini.

The Art of Tasting Vodka: While many prefer to drink their vodka ice cold, it is best, for tasting purposes, to pour it into a glass at room temperature. Cold tends to dampen the aroma and deaden the taste buds. Look at the liquid; it should be clear and bright, absent any cloudiness. Second - smell or "nose" the vodka by swirling it in the glass. Watch out for sharp, pungent odors or a perfumed smell. Third - take a small sip and roll it around your tongue. Look for a pleasant flavor and, yes, it varies from person to person. Fourth - draw a little air over the vodka to release its flavors, then swallow it and evaluate the finish. Fifth - pure vodka should feel smooth on the tongue...with no "bite," and be pleasant but not overpowering, nor have an off-aroma or flavor and little aftertaste. You're ready!!!


THE TASTING This tasting dispelled some myths about vodka! To begin with, the notion of "triple distilled" or "triple filtered" is pure hype. The process of distillation is a continuous one, recirculating the solution until all the alcohol is vaporized out. Also, the source of the vodka (potato, wheat, sugar cane) does not affect the final product. Vodka is the easiest and cheapest spirit to produce (with high profit potential). There are no oak barrels or long aging process. So much for what you might hear, it is all about the water, the bottle, the label, the marketing.

Here are the results:

Russian Standard 1. The clear (no pun intended) winner is
Russian Standard - (Russia)- $25
Smooth, sweet finish, rough, clean, intense, exciting, classic.
2. Absolut - (Sweden)- $22 - Wheat based-
Intense, sweet almond, burns, sweet tones, smooth, pleasant, classic.
Effen 3. Effen - (The Netherlands)- $32
Wheat based- filtered through peat, not charcoal.
Neutral, grassy, smooth, hot peppers, polished, citrus, pure, mellow.



4. Three-Way Tie- Xellent - (Switzerland)- $33– Rye based- 3 times distilled- glacier water from the Swiss Alps. Bread-like, smooth, bitter, intense, harsh, refined. Jewel of Russia - (Russia)- $28- Wheat & rye based- Quadruple distilled, 5 step filtration- Metallic, alcoholic, smooth, spicy, peppery, clean, classic. Smirnoff - $15- ONLY domestic vodka included as a benchmark, although they do produce a Russian version distributed outside the U.S.- 10 times filtered- Complex, full-bodied, clean, spicy, harsh, good aftertaste, mellow.

5. Puriste - (Austria)- $40– Wheat based- 6 times distilled- water from the Austrian Alps. Good finish, smooth, long aftertaste, no nose, and complex.

6. Four-Way Tie - Finlandia - (Finland)- $22– Wheat based- glacier spring water. Salty, spicy, slightly bitter, smooth, tangy, mellow, tasty. Reyka- (Iceland)- $28- Wheat based- filtered through lava rocks. Spice, woody, alcoholic, bitter, smooth, toasted almonds, pepper. Imperia - (Russia)- $35- Premium brand for Russian Standard- Wheat based- filtered through quartz crystals, 8 times distilled. Clean, spicy, refined, flavorful, balanced, neutral, minerals, rubbing alcohol. Tanqueray Sterling - (United Kingdom)- $15– Wheat based- 3 distillations. Citrus, silky, spicy, bitter, sweet, harsh, balanced, dirty, smoky.

7. Four-Way Tie - Potocki - (Poland)- $38- Rye based, unfiltered - Twice distilled. Full flavor, grassy, bitter, fruity, clean finish, floral, no taste, sweet. Chopin - (Poland)- $32- Potato based- distilled 4 times. Licorice, floral, spicy, citrus, honey, alcoholic, rough, rubbing alcohol, smooth. Belvedere - (Poland)- $30– Rye based, 4 distillations. Sharp, acidic, smooth, cedar, spice, intense, rough, flavorful. Vox - (The Netherlands)- $28- Wheat based- 5 times distilled. Lemon, smooth, short finish, peppery, no flavor, silky.

8. Two-Way Tie - Ketel One - (The Netherlands)- $26– Wheat based. Clean finish, anise, vegetal, smooth, intense, soft & subtle, neutral, bitter. Van Gogh - (The Netherlands)- $28– Wheat, corn & barley- three distillations. Clean, smooth, bitter, complex, spice, fire, biting, rich, intense.

