The Essential Bottles Of Vodka To Serve At Your Next Party

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Over and over, people underestimate vodka. It’s treated like a neutral spirit. Tasteless. Inert even. And sure, there are vodkas out there that fall into the category of “a simple way to get buzzed without any discernable flavor” (we’re looking at you, Grey Goose), but a well-crafted vodka is so much more. A great vodka distiller can pull flavors and nuances out of grains like rye, wheat, potatoes, and even beets that will wow you.

Vodka, as a category of booze, is also incredibly accessible price-wise, thanks to the lack of barrelling. The spirit is typically distilled, cut with local mineral water, filtered, and then bottled. There’s no years-long aging process in expensive barrels kept at a controlled temperature in equally expensive storage spaces. In fact, there’s little between the field and the bottle here — just a grist mill, fermentation tank, still, filtration system, and a master distiller plying their craft. That means even the highest quality vodkas are far cheaper than middle-of-the-road bourbons or dark rums.

So where does one start their journey of discovery in the world of vodka? We have a few answers. The five essential bottles of vodka below will give you a sense of the variety of expressions on the market. These are the bottles that’ll acquaint you with the style and prove that vodka is far more than a neutral spirit meant to get you lit without tempting your palate.

Absolut Elyx — The Welcome Drink

What to talk about:

Absolut changed the game when it came to how we interact with spirits in the consumer market when they brought on Andy Warhol to sling their vodka in America. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, Absolut alone accounts for 250 bottles of booze sold… wait for it… every minute around the world.

So when Absolut decided to up their game, the world listened. Their Absolut Elyx — “elyx” is Swedish for luxe — is a single estate, single grain spirit that’s distilled in antique copper stills and cut with local high-quality mineral water. This is grain-to-glass dialed up to eleven.

How better to greet your friends upon their arrival than with a familiar friend upping its game?

Tasting notes:

That wheat from the single estate — a castle estate that has been growing wheat for 600 years — shines through on the nose. There’s a clear grain essence here with a light hint of white chocolate creaminess. Next, a fatty nut nature comes into play alongside creamy butter, hints of salt, and a nice mellow spice, all leading to an incredibly clean finish.

This is the perfect vodka to stir up into a dry martini to hand your guests as they walk in the door.

Buy a bottle here for $32.99.

Stolichnaya Vodka — Pre-Dinner Cocktail Hour

What to talk about:

Stoli started out in 1938 as a blend of wheat and rye that utilizes the vast agriculture and aquaculture of the Russian steppes and Latvian lowlands. The bottle became an iconic marker of great vodka in the West when it was introduced in the 1970s and has only grown since. The wheat/rye distillate is filtered through birch charcoal and quartz sand, giving it a smoothness without losing its tenacity.

Tasting notes:

A slight peppery rye note comes through with a hint of lemon citrus right away. There’s a mild sense of a bitter spice that leads towards an almost briny nature before veering back towards spice, rye this time. The end has echoes of bittersweet notes spliced with citrus warmth.

This is a great vodka as a shot or a base for any cocktail. If you have the cash, it’s a dream when paired with caviar. Now that’s how to push a party into second gear.

Buy a bottle here for $15.99

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka — With Dinner

What to talk about:

This Polish rye vodka is something truly special, if you can get the original Polish version. The rye distillate is pressed through bison grass from Białowieża Forest which is the last remaining primeval forest in Europe, where bison and wolves still roam free. It’s wild. Unfortunately, the U.S. version of the drink has to be artificially flavored since “coumarin” — which is found in bison grass — is banned in the U.S. So, if you have a friend in Europe, have them pick up one of these bottles. Otherwise, you’ll have to make do with the American version.

Tasting notes (for the U.S. version):

The initial feel will transport you to an apple orchard with trees hanging heavy with ripe apples baking in the summer sun. There’s a real sense of the bark, grass, and tart, semi-sweet fruit. The texture is ultra-smooth with an ever-so-slight creamy edge and whispers of nuttiness. The earthy nature of the vodka comes back in and leads to a mildly warm finish with a dash of creaminess.

This will pair beautifully with umami-rich main courses. Imagine amping that nuttiness with a browned-butter/ caico e pepe pasta!

Buy a bottle here for $38.99

Tito’s Handmade Vodka — Party Time

What to talk about:

Austin, Texas’ Tito’s Vodka is an outlier, as it’s made from 100 percent corn distillate. That makes it gluten-free, which is a bonus. It’s also local, meaning you don’t have to send this bottle half-way around the world to get your local liquor store. That’s a definite plus.

Tasting notes:

The corn shines through vividly with Tito’s. There’s a musty, grain silo feel to the sip that almost feels aged. The vodka thins out and a subtle sweet taste comes into play before a mild pepper warmth at the finish.

This is the perfect vodka to stir into a highball with fizzy mineral water all night long. It’s a known entity that your guests will be excited to see in their cocktails. Don’t forget the lime wedge!

Buy a bottle here for $19.99

Chopin Potato Vodka — Farewell Drink

What to talk about:

This Polish vodka is all about keeping it local. The potatoes used to make the spirit are all sourced within 25 miles of the stills. The potatoes are baked in their skins before going into the fermenter tanks, allowing the starches to produce as much sugar as needed to get the alcohol going. The use of potatoes means that this vodka is also gluten-free.

Tasting notes:

Freshly tilled earth comes to mind first with this sip. Then a smooth, almost creamy potato nature comes into play. It’s a blend of earthy grass and umami savoriness with an echo of apple tartness. The end comes along quickly with an ever so subtle note of bitter spice warmth that fades out with the rest of the flavors and textures.

This is the sip to raise as you say goodbye… or spin the party off in a whole new direction. Who’s ready to hit the club?

Buy a bottle here for $24.99