The best vodka taste tested
If you like vodka cocktails such as bloody mary, cosmopolitan, martini and white russian, buying the best bottle will ensure optimum results. Read our expert guide to this versatile spirit.
Vodka is celebrated as the perfect mixer, often used to give standard drinks a little more kick. A measure of vodka in your cola or ginger ale, for example, is the ground floor on the elevator to discovering an entire skyscraper of vodka cocktails.
However, vodka is no longer just about simply adding alcohol to your apple juice, as producers look at adding character and flavour to their spirit, from the base product to the distillation method. The result is a new order of flavoursome vodkas that work as well in a naked martini as they do in a Moscow mule. To call vodka a flavourless spirit is now to do it a disservice: the flavours may be delicate, but these intricacies and the distinctions between them are to be celebrated.
Brendan Hodrien is a lifestyle writer who specialises in drinks reviews. He has written drinks round ups for a variety of publications, including The Independent, i and the Evening Standard, often specialising in whisky reviews. Here, he has picked the best vodkas, from big names such as Absolut, Chase and Ciroc, to interesting small producers and vintage bottles.
Best vodkas at a glance
- Best vodka for a dry martini: Absolut Elyx, £34.10
- Best vodka for a party crowd pleaser: Ciroc, £18.95
- Best sustainable vodka: Black Cow Vodka, £22.70
- Best vodka for an espresso martini: Portobello Road coffee bean vodka, £25.25
- Best fresh vodka: Penderyn Brecon Five Black, £29.95
- Best vodka for chocolate lovers: Curio cocoa nib vodka, £32.85
- Best Polish vodka: Potocki vodka, £29
- Best vodka for beer lovers: Adnam’s Longshore vodka, £34.95
- Best unique vodka bottle: Crystal Head vodka, £55
- Best unusual vodka: Chase smoked vodka, £39.95
- Best vodka for sipping: Sipsmith sipping vodka, £29.95
- Best fruity vodka: St George all purpose vodka, £35.75
- Best London vodka: East London Liquor Company, £21.95
The best vodka to buy 2022
Best vodka for a dry martini
Absolut Elyx falls at the luxury end of Swedish outlet Absolut’s offering. It's sure to be a mainstay of upscale bars in years to come, due to its affability with dry vermouth and its slick bottle, designed by London agency Stranger & Stranger. The elegant butteriness you expect from a wheat-based vodka comes through on the palate, along with sweet and nutty notes. It pairs brilliantly with a good-quality Martini vermouth, such as Dolin.
Best vodka for a party crowd pleaser
Star rating: 4/5
Inevitably, Ciroc was going to make this list. The French titan is unusual in that it's a vodka made from grapes as opposed to a grain. French grapes are made into a wine which is then five-times distilled to produce the vodka, which rose to superstar vodka fame when it was celebrated by music mogul Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. Despite being made from grapes, Ciroc is known for its subtle citrus finish, at once crisp and clean. This is one to be served as an uber cold shot.
Black Cow Vodka
Best sustainable vodka
Star rating: 4/5
Black Cow Vodka is thinking way outside of the box, producing spirit from milk. It's a marvel of sustainability and innovation: when making cheese, milk is separated into curds and whey. The whey often ends up wasted – so instead, Black Cow ferment and distil it into vodka. The end result is as creamy as expected with a smattering of pepper sprinkled throughout an almost buttery character. This is excellent with soda and a slice of grapefruit.
Portobello Road coffee bean vodka
Best vodka for an espresso martini
Star rating: 4/5
At least 3kg of potatoes go into making each bottle of Portobello Road vodka. This particular expression from the distillery, famed for its award-winning gin, involves steeping Colombian coffee beans in vodka-filled coffee pot stills for 24 hours before the liquid is then redistilled. The end result is a vodka with that morning coffee aroma, a scent which is carried through to a creamily smooth palate. This is a vodka crying out to be made into an espresso martini.
Penderyn Brecon Five Black
Best fresh vodka
Star rating: 5/5
Penderyn Distillery is a Welsh powerhouse, knocking out alcoholic delights from its idyllic premises in the Brecon Beacons. Presented in a striking bottle as black as the charcoal the five-times distilled vodka is filtered through, you’ll want to keep this on your shelf long after it’s finished. Freshness is a character which runs rich through the distillery’s offering, as you’d expect given the bucolic base and the fresh glacier water used. The overall profile is clean, crisp and as subtly peppery as it is fruity. Enjoy over the rocks or with tonic and a slice of lemon (in the sun, of course).
