When I blind tasted nearly 100 different straight vodkas two years ago for my book, Vodka Distilled, I had no idea how different they would be. Several factors help make each individual vodka distinctive: base ingredients, fermentation, yeast, distillation, rectification, filtration and water source. But it’s the combination of all of these that ultimately influence each vodka’s final character.
AMERICAN HARVEST (Idaho, distilled from organic winter wheat)
Nose: Malty, grainy, ground white-pepper spice, lemon peel, vegetal—cucumber and green bell pepper, toffee and vanilla.
Palate: Rich viscosity with lovely acidity, cooked grainy sweetness, candied pecan, sweet vanilla, malted milk—cocoa.
Finish: Medium, warm, lingering with vanilla-nougat.
ANESTASIA (Oregon, distilled from corn)
Nose: Eucalyptus followed by citrus—lemon zest, cornmeal muffins, crème brûlée, confectionery sugar and a slight vegetal note of green bell pepper.
Palate: Creamy, viscous mouth feel, rich caramel-corn sweetness followed by a nutty bitterness.
Finish: Medium in length, lingering wet-stone minerality.
BELUGA (Russia, distilled from grain)
Nose: Very expressive showing toasty grain, bread dough with big spice—black and white pepper, cardamom and clove, vanilla and lime zest.
Palate: Creamy, almost oily mouth feel, bright acidity, ripe tree fruits, grain mash, clover honey developing into orange marmalade sweetness.
Finish: Long and warm with a lasting note of marzipan.
CORBIN (California, distilled from sweet potato)
Nose: Alcohol is rather pronounced, leading to cookie dough, vanilla, roasted potato skins and maple syrup.
Palate: Slightly creamy, alcohol up front, followed by roasted root vegetables, dark bittersweet chocolate, baked apple and a slight herbaceous note—thyme.
Finish: Rather short, with the memory of dark chocolate.
DEEP EDDY (Texas, distilled from corn)
Nose: Pronounced alcohol; black peppercorns, green bell pepper; asparagus, orange zest, slight grainy sweetness.
Palate: Thin mouth feel, rather astringent, revealing toffee sweetness and peanut caramel corn; notes of citrus and pith.
Finish: Rather short, clean with the memory of orange zest.
DRIPPING SPRINGS (Texas, distilled from corn)
Nose: Alcohol up front, pine, menthol and eucalyptus, then bread dough and cornmeal, star anise, fennel, black pepper.
Palate: Sweet corn mash giving way to a cocoa—toffee sweetness, silky mouth feel, citrus pith, wet-stone minerality.
Finish: Short to medium in length with a note of blanched almond, cucumber skin and citrus pith.
HANSON’S HANDMADE VODKA (California, distilled from grapes)
Nose: Complex—yeasty, vanilla, caramel, eucalyptus, cream soda, toasted hazelnuts, white-pepper spice, sweet orange.
Palate: Rich and creamy; velvety, touch of cocoa, roasted nuts, nougat, chocolate; tastes like it smells.
Finish: Long and pleasant with a lingering memory.
PLATINKA (Belarus, distilled from rye)
Nose: Big, black-pepper spice; menthol and pine, earthy, vegetal—mushroom, herbal—tarragon with toffee sweetness.
Palate: Medium weight revealing toasted cashew nuts, caramel, grainy sweetness and ground black-pepper spice.
Finish: Short to medium in length, warm with a slight anise spice reminder.
VESICA (Poland, distilled from potato)
Nose: Big spice—anise, black licorice, black pepper, eucalyptus, floral—along with lavender, orange oil, cream soda, mushroom earthiness.
Palate: Robust with an oily texture, leading way to pepper spice, caramel sweetness and toasted nuts with nice acidity.
Finish: Medium in length with a touch of minerality and egg-cream sweetness.
ZIM’S (Poland, distilled from potato)
Nose: Earthy, floral—apple blossom, baked potato, white pepper and star anise spice, tree fruit—apricots, green apple.
Palate: Medium weight—slightly creamy, egg cream, white pepper, toasted nuts—almonds, marzipan; medium acidity.
Finish: Medium in length, with dark-chocolate conclusion.
Tony Abou-Ganim is the founder of Las Vegas-based cocktail consultancy The Modern Mixologist and author of several books.