The Best Vodka for Mixing Cocktails, According to Bartenders

Courtesy of Andrew Calisterio / House of Spirits
Courtesy of Andrew Calisterio / House of Spirits

Just because a vodka is expensive doesn’t mean it is going to be better than a bottle that costs you 10 bucks. When bartenders create cocktail menus, they not only have to keep their costs in check, but they also have to choose a spirit that is versatile and delicious—whether it’s served on the rocks or in a Highball. So we asked 14 bartenders for their go-to mixing vodkas. Here’s what they had to say.

“The type of vodka I decide to use in mixed drinks depends more on my mood than anything. Because vodka is a very flexible spirit, I find that most brands can be relatively interchangeable, each offering their own subtle twist to the same cocktail. For me Ketel One is a great standby. It is very neutral in flavor but doesn't disappear behind other ingredients. It works just as well for a Screwdriver as it does for a Mule.” —Lauren Lindstrom, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, Los Angeles

“I like Ketel One. It’s smooth and balanced without the astringent finish of some other brands, and it still has a presence and pronounced flavor. It mixes well with almost anything, but a Vesper is my favorite cocktail to use it for.” —Grant Gedemer, I|O Godfrey, Chicago

"When I am feeling Big Lebowski inspired, Black Cow vodka makes an awesome contribution to a White Russian. The texture is oily due to the fact that it is made from 100 percent cow’s milk, and the flavor is mild and slightly sweet. The dude abides.” —Lauren Lindstrom

“It’s hard for me to get behind a vodka but this one is amazing. I always feel like I am drinking rubbing alcohol when it comes to vodka, and this is definitely not that. It has such a creamy mouthfeel and is super smooth. I use it in Martinis and the Russa Bianca (aka White Russian) at Rossoblu and it is lovely.” —Brynn Smith, Sotto and Rossoblu, Los Angeles

“Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka has an incredibly clean and silky texture; it’s perfect for a classic Martini. This vodka truly shines in cocktails that involve more simplistic preparations where the smooth texture won’t be covered up. I also love the fact that this vodka is produced in the Pittsburgh area, which is my hometown.” —Johnny Swet, JIMMY at The James, New York

“Strong's Small Batch is made in Kentucky from Kentucky ingredients, and is distilled five times. It's super smooth and mild. This is my current favorite. It’s great for mixing with literally anything.” —Stacie Stewart, Whiskey Dry and MilkWood, Louisville

“My go to brand for mixing cocktails is Sobieski Vodka. Sobieski is super smooth, very approachable, and works really well with infusions. We use it in our signature cocktail, the Ousia Mule (cardamom infused vodka, Aperol, lime and ginger beer). Also for the quality, you can’t beat the price. It is more than half the price of Tito’s or Grey Goose, but just as good in quality. This allows us to keep our drinks fairly priced.” —Johnny Livanos, Ousia, New York

“North Shore Sol from North Shore distillery just outside Chicago has been one of my favorite vodkas for awhile. While not necessarily a true vodka, it’s as close to a flavored vodka as we work with. It’s a chamomile and citrus infused spirit that is flavored naturally via maceration. Sol was a highlight of the opening and current menu at Spoon and Stable. It’s used in the Cosmopolitan (aka Nancy’s Cosmo). North Shore was one of the first small distilleries I was introduced to when I first started bartending. It’s a husband and wife team that quit their day jobs to take a chance opening a distillery. They named their still Ethyl, which is hilarious, and [the owner] Sonja Kassebaum sends us cookies to the restaurant every Christmas.” —Robb Jones, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, and Bellecour, Wayzata, Minnesota

“I like Effen Vodka’s balance of hard and smooth. It’s not so smooth that it gets lost in cocktails. And it’s not like those vodkas that go down like gasoline—stomach burners. But it’s just rough enough to know it’s vodka.” —Mitchell Jamra, Marshall’s Landing, Chicago

“Vermont White is distilled from whey and has an incredibly smooth texture. It tastes kind of creamy without being super rich or syrupy. I actually prefer this vodka on its own or on the rocks.” —Stacie Stewart

“I prefer Tito’s because it’s made in ‘Merica and the dude gives a bunch of his profits to help animals. It doesn’t hurt that it tastes good too.” — Donovan LaFond, Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn

“Peak Spirits is a distillery in Colorado that uses biodynamic practices to grow their produce. Mell is their well vodka that I use in all my bar programs. It is made from apples and corn (Cap Rock is their higher end vodka that is made solely from grapes). Both expressions are super smooth and mix well in all manner of cocktails. The Mell is currently in our Salty Dog at Accomplice and in the Garden Herb Sour at Fundamental DTLA.” —Gaby Mlynarczyk, Accomplice and Fundamental DTLA, Los Angeles

“With vodkas, a lot of the subtleties are lost in cocktails, so it’s largely a matter of supporting brands that we’re friends with. We’re good friends with House Spirits [in Portland]. We use it in a vodka-based Paloma variation that also incorporates Giffard Pamplemousse, Aperol, grapefruit bitters and lime acids. As a bonus, it’s corn-based, so people who feel like wheat-based vodka affects them can drink it without concern.” —Aaron Polsky, Harvard & Stone, Los Angeles

“With the rise of the small distillery in Minnesota, there’s some great vodkas being made locally. J. Carver’s vodka has a really distinct creaminess that shines through when used in cocktails. It’s got a wonderful aroma of vanilla and fun pie crust thing happening. I find that local distilleries are trying to keep as much flavor in their vodkas as possible by avoiding over-distilling. It’s a good thing when you’re trying to compete with the big guys who are all about marketing the opposite—i.e., ‘distilled 10 times!’ or ‘filtered through diamonds!’” —Robb Jones

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka

“Zubrowka is a Polish vodka distilled with bison grass. I like it because it's spicy and vanilla-y and the tiniest bit sweet. It's really great in a Moscow Mule or a Martini—without olives.” —Stacie Stewart

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka

“American Star Ghost Chili vodka is a great way to add a little spice to any cocktail that has a good amount of citrus our sweet elements. The chili flavor is slightly smoky, so if you like mezcal it can be a fun spicy flavor substitute.” — Jeremy Lake, Rosaliné, West Hollywood

"The brand has two expressions: One is herbaceous and has a lot of umami notes that bring balance in stirred cocktails; Together is slightly sweeter with fruitier notes. I love using Zirkova Together in cocktails that call for a syrup or a sweetening agent because I can use less, which is something I'm always trying to do at Cosme and Atla. For example, at Cosme we have a Ukrainian Mule on the menu with Together vodka that I am able to use a fresh pressed ginger instead of a syrup because the vodka is so flavorful." —Yana Volfson, Cosme and Atla, New York City

Green Mark Vodka

“Green Mark is a delicious and reasonably priced Russian vodka. With flavorful undertones it is a versatile vodka that can stands well on its own or in cocktails. It’s great in Martinis and for blending with fruits to make frozen drinks that we serve at Avenue restaurant.” —Thierry Carrier, Avenue, Long Branch NJ

“I love working with Kalak, a single malt Irish vodka, because it has distinct and developed character. There are hints of brioche, cacao and lemon. As I taste it neat, chilled, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, I notice different flavors coming to the surface. When paired with gentian liqueur, such as Suze, the cacao notes turn to milk chocolate and the malty notes are elevated. The bitterness of the gentian marries with the cacao notes in the vodka. One of my favorite drinks to make at home with Kalak is a combination of the vodka with Campari and Suze. Kalak also makes an extraordinary Vodka Tonic (I really enjoy it with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic or Top Note Bitter Lemon).” —Julia Momose, Oriole and Kumiko, Chicago