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We Blind Taste-Tested Vodkas Under $30 And A Clear Winner (And Loser) Emerged

Finding a solid, cheap vodka is not hard. Finding one that actually has a good flavor profile and texture can be… a bit harder. There are a lot of vodka bottles on the shelf and they’re not all created equal. No one wants oily vodka that tastes like hand sanitizer. Even for mixing cocktails.

To help you pick the right vodkas, we’re blind-tasting iconic expressions that all ring in at under $30. All ten vodkas I tried for this piece are pretty familiar to me. I lived in Moscow for a year, where I drank my fair share of the stuff. On the personal level, I have a special place in my heart for Stoli, thanks to my grandfather sneaking me nips from the bottle on summer holidays. Based on nostalgia factor alone, I went into this blind tasting pretty much convinced I’d rank Stoli first.

For this tasting, I ranked each bottle based on taste alone. Next time, I’ll taste some high-end vodkas with some cheap ringers thrown in to try to trip myself up!

Part 1: The Taste

Zach Johnston

Taste 1:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens light and creamy with a hint of green peppercorn. There’s a soft mineral water feel on this one that leads towards a final note of faded mint, kind of like the last legs of minty chewing gum.

Taste 2:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a note of rye bread next to wet wheatgrass that leads towards soft notes of … almonds? The texture of this sip is incredibly soft, like a bottle of super-soft Italian mineral water that comes in a glass bottle. The end holds onto the grassy notes and ends up back on the nutty vibe through the finish.

Taste 3:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Cold lemon tea, maybe mint-lemon tea, opens this one up. That mintiness leads towards a minty gum vibe again (no, I’m not chewing gum) while the lemon fades out, leaving a slight nutty end with an almost mint candy sweetness.

Taste 4:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Holy shit! This is lemon soda in a glass. It’s full of overly sweet citrus that loses its effervescence until it feels like cold lemon tea with too much fake sugar in it.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say this is flavored vodka. It’s so damn sweet.

Taste 5:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a slight graininess next to a pure water taste. Going back in, there’s a slight creamy oatmeal note next to a very soft and neutral water taste.

Taste 6:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

A note of lemon oils sits next to vanilla cream and dried mint (oh, hi, Stoli). An almost bitter orange/lemon note arrives (think of the white pith of the peel) with a crystal clear water flavor and a mildly nutty finish.

Taste 7:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Interesting. There’s a chili pepper vibe next to a hint of grain and, maybe, leather. Woody spices, Evian-soft water, and unsweetened almond paste drive the taste. The mouthfeel is luscious while bringing back the notes of chili, almond, and wood.

Taste 8:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This has a peppery spice next to wet straw and raw leather (almost raw steak). There’s a light rye bread maltiness next to an almost tap water feel. The end has a slight nuttiness but not much else.

Taste 9:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Lemon oils arrive with a few dry grains and a very faint touch of … cumin? The lemon combines with fresh green herbs for an almost tabbouleh vibe. The overall taste is very soft and full of minerals with a bright edge.

Taste 10:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This has a wet wheat taste with a very clear rainwater texture. There’s a slight vanilla/cream soda note in the sip that leads back to that soft rainwater.

Part 2: The Ranking

Zach Johnston

10. Cîroc Vodka — Taste 4

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $28

The Vodka:

This French vodka is made with 100 percent Ugni Blanc grapes. It’s then distilled five times in a bespoke copper still. Finally, the spirit is cut with local water and bottled.

Bottom Line:

This is the true outlier on the list (and a country mile behind the rest of the entries). It was so obviously something different than the other grain-based spirits that it straight up felt like flavored vodka. It’s just too saccharine while still being kind of listless. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with this bottle now.

9. Wyborowa Vodka — Taste 8

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 37.5%

Average Price: $20 (1-liter bottle)

The Vodka:

Wyborowa (Vee-bo-Rova) is made from 100 percent locally sourced Polish rye. The distillate is then cut with well water from the nearly 100-year-old Wyborowa facility.

Bottom Line:

This was fine. A little watery — it’s under 80 proof after all — but perfectly serviceable.

If you’re in Poland, you can get a full bottle of this for 99 Złoty ($25) in some restaurants (with complimentary mixers like Sprite or juice). Those are fun dinners/nights.

8. Haku Vodka — Taste 3

Beam Suntory

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $29

The Vodka:

This Japanese vodka is made with a mash of polished white rice and koji rice and then double distilled in both pot and column stills. The spirit is then filtered through bamboo charcoal before getting proofed down with super soft spring water.

