There are times to try new things. Times to taste different flavors, experiment with products, seek out something you've never encountered before...And sometimes, you just want to know what the best option is. The easy choice. The go-to. The everyday variety you know will work when you need it, and rely on every time.
Throughout the rest of the year, ManMade is seeking out the best affordable bottles of a variety of spirits that work well in your home bar, but know you can grab at the store the next time you head to a friend's house or a party.
Of all the spirits in our Best Value in Booze series, there's the least to say about vodka. When it is at its best, it's colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It's filtered and distilled as many as seven times, and its very design is to not be distinguishable by its bold character.
Vodka is often perceived (and we say: rightly so) as a starter spirit. Something that will disappear inside a mixer, or simply get you messed up. A thing young people drink when they're more interested in alcohol content than the sipping experience, before the drinking man learns to appreciate other clear spirits like gin or blanco tequila.
So, how to judge a vodka? Well, good vodkas certainly do have perceptible differences between them, and they also add things than flavor or aroma: texture, body, and astringency. Good vodkas shouldn't remind you of the smell you experience right before the doctor gives you a shot. They should be experienced as somehow slightly sweet and vanilla-like.
Our vote for best value bottle is this guy: Russian Standard. You can barely see the name on the label, but its there amongst all the Cyrillic. It's actually a pretty new brand, from the late 1990s, and comes from Saint Petersburg.
It's made with soft winter wheat from the Russian Steppes geographic region, which is distilled four times before filtering through charcoal and spending two days in "relaxation tanks." It's mixed with water from glacial lakes, particularly Lake Ladoga.
And, the results are (and I hate this word when referring to spirits): smooth. Smooth as in - not harsh, pleasant on the palette, and with just the right amount of warmth. It tastes like alcohol in its most basic form, which, of course, it is. It takes to the cold particularly well, and comes out of the freezer fresh and bracing. I mean, I admittedly would never drink 2 oz. of just cold vodka on any given Friday night, but when I tried it, I sorta saw the appeal. That's a big endorsement from a gin guy.
It comes in at less than $20 a bottle (usually $17-18), and gets high ratings everywhere. It won the number one, top pick Chairman's Trophy at this years Ultimate Spirits Challenge, and ranks highly on nearly every shootout I can find.
When I drink vodka, I'll drink this. And be very happy to do it. Go check it out.