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Best Vodkas to Enjoy in Cocktails and on the Rocks

Vodka is far more than a booze booster for your next cocktail. These 10 top brands confirm why vodka is the king of spirits.

Vodka is every bit as interesting and multifaceted as it is misjudged and underappreciated. The world’s most popular spirit by volume has its share of haters. These are largely people who’ve had one too many shots of bottom-shelf swill during their college years and now hold a lifetime grudge. Others inaccurately brand vodka as having no real personality of its own beyond its primary purpose of making any drink considerably stiffer. The best vodkas challenge that misconception. 

“Vodka is mostly intended to be a neutral spirit, meaning flavorless and odorless,” says Keith Meicher, bartender at Sepia in Chicago, IL. “Its primary function in cocktails is as an indistinguishable foundation upon which other ingredients in the drink can shine.”

But the craft spirits boom means there are plenty of non-neutral vodkas that are nuanced and perfect for slow sipping just as there are plenty of top-shelf vodkas that can hold their own among ryes, rums, bourbons, and single malts.

Related: 20 Cocktail Recipes Every Man Should Know How to Make

Here we’ve set out to pay some overdue tribute to the spirit’s notable character and complexity by singling out 10 of our favorite vodka brands—including some lesser-known ones—that belong on your radar. To find them, we consulted with top mixologists and bar managers who know a great vodka when they pour one, whether in cocktails or simply on the rocks with a twist. 

Best Vodkas to Enjoy in Cocktails and on the Rocks

1. Woody Creek Vodka

There are few farm-to-bottle vodkas out there, but Woody Creek is one of them. “They grow all their own potatoes in the Aspen Valley,” says Sean Kenyon, owner of Williams & Graham in Denver, CO. Woody Creek’s old Eastern European distilling method is also a rarity these days, “allowing for a full-bodied spirit with an unctuous mouthfeel you don’t see in modern, intentionally neutral vodkas,” Kenyon adds.

Related: 20 Best Craft Gins in the World to Mix Into Cocktails

Slightly sweet on the palate with light citrus notes, the vodka’s bold character makes it a perfect backbone for a great cocktail. “It makes the best espresso martini I’ve ever tasted,” says Kenyon. “It also shines in a classic Collins with citrus and effervescence, but my favorite way to drink it is simply on the rocks with a lemon twist.”

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2. Wheatly Vodka

Produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery of whiskey fame, Wheatly is a distinctive vodka featuring red winter wheat and a unique ABV of 41 percent (82 proof). “That extra 1 percent carries an unusual abundance of flavors,” says Giuseppe Santochirico, beverage director at Midnight Café in New York City. Lemon zest, toasted wheat, and baking spices are prominent aromas. On the palate, it offers an unusually rich and creamy texture. “Wheatley does have a little heat,” Santochirico warns, “but it’s a sensation that allows rich vanilla to also shine through.”

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3. Barr Hill Vodka

“Barr Hill Vodka is a personal favorite of mine with a rich texture that’s perfect for martinis,” says head bartender Alex Barbatsis of The Whistler in Chicago, IL. Distilled purely from Vermont honey, it offers a subtly sweet finish that makes it equally wonderful in espresso martinis. “I’ve had great luck pairing it with Black Cow Vodka— which is distilled from whey—and a black lemon bitters for a lovely milk and honey martini.”

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4. Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka

Any Pittsburgh vodka made from potatoes will have plenty of character. “Vodka is known for tasting like very little, but this one thankfully does a horrible job of that,” quips Donny Clutterbuck, USBG director and beverage director at Cure in Rochester, NY. “The first time I tried Boyd & Blair, I got overwhelming notes of banana chips. It’s how I’ve learned to define this unusually viscous vodka.”

Related: Best Rum in the World for Mixing and Sipping Straight

It’s rich and robust, and works as an excellent base in martinis. “It’s a great vodka for adding texture and complementary fruit to a cocktail without having to add any actual sugar or juice.”

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5. Belvedere Single Estate Rye Vodka

The word terroir doesn’t come up much with vodka, but that’s a notable exception with Belvedere’s Single Estate Rye Series—a vodka with an unmistakable sense of place. “I’ve always had an affinity for Polish vodka and Belvedere has an unswerving passion for heritage and character,” says Rene Votteler, food and beverage director at Wequassett Resort & Golf Club in Harwich, MA. “If you’re looking for a rich, full-bodied vodka with lots of sweet caramel notes, this is the one.”

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6. Stateside Vodka

“Stateside is a great under-the-radar vodka—and, best of all, it’s local here in Philly,” says Stephen Hood, food and beverage manager at The Notary Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. It’s also gluten-free, comes in a cool-looking bottle, and offers subtle notes of cracked pepper and saffron that no other vodka we know of can claim. Use it in a bloody Mary or Moscow mule. “In my opinion, this vodka rivals Tito’s and other top-shelf brands.”

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7. Community Vodka

“Community Vodka is a really delicious corn-based spirit which not only works great in cocktails but also on its own,” says Will Krepop, general manager and beverage director at Wiggle Room in New York City. On top of that, he adds, the brand firmly dedicates itself to positive social change, supporting causes people care about. “So much so,” he adds, “that they’re now a certified B Corp brand.”

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8. Żubrówka Vodka

“Żubrówka Vodka from Poland flies under the radar here in the U.S., but it’s easily one of the most interesting and nuanced versions of the spirit you can get,” says Mario Flores, beverage director of Chicago’s Maple & Ash. Infused with bison grass—and adorned with an actual blade of it in each bottle—the vodka’s unique use of an aromatic herb imparts a soft flavor with hints of citrus and lavender. “This translates really well into vodka cocktails, as the base goes beyond the fairly neutral flavor profiles of some of the more common pours,” notes Flores. “We’re seeing more and more drinkers branching out into complex, lesser-known liquor brands these days, so I’m looking forward to Żubrówka getting its long-awaited moment in the spotlight here.”

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9. WÓDKA Vodka

Made from Polish rye, WÓDKA Vodka provides some unique spice that makes it an especially tasty choice in a bloody Mary. “Overall, it’s a solid everyday vodka that’s crisp, easy drinking, and very high quality for the price,” says Billy Van Dolsen, owner of Sereneco in Brooklyn, NY. “It’s distilled five times, then filtered through charcoal twice.”

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10. Flok Shearwater Vodka

Run by a Maine-based husband and wife, Wild Bevy spirits has generated an obsessive fan base for its Flok Shearwater Vodka alone. “They get their water for it from a natural spring runoff on Route 26 in nearby Rumford,” says Kristie Sibley, senior director of food and beverage at Kennebunkport Resort Collection. “The spring is so well-known to locals that people actually stop on the side of the road to fill up their water jugs because it’s so clean and crisp.” Wild Bevy prides itself on using local Maine ingredients in its spirits, and its vodka is a great example of that. “The Maine water really does makes it taste great,” says Sibley.

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Courtesy of Wild Bevy Distilling

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