9. Two-Way Tie - Boru - (Ireland)- $20– Wheat based- distilled 5 times. Clean, rough, citrus, smooth, intense, alcoholic, sharp, classic, berry like. Fris - (Denmark)- $24– Wheat based- freeze distilled 6 times. Light, clean, bitter aftertaste, smooth, buttery, good finish, off nose.

10. Three-Way Tie- Zyr - (Russia)- $32- Wheat & Rye based- 9 filtrations, 5 times distilled. Citrus nose, smooth, slightly bitter, refined, pleasant, simple. Iceberg - (Canada)- $20– Sweet corn based. Sweet, butterscotch, intense, rough, fruity, refreshing, bubble gum. Three Olives - (United Kingdom)- $20– Wheat based- quadruple distilled & filtered. Citrus, sharp, smooth, harsh, spice, rich, rough.

11. Six-Way Tie - Grey Goose - (France)- $30- Wheat & Rye based (in Cognac) - Salty, alcoholic, smooth, peppery, citrus, hot, rough, great flavor. Svedka - (Sweden)- $14– Wheat based- distilled 5 times. Citrus, hot, short aftertaste, spice, tart, classic, rough finish. Stolichnaya Elit - (Russia)- $60– Wheat & Rye based- 4 distillations. Freeze filtered. Balanced, smooth, burns, easy drinking, hard to drink, good finish.Ciroc - (France)- $35– Grape based- 5 times distilled, cold fermentation. Marketing taken over by Sean Combs. Lemon, lime, almonds, fruity, citrus, slight burn, floral notes, short finish. 42 Below - (New Zealand)- $22– Wheat based. Only Southern hemisphere vodka tasted. Citrus, rough, spicy, bitter, floral notes, slight burn. Smooth. Level - (Sweden)- $30– Wheat based. From makers of Absolut. Burning, smooth, herb like, perfume, mellow, citrus, rough, one note spice.

12. Three-Way Tie- Citadelle - (France)- $30– Wheat based, distilled 5 times. Vegetal, hot finish, sweet, peppery, citrus, green, brash, oily. Ston - (Estonia)- $22– Wheat based, 4 times distilled, filtered through limestone. Wheat, fiery, balanced, harsh, earthy, grainy, spicy, clean. Sputnik - (Russia)- $26- Not yet available in US- Winter wheat based. Distilled 3 times. Hot, bitter, burns, nutty, heat, rough, no nose, full-bodied.


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Comments and Suggestions:

