When it comes time to stock any home bar, vodka is high on the list of must-haves. It’s great for a shocking number of cocktails, and it’s especially brilliant for those nights when you only have enough ingredients (and ambition) for a vodka-cranberry or a super-easy gimlet.
Vodka has been around for a long, long time. Explore Drinks says that it’s not clear if it’s Poland or Russia we have to thank for inventing this incredibly versatile spirit. Either way, we know it became incredibly popular by the 16th century and it only became more in demand from there. And while original vodka is nearly flavorless, the idea of flavored vodkas goes back almost as far as the spirit itself, as it wasn’t uncommon for upper-class hosts to have an entire selection of vodkas flavored with things like wormwood, cherry, birch bark, and St. John’s Wort.
Back then, much like it is today, the quality of vodka varied greatly. Now it runs from "paint thinner" all the way to "smooth, even on the rocks." That said, let’s look at some of the most popular brands of vodka on the market today, and find out which ones you should keep at your own home bar for a sometimes treat … and which you should skip.
Vodka, in theory, should be smooth. There shouldn’t be any bitterness or burn, making it easy to down even without additions. Unfortunately, no one told Burnett’s.
This budget vodka is still incredibly popular, most likely because of a completely accessible $10 or $11 price tag. That makes it perfect for the college student who’s looking for a way to party on a budget on a Friday night. That about sums up what you might expect from a bottle of Burnett’s. Seriously, no one is drinking this for the taste,. If this happened to be your first experience with vodka, we’re sorry. This isn’t what vodka should be.
Drinking this straight is going to leave your throat feeling a seriously bitter burn. "Smooth" certainly is not a word that’s going to come to mind. Sure, you can try to hide the roughness of Burnett’s taste with a mixer, but honestly, that’s just going to ruin your mixer. Plus, that bitter aftertaste and burning sensation are still going to come through. This vodka is just going to leave you feeling nothing but a very deep sense of regret the morning after. It’s a solid skip.
13. New Amsterdam
New Amsterdam’s foray into the world of vodka is a fairly recent one, hitting shelves in 2011, according to Beverage Industry. Over the following years, it’s become almost insanely popular, but we can’t figure out why. Part of the allure of New Amsterdam is probably the fact that you can pick up a liter bottle for between $13 and $18. We get it — that’s a great deal. Unfortunately for New Amsterdam, that price point doesn’t negate the fact that it’s just kind of mediocre.
The plain is just sort of fine, especially if you’re mixing it with something that’s going to overpower the slight paint thinner taste. But the flavors are nothing to write home about. The variety of choices is pretty standard, and they’re not really strong enough to add serious flavor to most drinks. And here’s the thing: there are plenty of other affordable vodkas out there that are much more versatile and just better.
12. Grey Goose
We know that ranking Grey Goose toward the "worst" end of our collection of popular vodkas might not be a popular move, but we’re going to do it anyway. Let us explain.
When it comes to taste, Grey Goose is completely respectable. It’s incredibly smooth and it has no overwhelming flavors or boozy scents. Imagine drinking water that’s been so heavily filtered through charcoal that there’s just a shadow of that charcoal flavor left behind, and that’s what you’ll get with Grey Goose — along with the alcohol content, of course.
Our beef with Grey Goose comes with the price point. Consumers can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $60 a bottle for this premium vodka. That’s just insanity. Sure, there are times when you get what you pay for, but there are other times when you’re just paying for the name and a neat-looking bottle. Grey Goose has been so overhyped that they can happily cruise along, safe and secure in the knowledge that anyone who’s looking to impress is going to fork over some serious cash just for the name on the bottle. We’re not going to condone that. Instead, we’re going to recommend better vodkas for a much better price.
We know, we know. Another fancy vodka that’s surprisingly low in our rankings, but hear us out on this one, too.
Cîroc, says VinePair, was founded in 2003, but it wasn’t until rapper Sean Combs got on board that the brand really took off. Because it’s made from grapes, this vodka has a unique, almost citrus-like taste that’s not terrible. However, it can be a bit of an acquired taste. Plus, it also makes this vodka either an excellent complement to some mixers or a terrible one for others.
And here’s where we take issue with this one. First, at around $30 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s on the pricey side for what you’re getting. And secondly, anyone who follows Combs and his Cîroc marketing might think this is the only option out there for gluten-free vodka. Their marketing makes a huge deal out of it, including posts by DJ Khaled that claimed it was the "only vodka out there that’s gluten-free." Yet, not only does Truth in Advertising report that Khaled neglected to mention he was getting paid to say that, but also all vodka is gluten-free unless there is gluten in the added flavoring.
Bottom line? We’re taking points away for misleading advertising and shady marketing.
