The best brands of vodka for cocktails, according to bartenders
Until 2020, vodka was legally defined in the United States by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as “neutral spirit so distilled, or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, of so as to be without distinctiveness, aroma, taste or color.The definition was, admittedly, a little harsh, but nonetheless reflected the bar world’s stance on spirit for much of the last decade.
But after years of being shunned by top backbars around the world for its supposed bland nature, vodka has emerged as a spirit worthy of consideration, thanks in part to the wealth of artisan producers showcasing the category’s undertones of character. (The TTB later changed its definition to recognize that vodka is not characterized by a lack of character.) Thanks to a renewed focus on the raw materials of vodka and contemporary filtering methods, as well as proofing with pure waters from an expert source, the world of vodka s is flourishing.
“Nowadays there is a wide variety of small and large brands that distill vodka with passion and precision,” says Markus Bosel, assistant bar manager at Fallow in London. “From barley to rye, through grapes and wheat, there are endless possible taste profiles.” As Denis Broci, bar manager at several Claridge’s locations in London, explains, “it’s a fortifying base on which you can create a unique flavor profile, and at the same time, it’s one of the ingredients we usually all at home. ”
Bosel adds that he enjoys the elegant creaminess and body of wheat-based vodkas, which make them the perfect Espresso Martini, and that a drier barley-based vodka adds a nice clean touch to a Martini. Grape-based vodkas, which tend to be more floral, shine in highballs and sours, while other grain-based vodkas are versatile and can easily feature in a range of drinks.
“To me, vodka is an underrated, underrated spirit,” says Nate Brown, owner of So Cap, a hotel group in London that includes highball-focused cocktail bar Soda and Friends. “There aren’t many spirits where the distiller’s craftsmanship and the quality of the ingredients are laid bare in the same way as vodka.”
Brown also notes that price isn’t always an indicator of quality. When choosing the best value vodka for blending, understanding the raw material the spirit is made from, the production methods, and where the water used to dilute the distillate comes from will help you find the good vodka for your next cocktail. Here, as a starting point, bartenders offer their favorite bottles for mixing.