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Despite the fact that here in the US, Vodka is described as a “colorless, flavorless, odorless” beverage, it is much more diverse than it gets credit for. In recent years, with more and more cheap vodka matching that three word description filling the liquor store shelves, good vodka is harder to come by and more of a treasure to own.
What makes a vodka good though?
Most importantly, good vodka doesn’t burn on its way down. The easiest way to tell if a vodka is cheap is to give it a taste. If it’s painful to ingest and leaves you feeling like you drank rubbing alcohol, you can bet that you just drank cheap vodka.
With the bad rap that vodka gets, new drinkers believe that they should come to expect a strong burning sensation with vodka. Seasoned drinkers know that that’s not the case.
What Makes a Vodka ‘Good’?
If you’re looking for the best bottle of vodka, the best thing to think about is the ingredients. In high-quality vodkas, each ingredient used in the distilling process will show itself in a single sip.
The ingredients in a vodka should contribute to the smoothness and overall feel and flavor of the drink. There are a handful of common ingredients used in vodka -- mainly potatoes and grains -- and each of them brings something different to the finished product. So, let’s go over a few of them.
Grain vodka
Any vodka made from wheat, rye, barley, or other grains falls into this category. This vodka’s flavor can be described as similar to baked bread. With grain vodkas, you should also be able to taste hints of spice. Most of these vodkas will be light and have a fresh taste.
The Difference Between Potato vs Grain Vodka
Potato vodka
In comparison with grain vodka, potato vodka is denser. It is also naturally sweeter. Some people argue that potatoes create the most flavorful and distinctive vodkas, however making a good potato vodka is a challenge since potatoes can be difficult to work with. That’s why, if you find a good potato vodka, cherish it! Fun Fact: It’s a common disbelief that Russian vodka is potato vodka. Actually, most Russian vodka is made from grains. This is because the ground there is frozen most of the year, so farming potatoes, a root vegetable, can be hard -- if not impossible.
Corn vodka
This is the least flavorful type of vodka. So, if you’re looking for a good cocktail base, a corn vodka might be just what you need. Corn vodkas are cheap to make, so companies may skimp on the quality.
Grape vodka
Well, you can most likely guess how this vodka tastes. A faint grape flavor and floral notes are what make this type of vodka perfect for inspiring cocktail recipes, and popular among bartenders. However, among common drinkers, grape vodka isn’t as widespread as the other three types are.
Grass vodka
This is a particularly uncommon type of vodka. It can be hard to come by, especially at bars. So, if you do ever get the chance to try it out, well, it might be one of the few chances you get. Grass vodka has faint floral notes and like potato vodka, has a natural sweetness to it. This vodka can be easily enhanced with fruity flavors.
Most vodka is made from either grain or potato, but it can be eye-opening to try something new. Come on, expand your horizon a little.
And, while they aren’t included on the list, let’s not forget about the flavored vodkas out there. Flavored vodkas have a bad reputation, and usually induce mature drinkers to turn up their noses. However, in recent years, more and more high-quality flavored vodkas have been coming out.
So, now that you know the difference between the base ingredients of vodkas, you can be more informed on your next liquor store run. Each type of vodka will be better or worse for different people, and in different cocktails, so it may take some trial and error until you figure out which vodka you’re more inclined to. But hey, the trial and error part can also be the most fun.