10. Three Olives
Chances are pretty good that most liquor stores will have entire shelves devoted to the many flavors of Three Olives. This British vodka certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the neat-looking bottle and the variety, but unfortunately, what comes out of the bottle doesn’t justify even the completely reasonable $17 to $20 price.
The problem with Three Olives starts with the smell. Open some higher-ranking vodkas and take a whiff. You should get a light, fresh scent or the smell of whatever flavor you’re opening. Doing this with Three Olives is sort of like opening a bottle of nail polish remover. There are definite vibes of acetone and rubbing alcohol going on here, and it’s a flavor that stays from start to finish. The original, unflavored version is the biggest offender here, but they all have their fair share of harshness. Unless you’re completely hiding this one with some seriously strong mixers, you can definitely get more bang for your buck elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a good, solid vodka to keep on the shelf in the kitchen for mixing up a vodka-cranberry or vodka-tea while you’re cooking dinner, Smirnoff is a completely reliable and respectable option. Not only is it affordable — we love the $11 to $15 price tag — but the standard non-flavored version is so versatile that it doesn’t matter what kind of vodka cocktail you’re in the mood for. This is going to work just fine. Almost. As long as your cocktail has other mixers to cut the boozy strength, you’ll be golden. If you opt for a vodka tonic or a vodka martini, this isn’t your bottle — it’s just a bit too much for that.
When it comes to the different varieties of Smirnoff, there’s good and bad. Their Infusions line is a delicious way to try something different, but their flavors can be tough. Everyone’s palate is different, so we’ll put it this way: even if you love one, that doesn’t mean you’re going to like the others. While they say they’re all made with natural flavors, some are definitely much higher on the sweeter pucker scale (We’re looking at you, Green Apple). At the end of the day, that means you might find a flavor that you really like, but there’s still the chance you’re going to be disappointed if you branch out.
Belvedere is another top-shelf vodka, and it’s the one we’d recommend if you’re looking for a special vodka to impress at a party. Going to dinner at the boss’s house? Forget wine. Take Belvedere.
Belvedere’s price point is generally a little lower than other top-shelf vodkas — you can expect to spend around $30 for a liter bottle — but that’s not all it has going for it. Since it’s made with rye, Belvedere’s has a bit more flavor than you might expect. That said, if you’re not a vanilla fan, you may want to give this one a pass. Also on the positive side are their flavors, which you can definitely pick up and know you’ll be getting with the same Belvedere base. Those flavors aren’t going to take away from the familiar mouthfeel.
It’s an excellent vodka for use in almost any cocktails, especially smaller, lighter ones where you really want all the flavors to come through. So, why is it not higher on our ranking? Belvedere puts out so many flavors and specialty releases that it might be tough to find your favorite once you pick one. Then again, we give high points for widespread, guaranteed availability.
Real talk here: there are some liquors that are meant for stoically sipping in front of a roaring fire while discussing things like classic literature, and then there’s vodka. Vodka is meant to be fun, and when it comes to fun vodka, there’s no one that does it quite like Pinnacle.
While they do have an original version, don’t get that. (Don’t you dare!) Instead, reach for any one of the approximately 8,398,204 flavors they have. Okay, so it’s not precisely that many, but it can certainly feel like it! Sure, there are standard flavors like Citrus, Raspberry, and Peach, but if you’re looking to treat yourself to something super fun, how about Habanero? Or Cucumber? Or Cake, any one of their Whipped varieties.
And that’s where Pinnacle does what they do really well. Not only are they really reasonably priced (around $12 to $15 a bottle), but they’re also surprisingly well-balanced — they’re not too sweet, and there’s no bitter sting. All their flavors are consistently good, they regularly release special editions that are really fun, and no matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a Pinnacle to help guarantee you’re never going to get bored with the same-old. While you might get funny looks at the check-out for your taste in vodka, who cares? Life’s short. Have fun!
6. Crystal Head
Crystal Head might seem a little gimmicky, but celebrity endorsements and eye-catching bottles aside, what’s inside is impressive. When Dan Ackroyd got on board with Crystal Head vodka, they say the idea was "to create unique expressions of ultra-premium vodka that are completely additive-free." And they absolutely did it, making a vodka that has no questionable ingredients and a taste that’s incredibly smooth.
Reaching for a bottle of Crystal Head might make you feel like you’re somehow buying into a celebrity-based marketing gimmick, or that people might think you’re just reaching for the coolest-looking thing on the shelf. Who cares what they think? You know you’re reaching for some seriously good vodka. There’s a bonus to those bottles, too: they’re pretty awesome for repurposing. Dare we say everyone should get a glass cutter so they can drink from the skulls of their enemies? Yep, we went there.
The only reason this doesn’t rank higher is the price. You can expect to pay $50 to $60 for the standard Crystal Head, while the other products just go up from there. While it’s great for a gift or special occasion, most of us just don’t want to spend that kind of cash on a regular basis.
