This guide to the best vodka covers everything you need to know about America’s most popular spirit, including the best brands and bottles for every budget.

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Table of Contents
Best Traditional Vodka

  • Rodionov & Sons Polugar Classic Rye Breadwine
  • The Street Pumas Potato Vodka
  • Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka

Best Utility Vodka

  • Wodka Poland Select Vodka
  • Lvov Spirytus Grain Neutral Spirits
  • Kremlevka Russian Vodka

Best Specialized Vodka

  • Rodionov & Sons Polugar Traditional Caraway Breadwine
  • Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka
  • Suntory Haku Vodka

Best Flavored Vodka

  • Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka
  • Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery Core Black Raspberry Vodka
  • St. George Green Chile Vodka

The Short List

Best Vodka to Drink Straight: Rodionov & Sons Polugar Classic Rye Breadwine

This is the re-creation of a pre-vodka spirit widely produced in Russia until 1985, when the Czar Alexander III forbade its production, creating a state-run monopoly in industrially produced vodka. (The production of polugar is still outlawed in Russia today; this is distilled in Poland by a company founded in 2010.) It’s made in similar fashion to the traditional drink: distilled twice in a copper alembic still, then clarified with egg whites and filtered through birch charcoal before it’s distilled once more. This one uses a spicy rye mash. Sipped neatly with a meal, it’s as versatile as bread itself.
ABV: 38.5%
Price: $65 (750mL)

Best Cheap Vodka: Wodka Poland Select Vodka

Made with 100 percent rye in Poland, it’s got the right flavor profile for cocktail mixing, and the right price. It’s industrially produced. “You’re going to get another version of this from so many other industrially produced vodkas,” our expert says. So why not get it at a much better price?
ABV: 40%
Price: $13 (Liter)

Best Vodka for Mixed Drinks: Kremlevka Russian Vodka

A fine example of a Russian-made, industrially distilled vodka. Its subtle nuance among that category is a wheat base and a lemon-y finish. It’s perfect for a Moscow mule, and any other vodka cocktail you can dream up at your home bar.
ABV: 40%
Price: $13

Best Flavored Vodka: St. George Green Chile Vodka

This packs a hell of a lot of flavors, thanks to a hell of a distillation process. First, a neutral spirit is infused with jalapeños and fresh lime peels; the liquid passes through fresh cilantro as it’s distilled; finally, it’s blended with another neutral spirit that’s been infused with serrano, habanero and sweet bell peppers. The final flavor is described as “boozy salsa fresca.”
ABV: 40%
Price: $29

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There once was a spirit called polugar — that’s Russian for “bread wine” — beloved across an entire continent by a whole class of hard-working, hard-drinking people. It was made by individual producers, who simply used whatever ingredients they had on hand. More often than not, that meant potatoes or rye. But because it was so localized, polugar varied widely from town to town. Some people would call it delicious; others said it had a soul.

Then, the industrial revolution happened, and politics sank its claws into drinking. Autocrats took control of polugar, and the liquor quickly became a tasteless, neutral spirit made en masse. It later came to America, where it was the subject of massive branding campaigns. It didn’t take long for polugar to become the most consumed spirit in America. In fact, it sill is, we just know it by a different name.

We call it vodka.

“It’s turned into an industrial behemoth,” says Nima Ansari, a spirits buyer for Astor Wine and Spirits in New York City. But Americans have a love-hate relationship with vodka; we drink it a lot, but we don’t treasure vodka like we do bourbon or mezcal.

Immediately problematic is the spirit’s definition. “It’s a little gray, actually,” Ansari says, but the basics are that vodka as a distillate must be tasteless and neutral, which usually requires distilling it to a minimum of 96 percent alcohol in order to strip out impurities. It’s usually distilled using grains or potatoes, but technically, producers can use anything with fermentable sugars. It can be flavored, whether with chemicals or natural ingredients. Most vodkas are bottled at 80 proof.

For decades, vodka’s biggest defining characteristic was, in fact, its marketing campaigns. How else do you make your tasteless, neutral product stand out among other tasteless, neutral products? “I remember reading Rolling Stone every week, and it was filled with legendary Absolut ads,” Ansari says. But these are part of why bigger vodka brands have accumulated hoards of lifelong drinkers ignorant to the greater nuance of the spirit.

