Which vodka is the best?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Sept. 2 2004 6:48 AM

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Which vodka is the best?

(Continued from Page 2)

Final Verdict: While agreeing that the Stoli bottle "is a classic," about half of the panel concluded that the vodka itself was "another midshelf spirit masquerading as a premium brand" and attributed its continued popularity to "snob appeal." Unable to reach an agreement, we decided that whether you liked Stoli was largely a dela vkusa—which is to say, in Russian, a matter of taste.
Grade: Three Shot Glasses

*Note: In Russia, Stoli's full name is pronounced Stolichnaya, not Stolichnaya.

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Grey Goose
$29.99 for 750 milliliters; 80 proof
French; distilled from wheat, rye, and barley

Made in Cognac but owned by the American Bacardi Corp., Grey Goose was introduced in the United States in 1997 and has since won a great many industry awards. We were underwhelmed: Grey Goose is sweet and smoky, with hints of anise and citrus in the finish, but it all adds up to only a sort of smooth, uninteresting neutrality. And so, while the more generous half of our panel praised Grey Goose's "long, silky aftertaste" and "pleasing burn," detractors found it "bland," "spineless," and "vaguely medicinal." In the end, seven tasters agreed that the vodka's softness and subtlety made it a solid, if unremarkable, choice. Four found it to be too unremarkable and lacking the bite or character they expected from a self-described "ultra-premium" spirit.

Final Verdict: "Leaves a bit too much to the imagination."
Grade: Three Shot Glasses

Ketel One
$22.99 for 750 milliliters; 80 proof
Holland; distilled from wheat

Ketel One has been available in America since 1990. But in Holland the brand's been a family concern for 300 years, and the family in question—the Nolets—prides itself on its pedigree. "Ketel"refers to the small, copper-pot stills this vodkais distilled in. (There's an illustration of one on the bottle itself.) The first and last thirds of each batch are automatically discarded as likely to be harsh and weak. The panel found the results of this "center-batch method" to be "creamy," "exceptionally smooth," and "a little sweet," with hints of vanilla and orange. But two tasters felt that Ketel One's lingering aftertaste tended to obscure its initially pleasant flavor, and three more eventually came around to their point of view.

Final Verdict: "The vodka Absolut wishes it was."
Grade: Three Shot Glasses and a Chaser

Zyr
$32 for 750 milliliters; 80 proof
Russian; distilled from wheat and rye

Zyr, which was introduced in October 2002, is the youngest vodka we tasted but one of the best. Manufactured near Moscow by a young American entrepreneur named David Katz, Zyr is dry and zesty, with a distinct floral bouquet, a full-bodied burn, and a surprisingly light, sweet aftertaste. Eight panelists found it to be a "firm," "assertive" vodka, well-suited "to serious drinking." Two found the burn to be a bit overwhelming and preferred some of the lighter brands we tried, such as Armadale or Chopin. One spilled his shot three times before tasting it and so abstained from the judging.

Final Verdict: "We like this young upstart—there's hope for Russian vodka, yet!"
Grade: Three Shot Glasses and a Chaser

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