Vodka Is Pretty Much The Same No Matter What Brand You Buy

In what may have been the most awesome blind taste test ever, a BusinessWeek writer served his friends chilled shots of various brands of vodka to see whether there was any noticeable difference in taste. His argument was that vodka is a neutral spirit and by definition is nearly indistinguishable from one brand to the next—and that consequently the “brand story” (including country of origin) is really all that separates a Grey Goose drinker from a Ketel One alkie. To test this, he asked his subjects to pick their favorite brands from shots and mixed drinks.

It turns out, no one could really tell one vodka from the other—there was one successful pick, but it wasn’t repeatable. (Probably because the subjects were all half-drunk by that point.)

The other conclusion I drew was that when it comes to mixing vodka with fruit juice, or unpurified ice, you might as well as save your money and keep a bottle of Popov around. After mixing with fruit juice, muddled mint, simple syrup, or tap-water ice, the slight subtleties of the vodka in these concoctions go out the window faster than the promise of a contractor who says he’ll come to your house every day to work until the job is done.

Oddly, there’s a related slideshow of various vodka brands with “tasting notes” that seem to imply that every vodka is a unique and beautiful creation. Hmm, looks like we’ll have to try our own blind taste test.

“World’s Best Vodka? It’s Anybody’s Guess” [BusinessWeek]
“The Best Vodkas” (slideshow) [BusinessWeek]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. B says:

    Not much of a surprise, cause vodka is just alcohol and water.

  2. snoop-blog says:

    Well it really depends on the tasters. I feel like I would taste the difference, but if you want to FEEL the real difference, drink a bunch of Skol, or McCormicks, and tell me how you feel in the morning. I can drink Grey Goose all night long and wake up with no hangover.

  3. punkrawka says:

    There may be little discernible difference in taste, but at least from cheaper to nicer vodkas, I always understood that there was a difference in next-morning-pain due to filtration and other quality issues. My own anecdotal experience bears this out, but that’s obviously limited.

  4. dmolavi says:

    mythbusters did this a while ago, filtering cheap vodka 6 times to see if it tasted as good as expensive stuff. to the average joe, it did. but the “vodka expert” could still taste the difference. myth busted, yo.

    :)

    (i’ll drink anything, as long as it’s got alcohol in it)

  5. kylenalepa says:

    They did a vodka taste test on Mythbusters and the expert they brought in was able to perfectly arrange the vodka by quality and level of filtration. in a blind taste test.

  6. b612markt says:

    @snoop-blog: I couldn’t agree more! I can tell the difference when I taste *any* vodka in a plastic bottle vs. Grey Goose or Effen, but the difference does go away immediately when you add the olive juice, etc.

    The next morning though – my headache or lack thereof ALWAYS knows the difference!

  7. sleze69 says:

    The best way to make cheap vodka taste like good vodka is to get an ice luge. For those poor souls to never attend a party with an ice luge, it works like this:

    - Call a local ice dealer and ask for a 120 lbs block of ice. It will be about 4’x2’x1′ and costs around $60.

    – Place the block on an angle.

    – Get a chain saw and carve a couple lines down one of the wide sides with a deep pool at the top and have it cut right off the edge at the bottom (if you curve it a bit, it will allow for more cooling).

    – Poor drinks into the top of the pool and let the booze flow down and drink away.

    Popov = Grey Goose.

    Don’t worry about germs or anything because by the time you could catch anything, you will be too drunk to care.

  8. One difference is that the ones made in, um, less-that-first-world-countries fish rats out of the vats and don’t have strong controls on alcohol content!

    That stuff really WILL make you go blind. (And the impurities will make you sick as a dog in the morning if you try to keep up with your Russian hosts during shots.) I don’t care what vodka I drink, as long as it’s from a first-world country.

  9. sleze69 says:

    Pour drinks even.

  10. rewind says:

    @kylenalepa:

    I was just about to mention the MythBusters episode. That expert they had was spot on (guess that is why he is). Jamie was almost there (considering the Russian history degree I guess).

    @rest:

    I think to 99% of people there would be no difference, ESPECIALLY in a mixed drink. To the others it matters too, typically they have the wallet to do it, and why is there even a question?

  11. amyschiff says:

    Gas station vodka for the win!

  12. choinski says:

    As a vodka drinker, I somewhat half-disagree. To me, the higher quality Vodka is the one with the least taste so yes, once you reach a certain level of quality, ‘its all the same’ is correct. But the cheap stuff (aka Cossak in the plastic bottle) is awful, and the mid-range stuff (Sky, Absolut, Three Olives) tend to taste the same among themselves.

