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For something that the government describes as a “colorless, flavorless, odorless” beverage, vodka has a very interesting spectrum. Everything from what type of raw materials it’s sourced from, to what aromatic compounds the distillery uses will add to the final flavor of the vodka.
For many vodka drinkers -- and vodka companies -- ‘pure’ vodka is the best vodka. In fact, the purer, the better. So, what exactly do they mean by pure?
The Purities and Impurities of Vodka
When vodka is made unprofessionally, it’s easy for dangerous materials to get mixed in with the finished product. The worst of these would probably be methanol. Methanol is a form of alcohol, but is much more toxic than the kind that we drink. In home breweries, methanol can easily find its way into vodka.
Professionally made pure alcohol is guaranteed to not contain any methanol. That’s why if you’re looking for a safe vodka, you should stay away from the cheap stuff.
The safe alcohol in vodka is called ethanol, a type of grain alcohol. Most vodkas have a proof of 80, meaning that they are made up of 40% alcohol and 60% water. When ethanol and water are the only ingredients in vodka, that vodka is extremely pure. That must mean it’s the best, right?
Well, maybe for some. However, drinking ethanol and water is basically the same thing as drinking rubbing alcohol. It’s incredibly unpleasant. That’s why most vodka companies will do professional distillation techniques, and/or add in ingredients that get rid of any unwanted variants, and focus the vodka’s flavor.
Added ingredients are there to dull the burn of the vodka, and to make it smoother while not affecting the taste. Oftentimes, these are found in the more expensive bottles of vodka.
So, when a vodka company says that they have the purest vodka, it may not always mean ‘best tasting’. Sometimes, added ingredients are what make a vodka taste especially pleasing.
Is the Expensive Stuff Worth It?
When looking at this from a monetary point of view, most people would argue that the more expensive the vodka is, the better it is. That’s why upscale bars will have their expensive vodkas and liqueurs on display, while anything less than a pretty penny is hidden somewhere out of sight.
People like the feeling of having something expensive. In fact, charging an arm and a leg for a bottle of vodka can be a great marketing strategy. A high price gives the vodka mystique, and makes consumers curious.
However, most of the time, once you actually taste one of these expensive vodkas, it really isn’t as amazing as it’s made out to be.
Something important to note when buying vodka is where that vodka came from. One bottle may be more expensive than others not because it’s better quality, but because it was imported from another country. Because of taxes, currency exchange rates, and international marketing, a mediocre bottle of vodka from Poland can be more expensive than a great bottle of vodka from Chicago.
Besides international vs national pricing, the ingredients the vodka is made of is another important price-decider.
Vodkas can be made from many different materials including grain, potatoes, molasses, grapes, corn, and sorghum, among others. Higher quality ingredients like potatoes and wheat will lead to better tasting vodkas, as well as more expensive vodkas.
Final Thoughts
When figuring out what vodka to buy, do a little bit of research first. Figure out where the vodka was distilled, first of all. Then figure out what it’s made of.
If you’re looking for a smooth, aromatic vodka, you’re going to want to stick to the high-quality, carefully crafted vodkas. In most cases, when choosing between two bottles, both from the same country and made with the same or similar ingredients, the more expensive of the two will be of higher-quality.
Still, basic $20 vodkas can be good enough, but they’re more likely to have a strong burn and to contain dangerous impurities that should be filtered out before drinking.
If you’re looking for a quick buzz, a cheap to moderately priced vodka from a reliable company will cut it. But if you want to really enjoy and savor your vodka, you should look into buying a pricier bottle.

Cheap vs Expensive Vodka - What's the Difference?