With Vodka Day upon us, it would be wrong not to raise a glass in honour of the versatile spirit.
Though the origin of vodka remains a disputed honour between the Poland and Russia, there’s perhaps no country more closely associated with vodka than Russia. After all the country is one of the largest consumers of the spirit in the world. So they really do know a thing or two about how to make it.
And so it is to Russia we go to discover the best vodkas to hail from its vast forests, mountainous regions and grand cities. With water a key factor in the finished vodka, and many brands using waters from local springs, location is important.
And though purity and quality are key, we’re looking for vodkas that not only have flavour, but texture and body too. A good vodka should retain the spirit’s characteristic smoothness – no burning astringency here. With winter wheat being used as a distillate in many Russian vodkas, many in our list will offer a slight sweetness. And while many of these vodkas are lovely enough to be sipped neat, we’re also looking at how well they mix. Because, really, that’s how you’re most likely to drink it.
Unfortunately, many great Russian vodkas just aren’t readily available in the UK. And you can’t blame the Russians for keeping some of it to themselves. But there are some fantastic ones that are. Here’s our round-up of the best.
1. Russian Standard Gold, 40%:
Bling bling! You’re going to need your sunglasses for all the light reflecting off this glitzy bottle. Russian Standard Gold is made with winter wheat and is inspired by an ancient Siberian vodka recipe. How does it differ from the regular Russian Standard vodka? Well, Gold uses extracts of Siberian ginseng, which add caramel notes initially, and then a pepperiness that really lingers – we’re in tingly tongue territory here. And again, there’s that soft mouth feel and creamy finish. We love the embossed bottle, which makes it pretty giftable, too.
2. Mamont Vodka, 40%:
Hailing from one of Siberia’s oldest distilleries, this tipple is produced using well water from the mountainous Altai region. In fact, the Itkul Distillery is the only one in the whole of Russia to produce alcohol from pure malt. And like the scenery from whence it hails, this vodka is fresh, clean and crisp. Made from white winter wheat, and six times distilled for a smooth flavour, it’s been filtered through silver birch charcoal. It all results in a vodka that’s very fresh, clean and with something a little cotton-like, or green on the nose. To sip, it’s expansive, coating the whole of the mouth, and with a hot, dry finish. Add a small squeeze of lime when mixed to really bring out those flavours. The bottle is inspired by the tusk of a mammoth found frozen near the distillery, in case you were wondering. Throw this in the freezer to serve ice-cold.
3. Moskovskaya Osobaya Vodka, 38%:
Perhaps the most authentically “Russian-looking” vodka on our list, Moskovskaya dates back to the times of the former Russian Empire, and is in fact one of the oldest Russian vodka brands. The recipe was reformulated in 1938, but since then has been unchanged. Things to note are that it’s been triple-distilled, and undergoes a three-stage filtration process, with quartz sand, activated charcoal and then back through quartz sand. Fresh and spicy on the nose, there’s a combination of aniseed and apple notes. That slight fruitiness comes through on the palate, with a hint of mint, too. A creaminess and a lightness of touch makes this a truly accessible spirit, without being shy of flavour. And though there’s some spice, there’s actually little heat here. Exceptionally good value.
4. Kauffman Soft Private Collection Vintage Vodka, 40%:
How much?! Yes, its name may sound somewhat like a porn film and the packaging resemble a bottle of aftershave, but really both are attempts to convey the fanciness of this vodka to you. This wheat vodka is distilled 14 times, then filtered once through birch coal, and again through quartz. It’s a sweet one. Floral and somewhat fruity on the nose, there’s a hint of both apple and almond. And you’ll notice there’s no astringency here. That initial sweetness lasts, smoothly and softly giving way to a little bit of peppery heat on the finish. If you solely drink your vodka mixed, then this won’t be the best value for you. But if you’re looking for a sipping vodka, this may well be it.
5. Beluga Noble, 40%:
There’s something slightly savoury about this Russian vodka, which is made with water drawn from the Siberian bedrock. Triple-filtered and then “rested” for 30 days, the finished product is light, but flavourful, with some subtle oat notes, and a kick of spice that cuts through. There’s also a little citrus sweetness and even a little honey. But it’s the lingering, smooth endnote we love. It’s sippable on its own of course, but we think the fiery heat of a ginger ale brings out the flavours perfectly.
6. Green Mark, 38%:
Another winter wheat-distilled vodka, this time from the Moscow region. Each bottle of Green Mark is individually numbered for authenticity. And in a world of spangley disco vodkas, we have to say its minimalist, slightly retro-looking bottle is really quite attractive. On the nose, it really doesn’t give much away, save for some slightly bready notes. This is not one for sipping really, but the price point probably told you that. Neat, this is a bit more boisterous and aggressive than the higher priced vodkas on our list when. But mixed, it’s a delight. A little vanilla, and a big, smooth softness prevail, with a slight hint of something almost fennel, or menthol-like. And again, that typical sweetness is here, but in a big plus for some, it’s pretty subtle. For the price, we can’t fault it.
Via the independent