In 2019, Absolut sold a whopping 11.3 million cases of vodka (via Statista), and given that each case contains nine liters, well, that’s a lot of vodka. There’s a really good reason that it’s so popular, and that’s because it’s good.
When it comes to perfectly respectable, middle-of-the-road vodkas, Absolut is one that you want to keep on your shelf. While the original Blue is fine for juice mixers, we’re going to have to say it’s not the original that got Absolut this high on our list. Instead, it’s the flavors.
Absolut has a ton of flavors, so there’s going to be something here everyone loves. More importantly, they’re all pretty perfect for use with soda. Want to turn your Coke into a vanilla Coke, peach Coke, or passionfruit Coke? The flavors of Absolut are strong enough that they’re not going to get lost against the background of Coke (or Pepsi), as other flavored vodkas might. They also have no added sugar, and that means you can mix with any soda without ending up with a drink that’s sickeningly sweet. It’s an all-around solid choice, especially if you like fizzy drinks.
Few stores have managed to build up an impressively devoted following quite like Costco, and it isn’t just the store — it’s the products, too. Kirkland Signature Liquor has gotten some pretty impressive accolades over the years, and that includes their Kirkland-brand vodka.
There’s a good reason for that, too: it’s crazy good. How good? When we looked into the rumor that it’s essentially Grey Goose vodka repackaged, we couldn’t find anything to either confirm or deny it, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Grey Goose says the rumor isn’t true, but given that Costco’s response is silence, well, the case is still open as far as we’re concerned.
There are some tricksy things going on here, and our reason for not putting it even higher is that it comes with a caveat: there are two different versions of Kirkland vodka, and you’d better be certain to get the right one. Opt for the American one, and you’ll get something like water with a little alcohol.
It’s the French one that’s incredible, though, and we’re not the only ones to think so. In taste test after taste test, Kirkland’s French vodka (the one with the red label) gets lauded for having all the smooth taste of Grey Goose.
3. Ketel One
Ketel One has been around for more than 300 years, and in fact, they released a special 325th anniversary edition to celebrate this impressive birthday. You don’t get to be a thriving business for that long without putting out a quality product, and Ketel One definitely does that.
It doesn’t really matter what you’re looking for in a vodka, as Ketel One will have you covered. Looking for something to take to a dinner party? Something to keep on hand for those nights you and your significant other feel like making fancy cocktails? Something to pour over ice with a splash of tonic? Reach for the Ketel One and you’re not going to have a single regret.
Ketel One is straightforward and simple. While they have a couple of flavors, you’re mostly going to see the original on shelves and that’s okay. Some vodkas don’t need all the fancy flavors, and sometimes, the classic is best. You’ll be spending a little more per bottle than some brands, but at the same time, it’s worth it. You can probably pick it up for less than you expect, too, making this an all-around win.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for plain vodka or flavored, it’s almost impossible to get better than Stolichnaya. Or, you can call it Stoli, if you prefer.
Across the board, the same descriptors apply to practically any product in the Stoli lineup. These vodkas are incredibly smooth, there are no weird aftertastes or burns, and they’re just as good in cocktails, with any mixer, or straight over ice. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, too, so it’s almost a guarantee that there’s something for everyone… although we have a particular soft spot for the blueberry. Those flavors actually taste all-natural, and if you’re not a fan of the sweetness you get with other flavored vodkas, Stoli is the way to go. It also has an almost shockingly reasonable price point of between $15 and $19 a bottle.
There’s another reason we really like Stoli, too. Their Stoli honey is heavenly in a hot toddy. Hot toddies are traditionally made with bourbon or whiskey, but if those aren’t your thing, Stoli’s Honey has such a strong, smooth honey flavor that pouring a shot into your evening tea will seriously change after-dinner drinks.
1. Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Russia and Poland might be arguing over who invented vodka, but we’re going to argue that the company who perfected it is as American as American can be. That would be Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
Here’s the thing about Tito’s: they started small, perfected their recipe and methods, and then went big. The aptly-named Tito Beveridge was originally a geologist, and his interest in ground water quality got him thinking about making a vodka so smooth that you could drink it straight — and they absolutely succeeded. And even more importantly, they’ve kept that high quality as they’ve continued to ramp up production, which is incredibly impressive. Tito’s is so good, in fact, that this is one vodka you definitely don’t want to disguise with fancy mixers. The simpler the drink, the better.
We also have to laud Tito’s for their devotion to that which makes our lives complete: our canine companions. Not only are their own personal dogs welcome at work, but their Vodka for Dog People program has saved countless lives — human and dog — by plucking dogs out of high-kill shelters and flying them where they need to go to find a happy, loving home. Well done on all fronts, Tito’s!