    The Best Vodka I ever tasted: Chopin. Not the US store bought kind, but the locally available one while I was travelling in Poland. They bring the whole bottle to the table, like wine. It was like drinking butter – butter that would cleave your skull in half the next morning, but butter all the same.

    Also: Even the cheapest vodka can be vastly improved if you run it through a Brita water filter about two dozen times.

  13. johnperkins21 says:

    I’m no expert, but I can definitely taste a difference. Even when mixed with juice. The cheaper vodkas sting my mouth, whereas something like Grey Goose or Vox has a more subtle flavor.

    There’s also a difference between grain and potato vodkas. You can’t really find a cheap potato vodka that I’m aware of, they’re all grain.

  14. Vodka always struck me as the Dasani to Gin’s Coca-Cola. Why buy the spirits without the flavors? A nice gin with citrus/juniper and other botanicals is amazing, straight up, with water (or with tonic, more commonly)

  15. @B: That’s what it’s SUPPOSED to be, ethanol and water. The trick is to avoid the rotgut brands that do a slapdash job of filtering out the nasty things that aren’t either ethanol or water. A lot of that is pretty bad stuff that makes your vodka taste bad and gives you hangovers.

    I use Smirnoff red label. Middle shelf. In our area, $20 for a 1.75 bottle. No need to spend more.

  16. johnva says:

    In a mixed drink, I don’t think it matters (though I would still prefer not to drink bottom-of-the-barrel stuff). And I don’t believe there is much perceptible difference between different brands of “top-shelf” vodka. There’s probably a detectable difference between cheap vodka and expensive vodka, though.

  17. mgy says:

    I once heard a rumor that Grey Goose was created precisely to test this particular myth. That is, if you created a vodka that was just like every other vodka on the market and created a “brand image” (priced it and marketed it to the ‘higher class’), could it be perceived as being a “premium” product?

    No idea where I got that from.

  18. henrygates says:

    You really have to train your palate to notice much difference between brands of vodka. If you’re not a regular vodka drinker, you probably won’t notice any difference.

  19. Riddler says:

    @sleze69: Took advantage of one of those at a party in law school. It was a mid-day Saturday affair. I don’t think I made it out that night.

  20. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    Usually cheaper vodkas are only distilled once and not filtered. This leads to some other components remaining in the vodka. More expensive brands usually distill their vodkas multiple times and filter them to remove impurities (also taste). However, the additional expense of the extra steps is usually not worth the premium vodka makers charge. Compare that to expense of making scotch which is distilled using peat and, by law, aged for a minimum of 3 years (most single malts age for at least 10) and being stored in oak barrels.

  21. BurnZ_ says:

    sure once you get to a higher quality vodka, If its chilled you can’t tell the difference. If its warm you can notice different taste to it. But if you threw a cheap vodka (The crap where you get a liter for $8.99) into that taste test I’m positive they could pick that one out, Chilled or not.

  22. Trai_Dep says:

    You see, my friends, this is why NYC is the greatest city in the world. Boston drinks to get drunk, Los Angeles drinks to get laid and San Francisco drinks to chase the tendrils of SFPD tear gas away, while Manhattan drinks for science. Science!

  23. valthun says:

    Mythbuster’s did something similar. However their test was filtering cheap vodka to make it taste like better vodka. using science they did notice a difference in quality between the brands, and the filtration did take out some defects if i recall. They then brought in a professional taster to swill the vodka’s. While the staff couldn’t really tell the difference the tester was still able to determine the higher quality vodka.

    Its probably true that once you start mixing there is little to no discernible difference, but on its own there seems to be. But mostly with particulates and of coarse the ingredients used to make it.

  24. egosub2 says:

    What is this, alcohol story day? I salute your bold new direction, Consumerist!

  25. Trai_Dep says:

    @kylenalepa: True, if you have a bird-dog sharp palette for straight shots. But I’d wager, as the article suggests, once you mix it, or let ice stew in it, the taste-tester would be baffled. At least, above the level of $6/liter stuff.

  26. @Trai_Dep: I was having a bad day because I ruined the burnt butter frosting for my brown sugar cupcakes but you just made it better what that. Thank you, stranger.

  27. Zephyr7 says:

    So experts can still tell the difference. The trouble remains: everyone thinks he’s an expert ;-)

  28. Is anyone else ever tempted to by Tito’s Handmade Vodka? I think that’s the brand. It looks so ridiculous.

  29. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Vodka is my drink of choice. While when mixed, I can’t tell the difference, the feeling is different. Some vodkas, like Absolute, give me indigestion. Yet Grey Goose I can drink all night and be fine. Same thing with the feeling the next morning, as cheaper vodkas make the next day rougher.

