To some, ordering a Vodka Soda may seem like the easy way out, ideal for when you can’t decide what to order. While it’s true that a Vodka Soda is probably the most neutral cocktail there is, true Vodka Soda connoisseurs know that the basic Highball is actually the best way to showcase vodka’s subtler flavors. When the only other ingredient is bubbly water, there is truly nowhere for a low-quality vodka to hide. Here are five of the best vodkas to use in a Vodka Soda, from a garden-fresh Japanese vodka to a lovely, cucumber-flavored variety.
For a Citrusy Vodka Soda: Ketel One Vodka ($32)
This easily found, citrus-forward vodka is distilled from 100 percent non-GMO wheat at the Nolet distillery in the Netherlands. It’s one of the most popular vodkas in the world, thanks to its smooth, crisp flavor and mellow, lemony aroma. Of all the premium vodkas found behind just about every bar in the world, Ketel One is a reliable go-to for a Vodka Soda. Try muddling in pairings of fresh fruit and herbs, like strawberry and basil, or grapefruit and thyme, for a vibrant upgrade to the basic Highball.
For a Floral, Aromatic Vodka Soda: Nikka Coffey Vodka ($43)
Our favorite new vodka of 2017, Japanese-made Nikka Coffey Vodka is a match made in heaven for a Vodka Soda. Produced in the same continuous Coffey still that’s used for the distillery’s famous whiskies, Nikka Coffey Vodka is distilled from corn and barley and refined with white birch charcoal. Use it to make a floral, vegetal Vodka Soda—one that tastes like the first day of spring and smells like fresh laundry. With notes of honeysuckle, mint, lemon oil, fresh cut grass and sugar snap peas, the vodka won’t need to be covered up with anything more than a little soda.
For a Clean, Crisp Vodka Soda: New Deal Vodka ($27)
This vodka from Portland, Oregon, was our favorite new vodka of 2016, and a year later we’re still mixing it into all of our vodka cocktails. The “grain to glass” vodka is sourced from locally grown, soft winter white wheat and distilled in small batches in a custom copper still. The result is a vodka that tastes exceptionally clean on its own, with a gentle citrusy aroma, delicate body and a lightly sweet vanilla finish. Topping it with soda simply makes those pleasant flavors sparkle.
For a Sweet (and Affordable) Vodka Soda: Tito’s Handmade Vodka ($20)
One of the best budget vodkas on the market, Tito’s has a cult following among bartenders and patrons alike for a reason. The Texas-made vodka is distilled from corn, which gives it a slight vanilla and butterscotch-like flavor that’s perfect if you enjoy your drinks a bit on the sweeter side. If you see this being served as the well vodka at a bar, consider yourself blessed and try to order as many Vodka Sodas as you can in a single happy hour.
Flavored vodkas can get lost in the mix in complex cocktails. Instead, use a high-quality flavored vodka to make a more interesting Vodka Soda. There’s a wide range of great options that don’t include desserts in their titles—from Hanson of Sonoma Ginger to Absolut Lime—but it doesn’t get better than Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka. The New York-distilled spirit tastes like you muddled a bunch of fresh cucumber slices in the bottom of the glass, yielding the most refreshing, cooling Vodka Soda you’ve ever had. It’s like treating yourself to a spa day, but with a little extra booze.