How to Identify Quality Vodka

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Until the 1990s, vodka was thought of as a clear, flavorless and relatively odorless alcohol that was used primarily for mixing with juices. It was not held in as high of a regard as other, more obviously complex liquors such as scotch or bourbon. All of that changed with the market's focus on producing high quality vodkas from a variety of different ingredients. These new vodkas changed the way that Americans and, indeed, the world tasted this interesting and ever evolving clear distilled liquid forever.

  • Pick vodkas with many distillations. Vodka, like all liquors, is a distilled liquid. That is why the alcohol content is so high. If you drink a bottle of wine, you are drinking a liquid that has simply fermented. If you were to then distill that liquid, separating the water from the alcohol through evaporation, then collecting the alcohol and bottling it, that is essentially the process used to make vodka. Instead of grapes, the vodka is made from either wheat, potatoes or rye. That being said, the more times a liquid is distilled, the purer it becomes. The whole attraction of vodka is its clean and crisp taste, devoid of impurities. Many high quality vodkas are distilled three or more times to obtain the highest level of purity possible. This results in a cleaner taste and less of a chance of a hangover the next morning.

  • Select a vodka made from a single ingredient. The cheaper vodkas are not only distilled a minimal amount of times, but they also contain many additives, leading to a "dirty" taste and an aroma similar to rubbing alcohol. If you buy a vodka made from a single ingredient, it is the same idea as buying a wine made from grapes from a single vineyard. The vodka will take on a distinct personality and will taste a specific way. Vodkas made from potatoes tend to have a softer texture and lush mouth feel. Vodkas made from wheat or rye tend to be bigger and fuller, with a heartier flavor and more intense mouth feel. Determine which you will purchase by what you look for in a flavor experience from your liquor.

  • Taste test your vodkas. The best way to determine which vodka you will like best is by doing a taste test. Chill several bottles of vodka in your freezer and pour a small amount in several glasses. Do not use ice or any mixers, as that will alter both the taste and smell of the vodka. Treat these liquors as you would a wine. The scent is as important as the taste, as smell is half of taste. When you sip the vodka, aerate it over your tongue by slurping it a little. This will allow the vodka to cover your entire palate, and you will experience all of the flavors it has to offer. Swallow, and note the finish. The only rule here is to pick which one you like the best. Ultimately, you are the final judge and consumer.

  • Sample flavored vodkas. Flavored, or infused, vodkas have been around for hundreds of years, but are just now becoming commonplace in many bars across America. The best way to taste these is, again, chilled with no mixers. The best flavored vodkas will usually be the simplest and most organically made. Many flavored vodkas can have very artificial tasting infusions and taste almost like soda pop. Purity is essential here, as it is in the unflavored vodkas. This time, however, judge them on how close to the real infusion each of these vodkas taste.

Tips & Warnings

  • Try doing a blind tasting, where a friend pours samples and you don't know which vodka is which. That way, brand loyalty won't get in the way of an honest taste.
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