Types of Vodka
It’s tempting to assume that all vodkas are “odorless, flavorless, colorless,” but that’s not always 100 percent true. Yes, they are almost always clear, and some vodkas absolutely are distilled and filtered to complete neutrality. But quite a few have fleeting aromas or flavors, and many have distinctive textures, making them feel light and silky, viscous, oily, or even slightly creamy. Flavors in vodka tend to be nuanced, tartness suggesting citrus peel or light sweetness reminiscent of vanilla, almond or marshmallow. Potato vodka tends to have faint earthy notes and can feel slightly oily on the tongue. By comparison, wheat-based vodkas can have a slight creaminess.
Single Barrel and Single Vintage
Much less popular but groundbreaking nevertheless, these bottlings are to vodka what small-batch and single-barrel bottlings are to whiskey: highly specialized and often quite worth seeking out. A small but growing number of producers are experimenting with single-vintage or single-ingredient vodkas with minimal filtration, meant to show how expressive a vodka can be. For example, Chopin Vodka released four limited-edition “Single” bottlings: single-ingredient vodkas based on potato, young potato (made with potatoes less than a year old), rye and wheat, each filtered just once. Meanwhile, Swedish producer Karlsson’s Vodka releases “vintage” potato vodkas when they feel a year’s crop is interesting enough to showcase. Each of these bottles has distinctive character and flavor, making them an exception to the “flavorless” reputation.
Another exception to the “odorless, flavorless, colorless” rule are oak-aged vodkas, such as Oak by Absolut or the occasional, barrel-aged vodka experiment at some bars. There’s some controversy as to whether these vodkas, which take on flavor, aroma and color from the barrels, are considered vodka or flavored vodka.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, flavored vodkas are here to stay, and they can make useful mixers. Infused vodka has long been a standard drink in Russia and Poland, where additives tend to be herbal (dill, tarragon or coriander) or spicy (horseradish or ginger) in addition to sweet. Absolut was arguably the first brand to take the trend global when they launched Absolut Peppar in 1986 (also launching the trend of creatively spelling ingredients to make products seem more exotic). Flavored vodka has since become a staple in bars and liquor stores across the world.
Although some bars create housemade infusions, vodka makers have rolled out a slew of playful flavors in bottles—making it sometimes hard to discern real flavors from fake ones. Fruit flavors range from the recognizable citrus vodka to the unconventional, such as dragon fruit or açaí. There are also savory and spicy vodkas made with chile peppers, Sriracha or bacon. There are sweet variations as well, like the insane dessert-inspired vodkas flavored with versatile vanilla or salted caramel. Finally, there are the over-the-top, eye-rolling flavors like birthday cake vodka and (arguably the most notorious flavored vodka of them all) cinnamon bun flavored vodka—a collaboration between Pinnacle Vodka and Cinnabon.
While some of these flavors are popular as shots, others have worked their way into cocktails. Absolut Citron, for instance, is required to make a true Cosmopolitan, while any standard vodka classic can be upgraded with a handful of new and improved flavored vodkas.
You can even infuse vodka at home for a DIY boozy gift. No matter what palate your gifting for, you can make bacon-washed vodka, sweet Nutella-flavored liqueur, or a highly seasonal Christmas vodka.