Curio cocoa nib vodka
Best vodka for chocolate lovers
- Available from Amazon (£32.85)
Produced in a small craft distillery at Mullion in Cornwall, Curio has explored the idea of flavouring its spirits using some fairly unconventional flavours: cardamom, samphire and also Peruvian cocoa nibs, which bring a powerful, earthy, chocolatey note to the vodka. The distillery has really bucked the trend of flavoured spirits, which has now begun to shake off its murky past of pungent shot glasses and lurid colours. This vodka makes for a very unusual, but quality base for an espresso martini.
Best Polish vodka
The past decade has seen plenty of vodkas hiding behind highly-massaged marketing stories, but amongst them are some true gems - with plenty of heritage. Potocki has one of the strongest histories in distillation, with original documents tracing its production back to 1784. The spirit today is made from rye and is lightly filtered before bottling to retain its strength of flavour and classic earthy finish. A ‘must try’ on this list, for quality, consistency and history alone.
Adnams Copper House Longshore vodka
Best vodka for beer lovers
If there’s one thing that Adnams know a thing or two about, it’s beer. With great brewing knowledge comes a keenness to experiment with different grains and the Adnams Copper House, a gleaming distillery which looks like the embodiment of a Jules Verne novel, has produced this vodka using barley, oats and wheat. This gives the resulting vodka a creamy but deliciously peppery note.
Crystal Head vodka
Best unique vodka bottle
One of the most eye-catching bottle designs to ever be produced – not just in vodka, but the spirits world in general – Crystal Head has been developed in part by comedy legend Dan Aykroyd – once a Ghostbuster, now a spirits maker! With the bottle made by Bruni Glass in Italy, the spirit inside is quadruple-distilled then filtered through quartz crystals, which have come to be known as Herkimer diamonds. Hints of minerals add depth to this genuine gem of the spirits worlds.
Chase smoked vodka
Best unusual vodka
Not all vodka comes from mainland Europe and this smoked edition, made in Hereford, is enhanced by delicate notes from ex-Scottish whisky casks from the island of Islay. It has a slight caramel colour to it, taken from the oak barrels in which it has laid slumbering for a number of months, resulting in a taste more akin to a mezcal than a vodka.
Sipsmith sipping vodka
Best vodka for sipping
The chaps at Sipsmith set up their small operation in urban West London in 2009 to distill in traditional copper pot stills: the first people to do so in nearly two centuries in London. Another small team making a range of spirits, their now-famous gin is highly acclaimed, and so is their vodka. Distilled using their 300 litre still named Prudence, it is an English rose of a vodka.
St George all purpose vodka
Best fruity vodka
Based in California, the chaps at St George are truly experimental. This vodka is born of a passion to create a more ‘normal’ vodka to work with soda, tonic and in a Martini, and they achieve this by using pear juice which is mixed with a grain base. And delicious it is too. Smooth is the word of the day here.
East London Liquor Company vodka
Best London vodka
Made using 100% British wheat, this hidden gem is made a short walk from Mile End station in the very heart of London’s East End. Their distillery is also a restaurant, bottle shop, bar and a place where you can even distill spirits yourself. It really is a playground for the adventurous drinker, and their vodka doesn’t disappoint. It’s as good over ice as it is with tonic.
What is vodka made from?
Just what vodka is is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Simply, it is a mixture of ethanol and water, a neutral spirit. When you look under the hood, vodka is plenty more: it is characterised by its base ingredients, it's the base of myriad popular liqueurs. To understand the complexities of vodka, it's essential to understand how this shottable, mixable and sippable spirit is made.
Vodka involves fermenting just about anything with a sugar or starch content - such as rye, wheat, potato, or molasses – and distilling the pulp to produce ethanol which is then mixed with water. The flavour is in the detail.
What's the best mixer for vodka?
How you want to enjoy your vodka depends on the evening you want to have. Tonic paired with a citrus-hued vodka will make an incredibly refreshing drink. Higher purity vodkas, ones which have been distilled a number of times, are crisp, clean and enjoyable over ice or served straight from the freezer. The bow-tied elephant in the room is the Martini (shaken, not stirred), and here it is open season; if you prefer a creamier character, then deploy a potato vodka. If you want something more peppery for your sophisticated, serve then turn to a rye-based spirit.
How we tested vodka
We taste tested vodkas in a variety of ways: served neat and from the freezer, with tonic and, inevitably, in an array of cocktails. We were looking for smoothness (at the lesser end of the spectrum the spirit can taste like just that: raw alcohol diluted with a spot of water) and a distinct flavour profile, a character which would make you choose one vodka over another.
Vodka cocktail recipes
Put your bottle to good use in one of our vodka cocktail recipes, whether you're after a classic mix or new spin on this timeless spirit.
Which vodka do you drink? We'd love to hear your product suggestions.
This review was last updated in June 2022. If you have any questions or suggestions for future reviews, or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on alcohol guidelines, read our guide to drinking responsibly.