The short answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that.
To begin with, why is it that for most people the difference between a good and bad vodka is practically indistinguishable? Well, part of that has to do with regulation. See, in many parts of the world, there is specific regulations designed to ensure that vodka is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or colour.” That seems to lay the ground work for an industry that should be pretty much uniform across the board right? Well, not quite.
First there is going to be a difference based on what the vodka is being distilled from. Vodka is traditionally made by distilling cereal grains or potatoes that have been fermented. Generally rye and wheat varieties are usually considered higher quality, and therefore you’ll find these bottles to be higher in price point. However, some vodkas can be made from ingredients like molasses, soybeans or rice, and on the rare occasion they’re made from byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing. That doesn’t sound appealing does it?
What tends to happen with the “cheaper” varieties is that many of the impurities of the refining process linger, leaving an unpleasant taste or worse yet an unpleasant hangover. Don’t be fooled by the amount of times a vodka is distilled either; it doesn’t matter if a vodka made with poor ingredients is distilled three or more times, you’ve still started with a poor product.
Now, don’t take this to mean that “bad” means “cheap”, or even “good” means “expensive”; the reality is there are a number of great vodkas, made with quality ingredients that fall across all price points. Bad vodka is just poorly made, but good vodka doesn’t have to be expensive. What tends to affect the price point more than anything is the marketing around a vodka, so that “ultra premium” vodka you’re purchasing is more of a lifestyle choice than anything.
All that being said, there are a few excellent vodkas you can rely on when heading into the liquor store. Each serve their own purpose, whether it’s a decent inexpensive bottle for cocktails, or something to act as a showpiece.
By far the best option of “bottom shelf” vodka you’ll come across. It’s cleaner and higher quality than a number of better known vodkas and will absolutely work as your go-to vodka for cocktails and more.
This Icelandic vodka is a little more expensive but uses exceptionally pure glacier water for a very clear and light drinking experience. If Stoli isn’t your thing, the extra few dollars here will be worth having a bottle to display in your liquor cabinet.
Admittedly the value here is in the bottle. Not to discount the quality of the vodka at all, it’s still a very well balanced spirit. But the company definitely knows it’s a conversation piece to have a giant skull bottle full of alcohol. If you thought it was just a gimmick, then it’ll come as a nice surprise that you can actually enjoy this vodka for its taste as much as its look.
An exceptionally well crafted potato vodka, this is one of the best examples of “premium” vodka. It’s been one of our favourite vodkas to pair with other extravagant items like caviar or oysters.