What makes good vodka good?

topic posted Mon, September 11, 2006 - 7:34 PM by  Chris
I have always been a lover of good vodka, have tried quite a few and I've always wondered what it is that makes one, say, Grey Goose different from Stolichnaya or Belvedere. As most premium vodkas are filtered 5 times there must be some other variable(s). Is it the water used? Is it the method of filtering? Is it the type/quality of grains, potatoes or grapes that are fermented?
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  • The short answer is "yes".

    Nearly all vodkas are distilled as grain alcohol, and diluted with water to the desired proof. The distillation processes (especially the temperature), any mechanical or chemical filtration steps for both the alcohol and the water, as well as the ingredients of the mash ALL play a part in the final taste. While the exact same grain alcohol might be used to make many shelf liquors (and sometimes even "the competition" vodkas) they do have characteristic markers.

    It's not that complicated, but then again, it is. Usually a trademark taste is reached via experimentation on a lab bench, and then they just do their damnedest to reproduce it at a volume production level.

    Ice-cold? No. Only for the rot gut stuff. Cold is fine, but since cold numbs the taste buds... which is why you drink a good Belgian ale barely chilled (~55° F) but Bud so cold it's got ice chips in it. :-)
    • That's exactly what I was looking for. Thanks. I'm also curious, what is your favorite vodka?
      • The list of what I *DON'T* like is much shorter. I like anything that's been distilled properly so that I don't end up drinking something barely legal, that may cause liver damage (even faster than normal) blindness, and jackhammer headache hangovers... distilate runoff that should have been discarded but made it into the bottle = the bad list.

        My absolutely WORST three: Smirnoff, good for cleaning solvent. Aristocrat is about as tasty as the joke by the same name. And worst of all, Popov is liquid suicide... I don't know how this unfiltered homebrew moonshine passes FDA regulations... bribes must be involved. (2 of those are owned / distilled by Diageo, who also does Gordon's which is also extremely nasty but not even worth mentioning.)

        I don't like flavored vodkas that much. Other than that, pour it!

        I do like "low brow" old school stuff, Moskovskaya and the like. Of course I like GG a lot, Belvedere is excellent, Ketel One is too... I don't know, I have mixed feelings about the super-premium vodkas, so much of it is like "audiophile" bullshit, with the pricing to match. But, that's capitalism for ya! :-) Olifant is good and cheap. For potato wodka, I'm a fan of Luksusowa.

        Hmm. If it was desert island time, and I could only have one crate of one kind, price unimportant, I'd probably take Chopin or Goose.
        • For me, it's smoothness. Like liquid glass going down, no aftertaste. In other words, not like drinking a shot of turpentine.

          For what I can get in the US, Grey Goose is very good, yes.

          But my favorites like to impart slight taste differences while still being clean and smooth, mostly through the addition of honey or peppers. The best vodkas I've had so far were made in St. Petersburg (Russia).

          I've just returned from a long trip to Ukraine, and I have several highly-recommended vodkas to try, including one that is a pepper vodka _with_ honey added. If any of them really impress me, I'll be sure to post it. (Getman, Nemiroff, Soyuz-Victan)
        • I would put Scol, Crystal Palace and Mohawk right in there with Aristocrat and Popov. I've tried them all (my housemates buy that crap all the time) and I can't stand any of them. Your choice of Chopin has piqued my interest. I've tried 1 shot worth (I think) and that is about it. I may have to get a whole bottle and give it a real try. I'm also curious as to whether you or anyone here has tried Stoli Elit. Is it better than regular Stoli? Can it come even close to being worth $60 a bottle?
  • I bought a bottle of Chopin yesterday and was very surprised (in a bad way). It tasts EXTRELEMY salty. Did I get a bad bottle or is that how Chopin always is?
    • Uh, no. Saltiness? That's weird. And to capitalize it must mean it was nasty bad to you. I mean, it's not GG. It's nothing remotely like GG. GG is smooth and flavored with like 10 things, but only slightly. Chopin is a Polish potato vodka, and it tastes like Polish potato vodka. The initial hit to the mouth might be described as "burn!"; it's citrus-y tart, and it's got this coating quality of like something more viscous... aka. traditional, authentic, real old-world potato vodka.

      It might make you wince doing your first shot, but it's got flavor. Saltiness? I certainly don't notice it. It could be that I'm just used to it, though. See if anyone else replies, or try Googling for Chopin and salty taste and see if you get any hits... Now, if you were expecting it to be one of those smooth-as-water-only-alcoholic types of vodkas, I apologize for not stating that this is not one of those. However it shouldn't taste extremely salty.
      • I'll second Frayed's response. Not salty. I would say you have a very bad bottle, indeed.

        You might try ordering a shot of Chopin at a pub in your area and see if you have the same taste reaction. If not, I'd take the bottle back and ask for a refund.

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