    So if you plan on getting hammered, go for the better stuff.

  30. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Yeah, I don’t care what this taste test says, the bottle of Ciroc my step-brother gave me for my birthday was some of the smoothest vodka I’ve ever had the pleaseure of drinking. I even did my own “smoothness” taste test onNew Years between the Ciroc, Smirnoff & SKYY & the Ciroc won hands down.

  31. DixonDaimon says:

    they obviously didn’t use Jean-Marc XO.

  32. I’ve also noticed some flavors in vodka (not actualy “flavored” vodkas, like the pretentiously named Grey Goose L’Orange) but subtle flavors in plain vodka. Belvedere, neat, tastes a bit lemony to me, in a pleasant sort of way.

  33. Kos says:

    The country club I bartended at during college made us refill bottles of Absolut, Ketel, and Stoli with Smirnoff (whic is still a good vodka right away). Very illegal in my state btw. We learned quickly which patrons knew the difference… the women who drank their vodka straight with either 1 olive or a twist of lemon. The woman who came off the tennis court and asked for a “Ketal-One Screwdriver Mist (i.e. blended)”… she got the Smirnoff.

    The men drank scotch or beer.

  34. enm4r says:

    As an avid vodka drinker, I have to disagree, and I won’t even claim to be an expert. Shot for shot, I don’t think theres a question that there is a fairly significant taste difference.

    It’s no different than a water debate, the stuff at an amusement park water fountain always tastes entirely different than the stuff coming out of my sink, or Fiji, or even Voss.

  35. @generalhousewifery: Tito’s is damn, damn good, especially for the price. It’s locally made here in Austin, so it’s pretty ubiquitous around here. Enough so that another local vodka distillery (Dripping Springs) has, uh… sprung… up.

  36. nweaver says:

    THe problem is COLD. We did a room temperature tasting when deciding which vodka we would buy, Hangar 1, Belvedere, Chopan.

    You could REALLY taste the differences at room temperature: Chopan has a potato-vodka greasiness that is nice/bad, while hangar 1 had a SNAP note from the non-trivial amount of Viognier in the still.

  37. The thing I like about vodka is that no matter how much you’ve consumed, you can still order another one. “Vaakaa!”

    Try that with Jaegermeister.

  38. Rando says:

    this is a complete lie

    Top Shelf goes down way better than the cheap stuff

  39. @Kilgore Trout: Interesting. Maybe I won’t contain myself the next time I’m in the market for a bottle.

  40. Bladefist says:

    three sheets zane lamfry would beg to differ

  41. spinachdip says:

    @Rando: You know what works great when you have a cold? Placebo.

  42. 20/20 did a study on this a while back too. Had a bunch of self-proclaimed experts. None could tell the difference in a repeatable way.

    I like my vodka with OJ so I get my vitamins and my drunk at the same time.

  43. MikeHerbst says:

    I feel its important to emphasize CHILLED SHOTS is the reason for this outcome.

    The various esters (complex organic acids, etc.) that affect the subtle flavors of ALL distilled products are only detectable when they are vaporized in the mouth. These are volatile compounds that vaporize at relatively low temperatures (like body temperature), but when the entire mixture is chilled, especially below the freezing point of distilled water, then they remain in-solution, so you can’t taste them. Hence, no discernible differences between Vodkas.

    This is why true Scotch, Whiskey, and Bourbon drinkers look down the nose at anyone two takes theirs on the rocks. (Make mine neat, thank you.)

    Its also why I personally tend to think Vodka in general is a horrid liquid, since most people have to chill it or mix it to make it tolerable. Room temperature Vodka (at least the non-premium stuff), is like gasoline.

  44. Zaos says:

    i thought vodka was supposed to be tasteless? leading to believe that the only difference is the proof.

    now something could be less refined or more refined or not kept in a good place etc to give you a bad taste.

  45. joellevand says:

    As I said in a previous post, if you’re a vodka drinker, you can tell the difference. Period. Even in mixed drinks. A cosmo, long island iced tea, or screwdriver tastes vastly different when you don’t have a horrific after taste in your mouth.

    My husband wasn’t a believer in this whole “more money means better vodka” thing until he sampled a drink made with Grey Goose instead of his usual Stoli. He is now a believer.

  46. satoru says:

    It’s sort odd to talk about the ‘taste’ of vodka. Wouldn’t doing a gin comparison be more appropriate if you’re talking about taste.