“People say, ‘It’s all expensive and yet flavorless, why should I care about it?’ But I like to burst their bubble,” Ansari says. “It’s the most versatile category of spirits, in my opinion.” And, thanks to small pockets of brands that make quality vodka, with more in common with the soulful, interesting polugar of old than the industrial product made today, the spirit seems to be turning a corner.

Here are a handful of Ansari’s favorite bottles, but first, some advice on how to drink them.

How to Drink Vodka

Step 1: Take it for what it’s worth.

“You have to think about each bottle within the context of the vodka category,” Ansari says. “Don’t look for vodka to deliver, say, what bourbon can deliver. I hear people say that a lot. ‘Why drink this when I could just drink a bourbon?’ They’re different, and you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Step 2: Use it as a flavor vessel.

“Alcohol is a carrier of flavor,” Ansari says. “It’s a vessel. In most cocktails, vodka is not the centerpiece. It can take other flavors and deliver them in a more compelling way. So you can get a bottle of something solid and reliable at a fair value, and then use that as a workhorse for your drinks. And if you want to preserve something, or infuse it, there’s a ton of value in vodka for that. You can’t do that with bourbon.”

Step 3: Start small.

“[As with] any category, start entry-level,” Ansari says. “Acquired taste is a real thing. You acquire it by exposing yourself to certain flavors in different contexts over and over again until, literally, your taste buds change. Then you’re craving that flavor.”

Step 4: Drink it with food, like the Russians do.

“Some of the flavor notes found in these vodkas, especially polugar, sound like the worst flavors you could imagine. Garlic and pepper, honey and allspice and caraway. Why would I ever want to drink that in an intense alcohol form? Well, they open up completely when paired with Eastern European cuisine.”

Are Grey Goose and Smirnoff Any Good?

Every vodka made in Russia, and that from all the big names you know — Grey Goose, Stoli, Absolut, Smirnoff, Skyy — is made at an industrial scale. It’s not that you shouldn’t drink this kind of vodka; it’s that you should know what you’re getting into.

“They’ve earned their place on the market,” Ansari says. “People drink them because they are loyal to these specific brands, and they’re loyal because the vodka is suited to their palate.”

Every producer, whether industrial or not, brings their own touch to a vodka; it’s just that industrial vodkas might have more nuanced differences. The biggest takeaway is not to anchor your palate to one of these big-named vodkas before you explore the rest of the versatile category. You might find something that suits your taste even better, and at a much better price.

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Best Traditional Vodka


When people first began making vodka and polugar, it was not an industrial product. “These spirits were originally artisanal, and deeply tied to locality,” Ansari says. Today, polugar and potato vodkas are some of the best modern examples of these traditional, flavorful methods.

Rodionov & Sons Polugar Classic Rye Breadwine

This is the re-creation of a pre-vodka spirit widely produced in Russia until 1985, when the Czar Alexander III forbade its production, creating a state-run monopoly in industrially produced vodka. (The production of polugar is still outlawed in Russia today; this is distilled in Poland by a company founded in 2010.) It’s made in similar fashion to the traditional drink: distilled twice in a copper alembic still, then clarified with egg whites and filtered through birch charcoal before it’s distilled once more. This one uses a spicy rye mash. Sipped neatly with a meal, it’s as versatile as bread itself.
ABV: 38.5%
Price: $65 (750mL)

The Street Pumas Potato Vodka

Though most vodka is made using grains, potatoes are also a mainstay, especially in Poland; their flavors tend to hold up better against the distillation process, lending an earthiness. This version is an excellent go-to bottle for the back bar, with an untraditional marketing angle: In a fictional comic book universe, “The Street Pumas” are a gang of liquor insurgents trying to defeat the evil forces of “They” (“The corporation trying to control people through their sense-deadening spirits”). It’s goofy, but a distraction from the excellent booze, which is clean, bright, and silken on the palate.
ABV: 40%
Price: $30 (Liter)

Learn More: Here

Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka

From Poland all the way to Pittsburgh, PA, potato vodka is distilled much the same. But Boyd & Blair adds its own twists: using local potatoes and champagne yeast in the fermentation process. With its sweet, light, and slightly fruity notes, it’s great sipped neat, at room temperature.
ABV: 40%
Price: $30 (750mL)

Best Utility Vodka


The most versatile vodkas. “These are value-driven,” Ansari says, and they can serve many purposes or just one very well. Several supply the same flavors as big-name industrial vodka, at a much better price.

