Enter the Vodka Lab

Every gentleman inevitably confronts the same question during their drinking career: Is premium vodka worth the premium price?

In the noble pursuit of pseudo-science, your trusty experimenter sweet-talked seven friends – vodka enthusiasts, but hardly connoisseurs – into a blind taste test. With safety goggles in place, we put our Grade 5 science class skills to the test.

Premium vodkas are all marketing hype. Nobody can really taste the difference.

One bottle each of freezer-chilled Absolut, Skyy, Ketel One, Grey Goose and the limited edition, 100-proof Belvedere Intense.

Tasters sampled about a quarter-shot of each brand in a glass identifiable only to me. I controlled for variables: no mix, no ice. Subjects recorded tasting notes, guessed brands and proceeded slowly but surely toward inebriation.

If our participants agreed on anything, it’s that vodka is not best quaffed neat. Most brands elicited negative responses: “notes of glass shards,” (Belvedere Intense) and “tastes like gas” (Ketel One). However, some reactions were positive: One taster called Absolut “lovely and leggy.” Go figure.

Each vodka had the panel split – randomly – on whether or not it was premium; identifying specific brands was hopeless. The only vodka to elicit a consistent reaction was Belvedere Intense; its higher alcohol content lead all but one to call it hooch.

Vodka is basically ethanol and water: It’s meant to go down smooth, with only a sweet burning kiss to tell you it’s working. Often, the less you taste, the better you’ll like it. Our conclusion? Buy the cheap stuff and sock away the rest in your RRSP.

Image courtesy of morberg on flickr


8 thoughts on “Enter the Vodka Lab”

  1. “basically ethanol and water”? Well that’s true, basically. 🙂
    Water and ethanol could be though different, as well as a process that mix them together. Also, some other stuff, like glycerin e.g., could not be avoided. Different vodkas test so differently. Author didn’t drink to many or/and to much to fill the difference.

  2. What defines “premium” in the vodka category is most often price. And price is dictated by the marketing guys for most vodkas since almost all vodkas are made in large industrial plants. However, there are a few gems out there that are in the “premium” category due to their price which does actually reflects the ingredients and process used to produce those products. Our vodka is made in small batches in a pot still BY HAND (really!) with only the finest Canadian 2-row malted barley, yeast and water. No other additives. Our customers tell us that there IS a difference once they have tasted our vodka. Any by the way, many people enjoy our vodka at room temperature neat.

  3. Let’s make something clear here: you were testing the brands available in Canada. That means your choices were between cheap crap and expensive crap. Which is why you thought that vodka should not be consumed neat.

  4. Not true.
    While I am not a Vodka expert, I know what I like and what I don’t. While I drink my Vodka straight up, some taste better than others. Its a personal preference.

  5. disagree with this
    if your friends aren’t vodka connoisseurs, then its not a reliable study. I am not a connoisseur either but i can tell when i’m drinking crap and when i’m not. Also serving the vodka ice cold destroys the different flavor qualities and notes of each one

  6. Vodka tastings should be at room temperature shouldn’t they? I have done the same tastings at room temperature and neat, they obviously taste better when served neat as it cuts the alcohol burn, but the differences are totally there when served at room temp. Also all being grain vodka’s the differences obviously won’t be as apparent because they don’t have the differences between the base ingredients- grain vs potato vs grape vodka the nuances are more apparent.

  7. Wow, I could not disagree more with your reccomendation, and am seriously wondering about your panel. It’s pretty easy for me to tell the difference between good and bad vodka. And Absolute is certainly not lovely.

    I just hope none of your readers will now assume it’s ok to serve Smirnoff to their high class/alchohol enthusiast guests.

  8. Wrong. Vodka is not meant to go down smooth. This move to make alcoholic water has been a recent development this decade. Go to Eastern Europe and find out what real vodka is supposed to taste like.

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