    Also for most common people it would probably be very difficult to tell the difference between different top tier brands as done in this article. But let me assure you there is a pretty big difference between Grey Goose and Boston’s Vodka that comes in a plastic jug :P

  47. MercuryPDX says:

    I also disagree. You can taste the difference between brands when consumed straight, and to a certain degree when mixed. Cheap vodka can give a sour or tainted taste to juice, whereas a top shelf brand will blend seamlessly.

    This article is essentially saying “All tap water tastes the same when you make Kool-Aid with it.”. While this may be true, the tap water from one municipality tastes different from the tap water at another.

    Popov is one step up from paint thinner. There’s a reason most bars use it as the “well brand”, and a reason you feel crappier in the AM after drinking it all night than you would drinking Skye or Absolute in a similar quantity. It’s filtration.

    From Wikipedia:

    When done correctly, much of the “fore-shots” and “heads” and the “tails” separated in distillation process are discarded. These portions of the distillate contain flavour compounds such as ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate (heads) as well as the fusel oils (tails) that alter the clean taste of vodka.

    This makes the difference between “OMG this is horrible!” and “What? There’s vodka in this?”.

  48. MercuryPDX says:

    @MikeHerbst: It’s the same with Sake. You can serve the same Sake hot, at room temperature and chilled and have three completely different taste experiences.

  49. BearTack says:

    By Federal law, if you can tell the difference it isn’t vodka.

    But as someone above noted, just because a few individuals can tell the difference, that doesn’t mean that most of us can. I knew a musician who could tell the frequency a sound generator made to within 2 cycles per second. But, what does that mean to most people?

  50. satoru says:

    @MercuryPDX: I’m also kinda surprised no one in his group managed at least to say ‘this stuff is awful’ about the Popov. Admittedly it might be hard to tell the difference between Grey Goose and Ketel One though.

  51. 44 in a Row says:

    My husband wasn’t a believer in this whole “more money means better vodka” thing until he sampled a drink made with Grey Goose instead of his usual Stoli. He is now a believer.

    I’m the same way, except I came to the reverse conclusion: I can’t drink Grey Goose, and tend to stick to Stoli. I find differences in consistency, after vodka’s been in the freezer for a while; Stoli comes out much more viscous, for some reason, and thus better to drink straight. And I also find Grey Goose to be somewhat citrus-y, in a way that I’m not a fan of.

    It’s possible I drink too much.

  52. awolcfh5150 says:

    There is absolutely a difference in taste! I prefer Stoli or Kettle One over Skyy or Absolut. Also, in several professional taste tests as well as my own (you know the living room, a coffee table, stacked shot glasses, & tons of friends) Grey Goose is some of the worst you can buy yet some of the most expensive. If you like vodka stay away from the Grey Goose!

  53. Xay says:

    Am I the only one who figured this out in college? Smirnoff is for mixed drinks only.

  54. chewiemeat says:

    Claiming there isn’t a discernable difference between vodkas is like my grandmother claiming that all computers are the same. Just because some college fratboy or soccer mom can’t tell the difference between a high end vodka and the cheapest crap off the shelf doesn’t mean there isn’t one any more than my grandmother not knowing the difference between LInux, OSX and Windows means they’re all the same.

    There is a hueg difference between some vodkas, though it’s more subtle between others. And if you’re talking about the difference between a $35 bottle and a $70 bottle… well, I have never really seen that there is $35 worth of difference in any brand.

  55. spinachdip says:

    @xay: The funny thing is, in the aforementioned 20/20 blind taste test, I think Smirnoff came out as the favorite.

    @MercuryPDX: The reason why hot sake is popular is you can get away with using a cheap kind. But with good sake, you want to serve it chilled, and then let it warm up to room temperature to taste the difference.

  56. samurailynn says:

    For some reason Absolut makes me want to puke. Even in mixed drinks it just tastes disgusting.

    I can tell when there’s really cheap vodka (~$6.00 or less per liter) in a mixed drink, so I usually buy Smirnoff. If it’s for martini’s, I would go for Grey Goose. Grey Goose is really smooth when you’re drinking it plain, whereas the other vodkas that I’ve tried aren’t.

  57. mookiemookie says:

    @generalhousewifery: Tito’s is some of the best vodka money can buy. I’ll put it up against Grey Goose, Belvedere, Chopin, et. al. any day.

  58. @mookiemookie: Thanks.

  59. jeblis says:

    I always drink vodka and soda so the taste differences are pretty noticeable. I’m sure mixing with anything else hides the differences though.

    I went through a tour of vodkas and I keep coming back to Grey Goose. (Ciroc was decent too)

    Worst:

    Titos
    Absolut

  60. Snowblind says:

    @johnperkins21:

    Let you in on a well kept secret.