Wodka Poland Select Vodka

Made with 100 percent rye in Poland, it’s got the right flavor profile for cocktail mixing, and the right price. It’s industrially produced. “You’re going to get another version of this from so many other industrially produced vodkas,” Ansari says. So why not get it at a much better price?
ABV: 40%
Price: $13 (Liter)

Lvov Spirytus Grain Neutral Spirits

It’s not often you see a proof almost as high as the limit. This grain spirit comes in at 192 proof, or 96 percent ABV. Don’t try to drink it straight — it’ll take the varnish off your floor after you spit it out. But it is perfect for infusing limoncello, bitters, or seasonal fruits, or for use in cooking.
ABV: 96%
Price: $20 (750mL)

Kremlevka Russian Vodka

A fine example of a Russian-made, industrially distilled vodka. Its subtle nuance among that category is a wheat base and a lemon-y finish. It’s perfect for a Moscow mule, and any other vodka cocktail you can dream up at your home bar.
ABV: 40%
Price: $13

Best Specialized Vodka


Vodkas that might look weird on the shelf at the local liquor store. “Sometimes at first, they make you ask yourself, why do these exist? How could I drink that?” Ansari says. Once you’ve started your vodka education — learning, for instance, that the spirit can be distilled out of honey — you might rather think, “How could I not drink it?”

Rodionov & Sons Polugar Traditional Caraway Breadwine

It uses the same rye distillate as the classic breadwine, infused with caraway and coriander before the third distillation. The effect is a big one, evoking gin and even aquavit as well as vodka, and makes for a spirit that can be paired with big flavors like sauerkraut or duck.
ABV: 38.5%
Price: $40 (750mL)

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka

The founder of Caledonia Spirits, Todd Hardie, was a beekeeper before he was a distiller. His vodka recipe calls for cold fermenting honey for three weeks before it’s distilled twice. (An important distinction: it’s distilled from, not flavored with, the honey.) The result preserves the notes of honey and protects the spirit’s wild yeast.
ABV: 40%
Price: $33 (375mL)

Suntory Haku Vodka

The House of Suntory is one of several Japanese distillers bringing a beautiful new twist on whiskey. Their vodka is distilled from white rice and filtered through bamboo charcoal. The subtle, sweet notes strike a balance somewhere between potato and grain-based vodkas.
ABV: 40%
Price: $26 (750mL)

Best Flavored Vodka


Historically, this is one of the most important categories in vodka. You probably know it better from faint memories of chemically induced flavors like whipped cream. But smaller makers are using natural, local ingredients in small batches to create compelling flavors.

Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka

The Karakasevic family cites 250 years of distilling heritage, dating back to 1751 in former Yugoslavia. Today, the father-son team of Miles and Marko distill in Northern California. Their vodka is made using whole, tree-ripened meyer lemons for flavor, with no artificial ingredients.
ABV: 40%
Price: $35

Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery Core Black Raspberry Vodka

Harvest Spirits distills its standard Core Vodka out of apples, without sugar or additives; the black raspberry recipe adds black raspberries grown on their estate, as well as black raspberry juice. It’s vodka, with a framboise twist, and great for cocktails.
ABV: 40%
Price: $37 (375mL)

St. George Green Chile Vodka

This packs a hell of a lot of flavors, thanks to a hell of a distillation process. First, a neutral spirit is infused with jalapeños and fresh lime peels; the liquid passes through fresh cilantro as it’s distilled; finally, it’s blended with another neutral spirit that’s been infused with serrano, habanero and sweet bell peppers. The final flavor is described as “boozy salsa fresca.”
ABV: 40%
Price: $29

Table of Contents
Best Traditional Vodka

  • Rodionov & Sons Polugar Classic Rye Breadwine
  • The Street Pumas Potato Vodka
  • Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka

Best Utility Vodka

  • Wodka Poland Select Vodka
  • Lvov Spirytus Grain Neutral Spirits
  • Kremlevka Russian Vodka

Best Specialized Vodka

  • Rodionov & Sons Polugar Traditional Caraway Breadwine
  • Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka
  • Suntory Haku Vodka

Best Flavored Vodka

  • Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka
  • Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery Core Black Raspberry Vodka
  • St. George Green Chile Vodka

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