Explain "Designer" Vodkas to me, Please!

I am not a vodka drinker-although I do have a cocktail from time to time. However, I am puzzled by the new crop of designer vodkas-brands that cost up to 5 times the price of cheaper brands. these are invariably described as “premium”, hand-crafted, special distillations, etc.
As far as I know, a standard (non flavored) vodka is ethyl alcohol and water-that’s it! the alcohol is produced by the distillation of a mash made from gain. There is no flavor, because the alcohol should be filtered through charcoal. So what makes the fancy stuff worth all that money? how does one “taste test” vodka?

Triumph of marketing?

The sense of bewilderment over the price helps to deaden the senses to any residual flavors in the vodka, making it even more flavorless than normal.


In doing research on possibly opening a craft distillery I learned that at least one American “premium” vodka label doesn’t even own a still. They buy high-grade ethanol from a plant, add water, bottle, label, and sell at something like an 600% margin.

Out of respect for the size of their balls I will not name names.

I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Need any tasters?

My friends and I conducted a blind vodka tasting at our last New Year’s Eve party. The most expensive of the seven was Grey Goose and was ranked very low by all. Smirnoff, which is very reasonably priced, was a close second best. The most favored vodka was Belvedere (second most pricey). So you don’t always get what you pay for but there is a difference. Though if you’re having a mixed drink, I suspect the difference is probably all but undetectable.

Try this experiment.
go to a store and buy two small bottles of Vodka. Get one premium brand and a bottle of Stoli
With the bottles at room temp, take a drink of Stoli. Repeat with the premium brand.
come back and report your findings.

There is a reason Stoli suggests that you drink it cold, because the cold kills the taste. At room temp this stuff is a great paint thinner.

I don’t have a cite handy, but I seem to recall that Consumer’s Union was unable to find any difference in vodka brands in double-blind taste tests. And chemically speaking, omitting any flavor additives, all vodkas are just grain alcohol and water.

But some of the bottles are real purty.

Good vodka will put put hair on your eyeballs.

I remember watching a show about vodka and they went to some fancy Chezk distillery and the person from the distillery spent the most time talking about the huge multi story charcoal filters they had. So I feel the difference, if there is one, is how close they get to selling you just ethanol and water plus nothing else.

I am sure that they did that report with the same attention to detail and quality control procedures that they used when they tested car seats for kids.
Hey a 70 mph crash is exactly like a 38 mph one right? :rolleyes:

August West, I will happily volunteer my time and liver as a taste tester as well.

In my experience some expensive vodka’s are really good and some are not. Same goes for cheap vodka except the good ones are only good and not “really good”.

Since I am a cheap-o I just get the store brand, which is cheapest, and just keep it in the freezer. I only ever do straight shots so the vodka is usually pass my taste buds before my body warms it up enough for me to actualy taste it.

Cheap vodka is only good very cold and in mixed drinks.

But- once you get past decent vodka, you’re paying for marketing and fancy bottles.

Isn’t it true that most Russians (or maybe it’s most rural Russians) drink a Vodka that still has a lot of character to it in that it’s yellow from grasses and herbal oils?

I got the impression (can’t remember where) that our stripped-down, neutral version of vodka is considered a bit unusual…

The best (and by that, I mean that with the most smooth delivery and sans a bitter aftertaste) is Blue Ice. Despite the fact that it is a potato vodka (requiring more starting product to generate the same amount of finished alcohol) and comes in an extra-purty bottle, it’s really pretty moderate in price. I’ve tried vodkas up and down the scale (and at room temperature) and while I’ll agree that some of them (including some popular and premium brands) have a harshing paint-thinner finish to them, while others are just…blah. I can’t really find one that I’d care to drink neat. So count me in with those who can’t really figure out the appeal of premium/designer/stylish vodka. Now, there are some cask-aged vodkas that are quite nice, but you’re not going to find these on the shelves of the local BevMo.

Now, Irish whiskeys are a different story entirely. Ah, the variety…


I can only tell the difference between really cheap vodka (Country Club…ew. An unfortunate college staple) and stuff like Grey Goose. I can take shots of Grey Goose and not want to barf. Not the story for the super cheap crap like Country Club. But I like my vodka with OJ so as long as I don’t mix it too strong, anything is fine.

I’d like to add to the list of good moderately priced vodkas
Youri Dolgoruki
Tito’s Handmade
When I’m at a bar I stick with Ketel One.

By the way, does anyone have any idea at all how to get their hands on a bottle of Youri Dolgoruki with the Russian label?

Everclear grain alcohol is 190 proof, meaning it’s closing in on containing as little water as you can economically distill, and around here is about $14/fifth. Split it between two empty vodka bottles, top them off with distilled water, and you’ll have two fifths of the highest quality 95 proof vodka for less than $8 each. No sugar or congeners to speak of, too, so hangovers are kept to a minimum.

The dilution is important because you can’t drink the stuff straight and, in mixed drinks, it’s so smooth that it’s WAY too easy to drink too much.

Interesting: I used to work with a chemist, who told me that when ethyl alcohol is purified to >98% (196 proof), it combines with itself, to form those nasty fusel oils (higher molecular weight alcohols). It is the fusel oils that give you those dreaded hangovers-so maybe, everclear and water is the best 'designer" vodka.
As for the alcohol filtration: Smirnoff advertises that their stuff is filtered three times-surely that would remove anything that might impart a taste to the vodka? In any case, paring $45.00 for a bottle of designer vodka srikes me as insane.

A few weeks ago I heard on WNIR FM radio here in Akron that Kamchatka (sp?) is the largest-selling brand in the country. I drink it at room temperature, and it’s not bad. Bottom-shelf stuff, so it was surprising to learn it was number one. Then again, hmm…