    There is a very good potato vodka, easily found at bevmo or traderjoes:

    [www.bevmo.com]

    I have kept this stuff in my liquor cabinet right next to the grey goose someone gave me. I rather spend my money on a good single malt

  61. xamarshahx says:

    better brands do get u less fd up

  62. ferris209 says:

    Tito’s is the best damn Vodka ever, and I’ve drank a $400 bottle of vodka. Anyone who thinks Tito’s is bad, doesn’t have good taste. That’s it.

  63. Tmoney02 says:

    @choinski: @valthun:

    Yep, I recall as well that Mythbusters found that using a filter like Britta did improve the vodka. The problem was the cost of the filter made the whole thing not worth it. You were better off saving your time and money just buying a higher shelf vodka then doing it at home.

  64. RandomHookup says:

    The real question is: did they get laid?

  65. fhic says:

    Someone once gave me a bottle of Grey Goose. I’ve been refilling the bottle ever since with “Vodka of the Gods” from Trader Joe’s. No one has ever noticed.

  66. AngryEwok says:

    If you drink vodka even on the rarest of occasion, you should know there is a huge difference between certain brands. The cheaper stuff just doesn’t sit well… while stuff like Grey Goose is like silky water going down. Mmm.

    At work craving vodka at 1:30 in the afternoon.

  67. dragonlor20 says:

    Ugh, just give me a homebrew please. :-D

  68. nycaviation says:

    BusinessWeek? This sounds like more a job for the NY Post.

  69. veronykah says:

    @joellevand: As a bartender I find that to not be true. Vodka drinkers THINK they can tell what vodka they think is their favorite. There are plenty of bars that are cheap and refill their expensive bottles with cheap ones as well as bartenders that run out of whatever it is you are drinking and substitute something else.
    In all the years I’ve been bartending I have NEVER had anyone call me out for pouring the wrong vodka.
    I do find it funny that people will call a certain brand in vodka more often than any other spirit, and vodka really is the only one you CAN’T get a discernable difference from.
    I’m not a big spirits drinker but the difference between rums and tequilas, even in mixed drinks, is apparent even to me.
    And people who don’t call when they drink scotch or gin, blasphemy!

  70. mcjake says:

    Vodka’s may not be too different in taste. But the stuff that goes into them is different. I’m allergic to Ketle One, and Scmirnoff, but not Skyye. Don’t tell me they are all the same. The hives all over my face are proof that they aren’t.

  71. consumersaur says:

    @joellevand: Stoli>Grey Goose. Your husband is a nitwit.

  72. Scuba Steve says:

    Why settle for vodka? I cut all my mixed drinks with rubbing alchohol.

    The taste is not much different.

  73. consumersaur says:

    @mcjake: You have to be kidding me.

  74. SOhp101 says:

    @b612markt: Agreed. It’s all about how you feel the next morning.

  75. Oface says:

    I tend to not have hang overs with Ketel 1 and Skyy. I like Smirnoff, but its started giving me bad headaches. A friend of mine got me started on this Ice Pick kick. Instead of sweet tea, we use Crystal Light tea. Only calories come from the vodka. And its SOO delicious!

    I drink too much.

  76. Rajio says:

    This is wrong. I’ve been to a blind vodka tasting before. A very wide range of vodkas. all tasted blindly and revealed at the end of the night. Clearly a difference. price did not always indicate quality (does it ever?) but there was definate qualitative differences, confirmed by the majority of tasters. Maybe the differences dilute when making mixed drinks but in straight shots of vodka inturrupted by aparatif, you can totally taste a difference even if not a seasoned taster. You’d be supprised.

  77. Paul D says:

    As a survivor of Stalin’s purges, my Ukrainian grandfather (RIP) knew more about drowning one’s sorrows in alcohol than anyone you’re ever likely to meet.

    As part of his effort to help me answer some of life’s most pressing questions, his expert opinion was that Stoli was the best vodka currently mass-marketed in the US, followed a distant second by Absolut. I’ve lived according to these principles and they have done me well.

    Also, Grey Goose is for sorority girls.

  78. VikingP77 says:

    Vodka all tastes the same to me as well. They did one of these tests on 20/20 about a year ago…same results…the testers couldn’t tell the difference between top shelf and the cheaper brands…nothing has changed apparently….

  79. bohemian says:

    I use vodka for a couple of cooking type uses. I use Grey Goose because it really doesn’t have any taste to throw the thing I am making off. Vanilla extract made with Smirnoff would be really nasty. The same goes for limoncello or kaluha.

    Could I tell the difference between belvedere and grey goose in a screwdriver. No. Could I tell the difference between grey goose, stoli and cheap plastic bottle vodka in a screwdriver? Yes.