Thu. June 5, 2014 7:24 PM - by: ashik
Mon. May 7, 2012 7:09 AM - by: david
has any one heard of a cmnphobckar 99 vodka help please
Mon. February 20, 2012 7:36 PM - by: Keith
All I'm gonna say is wait till they all try Cavoda Vodka
Mon. February 13, 2012 1:14 AM - by: helina
I thought that winter palace vodka would be on top of the list. Its actually good vodka, dont u think?
Sun. January 29, 2012 9:30 AM - by: Judith Mitchell
My aristocratic Polish friends swore by a brand of Polish vodka -- Vodka Wyborova (sP?)-- which I cannot find in any retail stores anywhere (I was then in NYC). They kept it refrigerated, infused with a frangrant "buffalo grass", and it was sublime straight. Is this vodka possible to find anywhere?
Fri. January 27, 2012 5:04 AM - by: Jpmanouk
Gera Vodka won a platinum award from the BTI also receiving the "Best Buy" designation and certainly should be considered in the top 10.
Fri. November 25, 2011 8:41 AM - by: Christina
I agree, Wodka is my favorite. I drank it in England and than again in ny last week. By far my favorite
Fri. November 25, 2011 8:39 AM - by: Sjoerd
What about wodka vodka? Amazing and forgotten by your people.
Fri. October 14, 2011 6:46 PM - by: Jan III Sobieski
I tried some of them and it seems like Ketel One is still my personal favourite. Finlandia and Absolut aren't bad. I remember I liked the Russian Standard, but Belvedere to my greatest disappointment tastes like Boru has a rough, almost bitter finish. You guys out there should try Siwucha, a Polish brand known from war times. Not bad at all...
Sun. October 9, 2011 8:24 AM - by: Editor
Chambéryzette is a French Aperitif made with Dolin's vermouth and flavored with not-too-sweet wild strawberry juice. The cost in the UK is £11 (US $17.00). Availability is limited in the US. For cocktails, try substituting dry vermouth with Chambéryzette.
Sat. October 8, 2011 6:54 AM - by: Alex
I purchased a bottle of Russian Vodka for my Father many years ago,it was quite expensive.It was the colour of brandy and I tasted it and it was the smoothest and most pleasant you could imagine,don't remember the name but Father loved it.Any ideas? Also am trying to track down Chamberryzette French wild strawberry aperitif I read about in Vogue.Could you suggest the appropriate way to mix/serve and best retailer to purchase and app price range? Thanx Cheers Alex
Wed. September 28, 2011 6:36 AM - by: JOHN
1 word BELUGA
Fri. May 13, 2011 7:16 AM - by: billy Black NuWave
I am current bartender 10 years, and i have tried every vodka there is.. and i will say putting absolut in your top 25 would be a joke let alone top 2 it shows your an amatuer or that it realy boils down to personal taste. I will say "Crystal Head" is the standard for pure smooth beautiful Vodka it is just that good !! second Chopin (potatoe) there is a very nice vodka only sold in europe called Eristoff I'M DRINKING THAT AS I WRITE THIS !!! CIAO GOOD SAMPLING
Wed. December 22, 2010 6:55 PM - by: Randy Flick
As it was explained to me at the Jameson Distillery in Ireland, triple distillation involves three distillation steps. Distillation involves heating a liquid that has alcohol in it to the point that the alcohol (which boils at a lower temperature than water) evaporates and is captured before it condenses back into the liquid from which it came. Second and third distillations heat the captured alcohol under narrower and narrower heat ranges to make sure that only the alcohol remains. Many impurities are removed by this process and the result is a much smoother liquor. All Irish whiskey is triple distilled. Scotch whiskey is double distilled and most Bourbon (sour mash) is only distilled once (however there are notable exceptions). In a taste test many years ago several bartenders were given several different vodkas (without knowing which one was which). Which one won? Pure grain alcohol (200 proof) was the winner. But you can't buy it because 1) it can cause alcohol poisoning very quickly, and 2) it is extremely flammable. Triple distilled vodka should exhibit the same smooth character as triple distilled Irish whiskey.
Tue. November 9, 2010 6:07 PM - by: Dave
I've been to numerous sites with reviews and ratings of various vodka brands. Overall, they are contradictory; some vodka being described as horrible and the same brand being on another site as quite good. If you have to read a review to find out what you should "name-drop" you aren't much of a vodka drinker. I checked these sites to see what was being said about Ketel One, which I just tried. I liked it but the reviews all over the place. Bottom line: find a brand you like and don't bother telling someone it is better than another brand. Just say you like it and don't let some snob "pooh-pooh" your opinion because they think they know what you should be drinking.
Thu. September 23, 2010 1:51 PM - by: Cameo Catz
Thu. August 12, 2010 11:33 PM - by: Bob
This article was very informative. To bad that it only includes the imports to the US. There are so many wonderful Polish brands that blow away most of these commercial brands. My personal favorite is Wyborowa.
Thu. August 5, 2010 11:40 AM - by: Scott G
Isn't vodka made for mixing? If it is, then hands down go with Twenty 2 Vodka. They distill in 50 gallon batches which means it disappears behind whatever you mix it with. killer.
