News flash: Russians enjoy the occasional glass of vodka. The Russian vodka industry now pulls in $40 billion a year and continues to grow. American vodka consumption pales in comparison, and stateside vodka lovers can learn a lot from their Russian colleagues. If you too enjoy vodka, you’ll love these bottlings straight from Mother Russia, which show off the country’s expertise and devotion to the spirit (and are actually available on this side of the world).
This vodka lives up to its name. Americans may already be familiar with the Russian booze, but you may not have considered the quality of this crazy affordable bottling. Clean, bright and bracing, this is where you should start on your road to true Russian drinking. Drink it neat as a sipping vodka or use it as a palate cleanser between bites of traditional Russian bar eats.
Young fruit (green apples as tart as the bottle’s green label) with touches of mint and anise flavor this traditional Russian vodka, which translates to “Moscow Special.” The brand dates back to the Russian Empire and still carries itself as a truly traditional Russian product, surviving as a beloved brand during Russia’s tumultuous journey through the 20th century. Filtered through quartz sand and charcoal, this vodka represents the best of Old Russia.
If there’s one thing Americans know about Russian partying, it’s that they eat caviar to get fancy. While Beluga Noble isn’t made with beluga caviar, the association for fancy pants festivities isn’t unwarranted. Made on a base of malted barley and deep Siberian well water, the vodka is distilled, filtered and then rested for up to several months, a labor-intensive process that adds up to clean, almost oaty flavor. Finished with a bit of honey and milk thistle, Beluga is an ultra clean sipper over a cube of ice. Launched in 2002, the brand is a relative new kid on the Eastern Bloc, but definitely one to watch.
The only other bottle from the Beluga family readily available stateside, Belenkaya is known for its soft texture and taste, which supposedly come from the brand’s extensive coal filtration. It’s dulcet, cereal-forward taste makes it equally excellent on the rocks, which make the wheaty mouthfeel even more pronounced, or as a shot to pair with light bites, since the vodka’s mellow character won't overwhelm the flavors of your meal.
This Soviet-inspired vodka is based on winter wheat, a crop that deserves extra respect for surviving the long Russian winter. Grown in the Black Earth region of Western Russia, an area known for its superior soil, the wheat is distilled in Klin north of Moscow before being packaged in a frosted glass bottle that bears the brand’s namesake symbol in red. The vodka gains a creamy density from the wheat, with notes of white sugar and vanilla. The brand suggests using it in a Moscow Mule, but for best results, pair any cocktail with a Hammer and Sickle cigar.
After learning about Mamont, we’d actually be OK getting sent to Siberia. The vodka, produced at the 19th-century Itkul Distillery near the Altai Mountains, is all Siberia all the time, made from local winter wheat and well water, and filtered through Siberian birch charcoal. Even the bottle is inspired by the tusks of the Yukagir Mammoth, an important frozen mammoth specimen discovered in the region. Thick and silky on the palate, the vodka is slightly woody with notes of apple and raspberry. Like the others on this list, it’s great served chilled and neat, but also works paired with what the brand dubs “Siberian sashimi.”
Technically a collaboration between Russia (with winter wheat, spring wheat, and rye from a farm in Tambov, Russia) and Latvia (with water from Riga), elit builds on the standard Stoli formula with a freeze-filtration method. Inspired by an old Russian practice of leaving casks outside in the ice-cold winter weather, the final step in elit production chills the vodka to just under 0 degrees Fahrenheit, before passing it through a carbon filter. The sub-zero filtration doesn’t strip the vodka of flavor, which bounces up on the palate with notes of citrus and baking spices, but it does leave the finish shockingly clean.