Vodka sodas, while considered a simple drink and sometimes snubbed by mixology elite, are surprisingly nuanced in their flavor. The soda tempers the intensity of the vodka, which depending on the quality, can be quite a bitter bite. In addition, a twist of citrus offers an acidic but refreshing flavor counterpoint. And the drink is well-known for being among the lowest calorie cocktails out there.
But there are other beverages that are equally refreshing, relatively low-calorie, and pack the same boozy punch the trusty vodka soda does. And frankly, some can be a bit more sophisticated. In that spirit, here’s a list of some comparable cocktails vodka soda lovers are sure to enjoy.
The Moscow mule is a fun cocktail, typically served in a copper cup. Beverage director Ross Kupitz told me, "If a guest is set on a vodka drink, I’d suggest they try a Moscow mule. Mules in many variations have continued to be very popular, but the original recipe of vodka, ginger beer and lime in a copper mug is a good option for the vodka/soda drinker to try something new." And it’s a step up in flavor from the vodka soda.
Sam Brilhart, LA-based bartender, suggests opening your mind to non-vodka based mules as well, "If you want to venture beyond your usual vodka drink, try something new like a Mexican mule, which uses tequila instead of vodka."
So the Moscow mule and its variations are sure to please your palate.
Vodka soda lovers enjoy the bitter bite that comes from the vodka. And if you like bitter, you’ll like the vodka tonic. Kylie Barnett, a wine a spirits specialist, told me "If sweet isn’t your thing, then a vodka tonic is the drink for you. While it has the same carbonated appeal of soda water, tonic water has a distinctly drier and slightly bitter taste due to the addition of quinine — an ingredient derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. If you’re looking to switch up your vodka soda routine without getting too crazy, a vodka tonic is a refreshing alternative."
Gin and tonic
If you really want to flex your spirit muscles, consider a gin-based drink like a gin and tonic. David King, owner of Baldoria told me, "Gin is essentially vodka’s more interesting cousin. With the copious amounts of gin styles that are on the market today, everyone is certain to find a style they would like. Personally, I’d rather do a gin martini, but a gin and tonic is a good place to start." So the gin and tonic can be thought of as a gateway drink into the world of gin.
You know a cocktail like the The Vesper is elegant when it’s the preferred drink of super-smooth spy James Bond. And yes indeed, you can find this drink in literature. Abigail Gullo, head bartender of Compere Lapin, "People tend to like vodka sodas because they’re light and clean. A great alternative to this is The Vesper — the cocktail that first appeared in Ian Felming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale. It’s as light as a vodka soda but is shaken very well and served up ice cold in a coupe and garnished with a lemon twist. It’s a great looking sophisticated cocktail."
Beverage director Lu Brow recommends another drink for vodka soda lovers: the Gibson. "The cousin of the martini, I’d recommend the Gibson. Much like the vodka soda, it’s spirit forward and not sweet."
Conspicuously absent is a signature martini ingredient: olives. But you don’t need them for a good Gibson. Brow notes, "Instead of olives, the vodka cocktail (you can make it with gin too) features a pickled cocktail onion which adds a slight umami element to the cocktail. It’s served straight up."
Packing the same punch as a vodka soda but with a more nuanced flavor profile, try ordering this pre-prohibition cocktail next time you’re out.
The Cape Cod
Aptly named for the fact that there are cranberry bogs on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, The Cape Cod (or Cape Codder) is a simple, fruity cocktail. Spirit specialist Kylie Barnett told me, "If you’re in the market for something non-carbonated and a little tart, opt for a vodka cranberry, also known as a Cape Cod."
Cranberries are naturally tart, so make sure the cranberry juice your mixologist is using doesn’t have too much added sugar. And hey, there’s a perk: it can be good for you! According to Barnett, "Cranberries are also rich in antioxidants, so if you are looking for a justification for joining happy hour tonight, the vodka cranberry has you covered."
So while the jury’s still out as to whether antioxidants help with hangovers, this sweet treat is a nice change from your regular beverage. Garnish with lime for an extra acidic note.
Distiller Kyle Claypool told me, "Some craft bartenders will covertly roll their eyes when someone orders a vodka soda. It’s the least interesting, least imaginative cocktail available. It’s the beige of cocktails." Enter something with a little more character: the vodka fizz. Claypool continues, "A vodka fizz is a vodka soda with a little more character. When made with a mint simple syrup, it’s a wonderfully light and refreshing summer drink."
And beverage director Lu Brow has some ideas for twists. She told me, "A great way to add some uniqueness to a traditional vodka fizz is to infuse the vodka with a favorite fruit or herb. It adds a nice element of flavor without being cloyingly sweet."
Gimlets are a natural cocktail choice for folks who like simple drinks with a citrus taste. Additionally, Mixologist James Wampler told me, "Typically, a vodka soda is served with a wedge of lime. Why not take it a step further with a vodka gimlet? Lime cordial or a mix of fresh lime juice and a touch of sweet creates a nice balance and a drink that goes down dangerously fast."
Distiller Kyle Claypool agrees, and adds "It’s extremely easy to sip on, and far more sophisticated than a vodka-soda. Plus, you can sound educated by telling your friends that the gimlet was invented by the British Royal Navy to help fight scurvy!" Fun fact!
Vodka and grapefruit with soda
This super-simple drink is very similar to the vodka soda — in fact, it’s just the addition of the grapefruit juice that sets it apart. With a mild flavor and low sugar content, it’s a refreshing drink, especially on the rocks. Chris Adams, hospitality expert, said, "Vodka and grapefruit with soda is also a great option, it’s a good take on the classic Greyhound."
For a super fresh option, get just-squeezed grapefruits for your drink. Adams continues, "If I go in a bar and see a fresh grapefruit being juiced right in front of me, I’ll drink that all day long. Adding in the soda gives it a bit of an effervescence that takes it to the next level."
Last but not least is the Tom Collins, a classic, sweetened gin cocktail. Bartender Gen Longoria told me the Tom Collins, "is almost like a grown-up vodka soda." And insofar as it compares to the vodka soda, Head Barman Vincenzo Marianella told me, "A Tom Collins is a great alternative to vodka sodas. People like vodka sodas because they’re easy to drink and flavorless. With a Tom Collins, you still have an easy to drink beverage, but you get more flavor."
What’s in a Tom Collins? It’s got gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda. Marinella notes that, The gin gives it a bit of a kick plus the lemon juice adds a botanical flavor."
With a fruit garnish, a Tom Collins is a great drink for all seasons.