    That and cheap vodka will give you the headache from hell.

  80. maztec says:

    I can’t really taste the difference in Vodka – part of why I don’t like it. If it isn’t a flavoring in the alcoholic drink, what is the point other than to get drunk?!? Give me whiskey, gin, rum, or anything with flavor any time.

    But, that said, vodka is not a neutral flavor – although it is close. Unfortunately some vodkas, no matter how “high quality” they are – taste like turpentine. They ruin the flavors of whatever you put them in – unless you happen to like that flavor.

    Which is funny, since gin doesn’t taste like turpentine to me . . . although most people relate that flavor to it more than vodka.

    On the other hand, cooking with vodka really does create a different flavor . . . and using vodka for infusion is awesome.

  81. jgodsey says:

    there is definitely a difference between cheap vodka and good vodka, cheap vodka is like windex. but so far i haven’t noticed a difference between the pricey ones.

  82. my_imaginary_friends_bore_me says:

    Damn, now I want a dry martini or several so I can do my own blind taste test!!

  83. high_and_dry says:

    It makes all the difference the next day if you consume too much vodka the night before. I can’t even drink 2 cocktails with Smirnoff without being ill the next day. Grey Goose and I, however, have a long loving relationship no matter how much I abuse it the previous evening! (So far, that is.)

    More expensive vodka for me is all about hangover avoidance, shallow as that may sound.

  84. mermaidshoes says:

    @generalhousewifery: i just want to add, yet again, that tito’s is freaking awesome. i’m generally a beer person, but i could drink tito’s and tonic all night long.

  85. EtherealStrife says:

    Stoli devotee here. I can absolutely taste the difference between it and other vodka. Well, for the first round.

  86. Sheeeit! I love me some Fleischmann’s.

  87. sega8800 says:

    people who claim they can taste the difference is BSing, they are all the same.

  88. dwarf74 says:

    I can tell when I’m drinking the vodka straight… but add a mixer and it really doesn’t matter. I can’t tell the difference between brands, but I can between something like Absolut and Store-Brand.

    Vodka’s just alcohol. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well just grab Everclear and add half as much.

  89. Weirdsmobile says:

    As the earlier commenter pointed out, these blind tastings are useless if using chilled vodka. I’m a totally pedestrian taster and don’t claim to be an expert or snob on anything food- or drink-related, including vodka, but even I have been able to tell the difference between brands of vodka in informal blind taste tests, when using vodka at room temperature.

    As anyone who read the “Great Brain” books as kids will know, chilling your taste buds pretty much nukes your ability to taste things. I’m a vodka drinker, and the reason I prefer to drink it unchilled is because that way I can actually taste the subtle flavors. Try an unchilled shot of Shaker’s wheat vodka and a shot of their rye vodka and tell me you can’t tell the difference. It’s not a huge difference, and not one I would probably notice in a mixed drink or in a chilled shot — all chilled vodka tastes like rubbing alcohol to me — but if you like the clean, subtle flavors of good vodka then yeah, it is perfectly reasonable to seek out brands you like and stick with them.

    I guess it’s all a matter of personal preference, but there are certain brands that to me taste pretty much the same — I doubt that I could tell Grey Goose from Skyy — and some that to me have a very distinctive, if subtle, flavor, like Shakers and Pearl. And I’d agree that price is only a very general guide to these kinds of things. I’d take a $17 bottle of Tito’s from Trader Joe’s over Grey Goose or some other ultrapremium any day. Mmmm…Tito’s….

  90. czarandy says:

    I love how everyone here tries to argue against a somewhat-scientific study by arguing with anecdotes. The whole purpose of doings double-blind experiments is that everyone THINKS they can tell the difference.

  91. flatlinebb says:

    Belvedere, Chopin, Luksusowa, Stolichnaya – there is a reason a lot of good vodkas come from Eastern Europe – we invented them! And we have had a lot of practice consuming them too. Grey Goose comes from France; what do the French know about vodka? Stick to wine please.

  92. Sorry if someone already posted this and I totally missed it, but slate did something similar in 2004…apparently, potato vokda is really good.

  93. CapitalC says:

    Apparently? It is!

    Oh, and you should go have MORE “vokda” there new-and-troubling. ;)

  94. @CapitalC: Hahaa…I was doing my own taste test, you see.

  95. azgirl says:

    I have a pretty refined taste, even through the mixers. My experience- Popov=vomit all night.

  96. HungryGrrl says:

    @Ash78: Yeah, gin is due for a revival!

  97. furseekr says:

    Another vote for Molopolowa: [www.argonautliquor.com]
    Goes for $26 for 1.75l in Oregon. Does anyone know why they seem to have 2 different bottle/label styles?

