Just because a bottle of vodka is expensive doesn’t mean it’ll be delicious. So says Jeffrey Meisel, co-founder of onlinewine, spirits, and cocktail shop Merchants of Beverage. With any bottle that costs more than $75, you’re likely paying for a fancy bottle or flashy marketing. And that’s not what he’s into.
Vodkas are distilled from a wide array of grains, fruits, andflowers, but they can vary wildly in quality. “I tend to look at vodka for flavor,” Meisel explained. “It should be pretty clean, but there should be some depth and richness.” Sure, many traditional vodkas taste “like nothing,” but some artisanal producers ( and bartenders!) are looking to change this stereotype.
“You’re seeing people treat it with a lot of care,” he said. “You can actually sniff them [like a
whiskey]”—which is why I’ve started to enjoy some vodkas more than others.” Here are Meisel’s picks for cocktail-worthy vodkas at every price point.
And Happy National Vodka Day!
Relax, Meisel swears this $9.99vodka won’t burn the lining off your stomach. “It’s fantastic quality for the price—I love their stuff,” he said. It’s clean and mixable, although Meisel doesn’t recommend sipping it straight.
Hophead Hop Vodka
This grassy spirit from Anchor Distilling Company is actually distilled from Washington State hops, although it lacks the bitterness often associated with hoppy IPAs. “The vodka works,” Meisel said. “It’s got this really smooth, delicateness that I love.” At $29.99 a bottle, Meisel considers it a steal.
Aylesbury Duck Vodka
This vodka from the Eighty Six Co. is “one that I would fully endorse for the home,” Meisel said. Light-bodied and with a silky mouthfeel, it’s reasonable at $29.99 a bottle.
Death’s Door Vodka
Organic-certified hard red winter wheat is distilled twice, givingDeath’s Door vodka a “beautiful richness,” Meisel said, adding that at$32.99 per bottle it’s a good deal.
Charbay Meyer Lemon Flavored Vodka
If you want to sip a fruit-flavored vodka, this is the one. Charbay Family Distillery & Winery began making vodkas in flavors such as Meyer lemon and blood orange “in response to the flavored vodkas of the ‘90s,” Meisel explained, and unlike its competitors, makes “super high-quality stuff” that’s just a touch “quirky.” A bottle goes for
Square One Cucumber Vodka
Square One was “one of the early birds in the organic spirits movement,” Meisel said. He’s a particular fan of its “really refreshing” cucumber variety, which costs $39.99 a bottle.
Silver Tree American Small Batch Vodka
Leopold Bros.’ artisanal vodka, made from a blend of potatoes, malted barley, and summer wheat, “has got flavor and texture,” Meisel said. It’ll run you $39.99 a bottle.
Indigenous Fresh-Pressed Apple Vodka
Tuthilltown Spirits distills Hudson Valley apple cider in a copper pot to make this apple-scented vodka, which goes for $44.99 a bottle. Its fruity notes—though a far cry from the apple-tini—are “pretty cool,” Meisel said.
Crater Lake Reserve
A brief aging in new American oak barrels gives this vodka from Bend, Oregon’s Bendistillery “a touch of vanilla” flavor. You’ll pay for it, though—it costs $54.99 a bottle.
Karlsson’s Vodka Batch 2009
This spirit “is probably the most expensive vodka” on this list at $75 a bottle, but Meisel, who sells the spirit on his website, assures us it’s worth the occasional splurge. Peppery and earthy in flavor, it’s made exclusively with a variety of potato called solist, all plucked from the Mäsinge Lantbruk farm in Cape Bjäre, Sweden. “It’s delicate, but it’s got a depth and richness.”
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