Wed. July 14, 2010 4:35 AM - by: Joe Downunder
Russian Standard is fine but Grey Goose is superior. Stoli doesn't even cut it unless you like it rough and ready
Wed. February 17, 2010 10:10 AM - by: rene kabiity
im the exclusive importer of the new ukrainian vodka (prime vodka ) to lebanon . looking for a marketing company
Sat. January 16, 2010 2:18 AM - by: VJ
I drink smirnoff often but nr. 4 seem a bit high, i like grey goose. my favorite not on the list here: Akvinta from Croatia if you run into it taste it you wont regret it.
Thu. January 7, 2010 10:37 AM - by: Cezary
How does a WINE detective know so much about vodka? As with any tasting, this one is VERY subjective - I would argue the No. 1 for Russian Std, even when I am from eastern Europe and like a rather defined taste in vodka. RSV is NOT one of the best at all.
Wed. December 2, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Morgan
I don't understand these rankings at all. I rank Absolut right next to the jug of charcoal filtered Vons brand Vodka at the supermarket. Unless the people doing the tastings are from another realm of beverages and were looking from something far different from a normal vodka lover, it just doesn't make sense.
Tue. November 3, 2009 12:00 PM - by: DirtyVodkaMartini
I just tried Sobieski for the first time and I'm sold...and I've tried a LOT of different vodkas, from low end to high end. This one is my new favorite. I like a rye vodka made by the people who INVENTED vodka...the Polish people, not the Russians, and this one makes one smooth-as-silk Dirty Vodka Martini and a kick-butt Bloody Mary...and quadruple-distilled. It's high-end but not over-priced.
Sun. November 1, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Justin
LOL! Crystal Head Vodka, really!?!? We have had three in store tastings on it, and it's just like Grey Goose. Overpriced for what it is. You are simply paying for the cool bottle. I can agree with the Russian Standard, that's pretty good, I'm not sure number one worthy, but very good especially for the price.
Sat. October 31, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Chad S.
Ever tried Luksusowa? From Poland. I'm a rye vodka fan but this potato gem has me rethinking my snobbery. If you even pretend to like vodka, try this one. P.S. Jewel of Russia should have been higher on the list. And Smirnoff...!?! Dad, is that you? Now, if you'll excuse me, I feel like I need to track down this Crystal Head I've been hearing about.
Mon. October 19, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Charlotte
I would say you have biased testing. Being a vodka drinker myself and bartender for over 15 years I would not agree with your rankings. Absolut over ciroc? Absolut is like fire and ciroc like ice - Smirnoff the #4 choice? Well above all of these is Crystal Head!
Wed. September 23, 2009 12:00 PM - by: David Feldhaus
I'm sorry but I've tasted many of these vodkas and none of them compare to Crystal Head Vodka. It is by far the best vodka out there.
Tue. September 8, 2009 12:00 PM - by: johnny b
I think this experiment is excellent. It shows that Grey Goose is 100% marketing brilliance with a CHEAP product so their profit margin is through the roof. I'd like to see an American Spirits - or better yet - American Vodka taste test. There is quite the line-up available and my money is on Twenty 2 Vodka from Northern Maine.
Sat. September 5, 2009 12:00 PM - by: MA Barbeee
What can you tell me about Lautergold Blauer Bison Wodka...I have a beautiful white decanter with a blue bison on it...I've had it for about 15 - 20 years...can find no info...thanks
Fri. August 28, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Charles R
My new favorite is Christiania Vodka. Distilled 6 times, filtered, then aerated... little more pricey. Just wish I had some good Russian to compare it to. Christiania vodka was released to the US in 2006 and just had my first sample last night.
Tue. August 25, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Carl Beekman, Ph.D.
How would you rate Svedka?
Fri. August 21, 2009 12:00 PM - by: steve
I love SKY
Wed. June 10, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Robbie
Agree with Russian Standard but Grey Goose, Stoli and Boru so low in the rankings and worse still, no mention of U'Luvka!
Sat. May 30, 2009 12:00 PM - by: Bob
Absolute is for stupid people who get tricked by marketing and are not capable of making origional decisions. Perhaps not the best, but Smirnof if under-rated - especially for the price. It does not have the fancy marketing or bottle, but legit for the price.
Sat. May 23, 2009 12:00 PM - by: i know better
Smirnoff and Absolut over Grey Goose and Stoli?? Just by that alone, this tasting is invalid. You might as well crown the plastic bottle variety Vladimir as the end all of vodkas...and say that Franzia is the best wine money can buy
Tue. May 12, 2009 12:00 PM - by: dan rabish
Absolut you have to be kidding. Taste like rubbing alcohol and is intolerable in a martini. Must have burned your taste buds off in a fire.

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Fifty Best > Wine > The Wine Detective > Vodka
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