  98. @HungryGrrl: I think Gin is in the midst of a revival. Although, perhaps, only in my circle. One can never really tell with these things.

  99. BrianU says:

    I’ll emphasize the “just water & alcohol” comments; BY LAW all U.S. vodka is ONLY grain neutral spirits and distilled water – so there shouldn’t be a difference as both are considered odorless, tasteless, and colorless. Imported vodkas can taste differently. All that being said, I still liked Potters American vodka best, and the cheap giant bottle of Banker’s Club is the smoothest “economy brand” here. Clearly, to me, there is a difference in “feel” even when I know there isn’t a difference in taste.

  100. TVarmy says:

    @dmolavi: @kylenalepa: What should be remembered is that they were sorting them by taste, not brand. Also, it should be noted that Kari Byron picked the cheapest vodka as her favorite, so maybe us regular folks without trained palates should consider that mythbusting enough. There’s no shame in liking cheap booze if you like it. You’re being a shrewd customer if anything, so you’ll be among friends here.

  101. TVarmy says:

    @BrianU: Alcohol has a taste. It burns and tastes like nail polish removal.

  102. outsdr says:

    @TVarmy: I completely concur with you. I’ve never understood the allure.

  103. Mr.Ninethree says:

    I don’t care what anyone says, I’ve had everything from the 5 dollar plastic bottle vodka, to vodka that I can’t even pronounce the name that was $98.

    But, I will say, 100% that Ciroc vodka, does NOT taste like any other. Probably because it’s made from Grapes, but, all Vodka is def. not created equal when compared to Ciroc.

  104. BlackFlag55 says:

    All the same? Who did this test? A bum with a scalded tongue? Sheesh.

    Potato vodka. Hands down. Teton Glacier from Idaho, Cold River from Maine, Chopin and Monopolowa from Poland.

    No difference. How droll.

  105. klusta says:

    I call semi-BS. If you can’t tell Grey Goose from other vodkas in a *neat* taste test, you’re not a vodka drinker. GG has a distinctive nose to it. I will however grant that it is difficult to tell K1 from smirnoff from belvedere from absolut. Of course, as several have mentioned, the morning after is the real test. Personally, I find K1 has good balance between the damage to your wallet and your morning.

    FWIW the best vodka I’ve ever had the pleasure of gracing my lips has been Zyr. If you ever have the fortune of seeing that sexy blue bottle behind the bar, ask for it chilled and neat — to mix in a cocktail would be a gross bastardization.

  106. Cee Bee says:

    what about the severity of hangover?

    i’m sure there has to be a difference between makes all things (public lushness) being equal, no?

  107. cliffordmanning says:

    No difference, ha! That’s not what my two-day hangover tells me.

  108. god_forbids says:

    Slate did a great article on this years back. BusinessWeek is flat-out wrong:

    [www.slate.com]

  109. G-Dog says:

    I call shenanigans. I can drink top shelf vodka straight from a glass. cheap white label drug store vodka is like drinking flaming barbed wire, mixed or not.

    Personally, I like mid ranged vodka. It’s cheaper and doesn’t make me want to vomit.

  110. seanSF says:

    We made martinis the way Charles likes them, with a half-shot of dry vermouth and two olives over ice made from distilled water.

    Well, there’s your problem: Half a shot of vermouth! You could put airplane fuel in that martini and it wouldn’t matter.

  111. This is pretty much a do-over of an old story. ([www.abcnews.go.com] for example)

    It doesn’t prove that cheap vodka is the same as more expensive versions. It does prove that some people won’t notice a difference. Also, the guy served “frozen shots” of vodka. The colder something is, the less you can taste it, which is why the pros generally taste spirits near room temperature.

  112. theczardictates says:

    *sigh* Do we have to go through this every time we have a vodka thread? As a vodka drinker (Moskovskaya for preference), I get pretty tired of people saying that because *they* can’t taste the difference, then *nobody* can taste the difference, and therefore vodka drinkers are fooling themselves/falling for a line of advertising/both.

    The reality is…

    – Cheap vodka tastes like medical spirits and the smell alone identifies it.
    – The mid-price (so-called “premium”) vodkas that you’ve heard of because they get advertised a lot and marketed mainly on image (Ketel, Grey Goose, etc.) have all been designed not to offend a Western palate and do all taste pretty much the same as each other, but quite distinct from cheap vodkas.
    – The authentic Russian and Polish vodkas that aren’t toned down for export to the West all have distinct tastes. When I persuaded a group of friends to try Moskovskaya in a bar in Prague, every one of them could immediately tell the difference in taste and texture, even the ones drinking martinis. And they all preferred it, too.

