Spirits are surrounded by myths and rumors, like the notion that older whiskey is better whiskey or that tequila makes people crazy. And vodka is no exception. The clear spirit has gotten a bad rap throughout the years—perhaps because of its association with the ultra-sweet cocktails that plagued the ‘90s—but there are plenty of quality bottlings out there that are anything but “tasteless” and “boring.” Here, the four biggest myths about vodka, busted once and for all.
Vodka Is Tasteless
Perhaps the biggest misconception about vodka is that it’s a tasteless, odorless spirit. Sure, it is more neutral than, say, whiskey, but every vodka has its own unique flavor profile. For example, VDKA 6100—which is made from New Zealand whey—is creamy with hints of citrus and white pepper. On the other hand, Absolut Elyx—distilled from wheat on a vintage copper still—has notes of marshmallow and grapefruit peel with a smooth vanilla finish. Once you start really tasting quality vodkas, you’ll realize they do have flavors, and those flavors aren’t all the same.
Vodka Needs to Be Distilled a Bajillion Times
Less-than-great vodkas benefit from multiple distillations because the process strips away the ethanol flavor to leave you with a nearly tasteless product (it’s better than astringent). But companies that use quality ingredients and pure water don’t need more than three or four distillations to create a superior spirit. Look for brands that proudly talk about the quality of the ingredients that go into making each bottle, rather than the many, many times they ran the spirit through the still. The caliber of these raw materials will shine through in the end product.
Vodka Is Only Gluten-Free if It’s Made From Potatoes
This is one of the biggest myths about vodka, and spirits in general. All vodka is gluten free, no matter if it’s made from wheat or potatoes or whey or whatever. During the distillation process, alcohol is separated from everything else in the mash. It travels through the still and condenses into liquid on the other side. So while the raw materials in a vodka will affect its flavor profile, even those with gluten allergies can drink vodka made from wheat or rye.
Vodka Quality Doesn’t Matter in Cocktails
Even if you’re using sweet ingredients like fruit juice, don’t expect them to cover up the taste of bad vodka. Great cocktails start with great ingredients, no matter the base spirit. So if you expect to make a delicious, crowd-pleasing Bloody Mary or tangy Moscow Mule, reach for a quality bottle. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive one on the shelf (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be), but it should be something you’d happily sip solo.