Bottom Line:

Again, this was fine. The lemon turned sweeter than bitter which was a little bit of a turn-off. Overall, I’d say this is a perfectly suitable cocktail vodka.

7. Absolut Vodka — Taste 10

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $14 (half bottle)

The Vodka:

This Swedish vodka is made from 100 percent winter wheat. The brand is one of the most recognizable bottles of booze in the world thanks to its unique bottle and the easy-to-drink juice inside of that bottle (and a hell of a history of excellent marketing).

Bottom Line:

This reminded me of going to Popeyes. It’s great fried chicken but it’s still mass-produced fast food. Absolut is great vodka but it still feels mass-produced and very neutral (not a bad thing, per se).

6. Smirnoff Vodka — Taste 5

Diageo

ABV: 37.5%

Average Price: $19 (1-liter bottle)

The Vodka:

Old No. 21 is the Connecticut vodka that became one of the best-selling spirits in the world. The spirit is made from non-GMO corn, continuously distilled, and then charcoal filtered before getting cut down to 75 proof.

Bottom Line:

This, again, falls into the fast-food vodka category. It’s great for what it is but nothing to write home about. That being said, this is a solid candidate for infusing with ginger or chili or anything to make killer cocktails.

5. SKYY Vodka — Taste 1

Campari Group

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $20 (1-liter bottle)

The Vodka:

SKYY Vodka has become a classic American vodka over the last nearly 30 years. The vodka is a grain spirit that’s cut with triple-filtered spring water. Though, starting next month, this will be the “classic” SKYY as a new version is coming out with mineral-enriched water at its core.

Bottom Line:

This was pleasant. There were clear flavor notes and a very delicate water feel. Still, there was nothing that popped out or grabbed my attention.

4. Ketel One Vodka — Taste 9

Nolet Distillery

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $26

The Vodka:

This Dutch vodka is made with European wheat. The mash is then distilled in a column still and an old coal-fired pot still. The two vodkas are then vatted and cut down with local water.

Bottom Line:

This was a surprise. That cumin note came out of nowhere. This definitely piqued my interest the most when it came to unique flavor profiles but it wasn’t necessarily the most cohesive one.

3. Stolichnaya Vodka — Taste 6

Stoli Group

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $28 (1-liter bottle)

The Vodka:

This Russian vodka is made from wheat and rye deep in the Russian hinterland. The spirit is then shipped (by train) to Riga, Latvia where it’s proofed with local well water and bottled.

Bottom Line:

Well, f*ck. I guess my go-to vodka wasn’t my favorite today. Anyway, this did have a very dialed-in flavor profile that felt confident and refined. It was bright and very easy to drink with a real softness that helped it reach the top three.

2. Green Mark Vodka — Taste 2

Roust Group

ABV: 38%

Average Price: $15

The Vodka:

This 100 percent winter wheat vodka from Russia feels like a throwback classic. The spirit is cut with local spring water and then bottled in an old-school bottle with a pop cap.

Bottom Line:

Yeah, I’m not surprised this ranked this high. I drank a lot of this when I lived in Dushanbe for a couple of months. I really got a taste for the rye bread and nutty vibe with a super soft mineral water feel. This is just a really well-crafted, classic Russian vodka.

1. Russian Standard Vodka — Taste 7

Russian Standard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $25 (1-liter bottle)

The Vodka:

This St. Petersburg vodka is made from 100 percent Russian winter wheat. The distillate is filtered with both charcoal and quartz before it’s cut with local spring water.

Bottom Line:

Huh… I didn’t expect this to be number one. I’ve drunk my fair share, but it was never a bottle I really bought (or buy now, to be honest). Looking at it from the blind taste, this was refined while also casting the widest net when it came to classic vodka flavors. The softness of the water on the mouthfeel was distinct without being bland. It was well-rounded and felt like there was a real “there” there.

I don’t know. I’m pretty hard-wired for Stoli so I don’t think I’ll be switching over. But that doesn’t change the number “1” I scratched next to my tasting notes for taste number seven.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Zach Johnston

I’m kind of intrigued and baffled Russian Standard won the day. I thought my deep history with Stoli would have subconsciously led me to that. It is what it is.

The thing I’m most sure about though is that Cîroc is a bizarre entry in the vodka canon. Sure, vodka can be made from pretty much anything in its mash. But maybe it shouldn’t be grapes? Just a thought.

In the end, I don’t think this really changed my passive vodka buying habits. There is now and will always be a bottle of Stoli in my freezer. That being said, Russian Standard and Green Mark will have spots on my shelf while Absolut and Smirnoff will remain my mixing vodkas.

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