For decades, the American regulations for vodka dictated that it had be neutral: no scent, no taste, nothing. Literally, the rules read: “Vodka is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” Neutrality defined vodka to such an extent that Smirnoff ads from the 1960s claimed “It leaves you breathless”—meaning no one would be able to smell the alcohol on your breath after your three-martini lunch. But vodka’s official American standards changed last year, as a quiet shift in the rules deleted the neutrality condition. The door is now open for brands that actually taste like something. The fresh fruitiness of apple, perhaps, or soft sweetness of honey. Maybe even earthy potatoes or bright, oily olives. Craft vodkas are having a moment.
We’re not talking about flavored vodkas—the sweet, fruity, or spicy concoctions that you might have shot back in college. These are serious vodkas that reward discerning palates, even those of whiskey drinkers. Showcasing a range of base ingredients, with no added flavors, these vodkas expand the horizons of familiar cocktails like the vodka soda and martini. You can even sip them neat like a fine bourbon, tequila, or rum.
Don’t believe it? Pick up a bottle and taste for yourself.
Best Craft Vodkas That Are Anything but Neutral
1. Vestal Unfiltered
Much of the world’s vodka is made from potatoes, but most of the time it’s distilled to such high proof that there’s no way to tell. Poland-based Vestal takes a different approach. Aiming to showcase the unique individuality of each harvest, brand founder William Borrell selects and distills young potatoes from his family’s farm, bottling some of each year’s production as a vintage under the Unfiltered label. Damp soil and mushroom aromas waft from the glass, and carry into an earthy, round, and full-bodied palate. In addition, it has a natural funk that makes it a potential substitute for rum in a variety of cocktails.