Although the Moscow Mule might be getting some flack for its overrated simplicity and marketing-made history, that doesn't mean vodka can't impress. While the spirit is supposed to be clear, odorless and flavorless (unless intentionally infused or artificially modified), anyone can note variations between brands—regardless of the source substance and distillation practices. The following selections—domestic and international—bring something new to the table. Each stands as a great alternative to the brands we've come to accept as defaults. It's worth mentioning that we tried the Pristine Water Series New Zealand Edition of Stolichnaya's Elit series, which was astounding but retails for a stiff $3,000 a bottle. The choices below range from $18 to $50.
Billed as Mongolia's best-selling premium vodka, Soyombo is actually one of the best vodkas we have ever tried. It's small-batch and six times distilled from organic wheat hailing from Selenge, in the Mongolian Steppe. To punctuate all that, the vodka is filtered for five days over charcoal, quartz, diamonds and silver. The entire process takes place at the original distillery site of the last Emperor's Palace, the Bogd Khan's Winter Palace, located in Mongolia's capital city, Ulan Bator. Great story aside, its full mouthfeel, light sweetness and hint of citrus deliver an exceptional and refined experience. This super-premium vodka sells for roughly $30 a bottle.
Concluding with a gentle sweetness, Aviv 613 Vodka draws from multiple grain and fruit products—wheat, barley, olives, figs, dates, grapes and pomegranates. Four times distilled and partnered with water from the Sea of Galilee and Israel's natural aquifers, this premium spirit is family-made in the town of Tzvat, Israel, by master artisans who moved there from Russia in 1824. Taking bottle design to a new level, Aviv features a triangular shape inspired by mind/body/soul and features surfaces etched with phrases, symbols and hidden messages. Aviv 613 is smooth and fresh—it's also kosher—and costs $30.
This luxury vodka dazzles as the product of 100% Japanese rice and water sourced from the island of Kyushu, with the rice mash distilled in small pot stills and finished with a bamboo filtration. Ao Vodka is Suntory's debut into the clear spirits market. Yielding rice notes and a little vanilla sweetness, it lands a delectable delicacy. This is a vodka worth drinking neat and is available for $50.
Distilled from Idaho winter wheat for the neutral grain spirit, with Rocky Mountain meltwater pulled from the Snake River as the compliment, Lucky Dog Vodka is as crisp as one might imagine. It's four column distilled, with additional water-engineering filtration as well as charcoal filtration for clarity. This vodka is highly awarded for its taste, which manages a balance between being smooth and direct. Lucky Dog Vodka retails for $23.
Grand Teton Potato Vodka
While Grand Teton also touts snowmelt (this time from the Tetons) and Idaho produce as ingredients, this vodka is distilled from potatoes. Potato vodka has long been a place of solace for those who avoid the wheat-based iterations. Grand Teton's small-batch care and almost 20 distillations lend to its premium smoothness. It's also freeze-filtered six times through garnet crystal and charcoal for clarity. Their packaging also impresses in a way we've never seen before, but there is a redesign is in the works. Grand Teton Potato Vodka is available for $19.
While the Pacific Northwest boasts great wines and craft beers, it's not as well known for small-batch vodkas. Bluewater Organic is hoping to change that, and they're doing so by copper kettle distilling organic wheat and adding alpine water. Crafted at the Port of Everett in Washington, it's ecologically sound and admirably smooth. It's also USDA certified organic all the way. Bluewater will set you back $26.
Aviv, Lucky Dog, Bluewater photos by David Graver, other images courtesy of brands