    Moral 1: Ketel, Grey Goose, etc. are not the end of the vodka story. If you haven’t tasted authentic central european or eastern european vodka, its not so surprising that you think they taste the same.

    Moral 2: Matters of taste should not be argued

  113. Titan0 says:

    The Icelandic vodka, Reyka, is fantastic! And I do think that there is a discernible taste difference with certain vodkas.

  114. no.no.notorious says:

    um, duh, if you mix it’s pointless to use expensive liquor.

    Blind taste tests of people that swear by gray goose actually rate it lower than other vodkas. i always laugh on the inside when someone snobbishly orders gray goose…’omg it’s french. it HAS to be better’. tools.

  115. nickcatal says:

    I hate Grey Goose… tastes… I dunno, charcoal seems to come to mind after I have it..

    I like Absolut… it is reasonably inexpensive, mixes very well, and I don’t have a hangover after I have it

    I will pay extra for ‘good’ vodka in my drinks not because I notice a taste (usually) but rather because I will notice the difference the morning afterward…

    Oh, and never buy Grey Goose Citron… tastes absolutely horrid. If you need flavored vodka I would stick to Absolut

  116. Fist-o™ says:

    All vodka tastes bad.

    The quality determines how horrible the hangover will be the next day, nothing more. That is my personal experience.

  117. darkryd says:

    Taste testing sounds in order.

  118. Aceboogie says:

    Never have I seen a more wrong post!! Vodka is all about the brands. You cant even compare say an absolute Vodka to a Grey Goose. The taste is completely different.

    Saw a nice article on this website [www.clubpath.com] that had a great article on Vodka comparisons. They use high volume comparisons in nightclubs across Toronto.

  119. Sian says:

    @nweaver:

    Hangar 1 is sooo drinkable, even warm. What the layman may not be able to tell in a fully chilled or mixed vodka becomes obvious when the stuff is sipped straight and room temp.

  120. bnorton says:

    @johnperkins21: Spudka is pretty darn cheap [www.hrdspirits.com] I only use vodka in mixed drinks when I want to drink something straight up it has to have flavor so it’s scotch and gin for me.

  121. BrianU says:

    TVarmy; No sir, PURE ethyl alcohol IS tasteless, please look it up in any of he numerous scientific reference to it. You describe “burn” which isn’t a taste but a feel. I also made mention to similar effects in my OP regarding why I have brand preference. The taste of nail polish remover is from impurities, not the actual alcohol. Combined with the burn of strong liquor, these sensations are still mostly physical feelings other than taste – strictly speaking. I know what you mean, but you are technically incorrect. If you also accept the fact that pure alcohol is odorless, then it HAS to be tasteless. Again, I’m sure both you and I can tell if our noses are over a glass of PURE alcohol, and once again I point out this is a feeling ( irritation of the nasal passages ) and not an actual odor. You can also take into consideration why perfumes and colognes contain alcohol; it is very effective in getting very small quantities of scent ingredients to put off a lot of smell that is easier for your nose to detect. Have you ever heard the story of someone getting of a DUI/DWI charge because the police officer testified that they smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath, and the defense lawyer used the fact (technicality) that alcohol is odorless so that could it could not be used as reasonable cause to make them take a sobriety test? I think there is truth in that legend as the wording has indeed changed to “alcoholic beverage” and the like. So, I can agree that you can taste a difference BUT it’s not the alcohol ( per se ) that’s causing it.

  122. Mr. Gunn says:

    Let’s knock off all this nonsense with panels of a couple guys, because that clearly isn’t enough to convince some people. Let’s get 1000 people together and broadcast a live stream of the whole thing, or let’s get a friend with access to an HPLC to compare the two and see if there’s anything that correlates with published tasting notes. On second thought, let’s not. All some vodka company would have to do is “sponsor” a study that showed a difference and people would go back to believing they could find one. Lessons learned from global warming.

    All I know is, I’ve slipped McCormicks and SKYY to so many people and they’ve never noticed.

    @rewind:

  123. tlingitsoldier says:

    I can’t stand the rot gut bottom shelf vodka. Even after chilling it I can certainly taste a difference. I agree with Steaming Pile. Middle shelf vodka is good enough to have minimal taste and cheap enough that you don’t blow close to or over $100 on a bottle of booze.

    And personally, after I started drinking 100 proof Stolichnaya I can’t get myself to go back to 80 proof. Now if you think there is no difference in taste then you should try these two next to each other. I understand it has to do with the strength of each of them but the 100 proof reminds me of cough medicine when mixed with the wrong thing or when downing a shot.