Whoever said clear liquors are just for woman clearly never grew some extra chest hair from a stiff shot of Ciroc, Kettle One, or even the best cheap vodka. Perhaps the most versatile of all liquors, vodka mixes well with tomato juice, Coca Cola, and of course, hip hop lyrics. Jay Z’s own recipe for a good time includes: “six model chicks, six bottles of Crist’, Four Belvederes.” Shaken or stirred—your choice.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be balling on Hov’s budget to sip with style. Here’s five of the best cheap vodka brands on the market right now, and a quick guide to building your discerning eye. Once you get to sippin’, JacobGraye has also got you covered with six essential cocktails every vodka drinker simply must know how to make.
Sniff Out The Best Vodka Using More Than Your Nose
Price doesn’t determine quality, quality itself does. Now let’s develop your discernment.
Spot The Best Cheap Vodka
Believe it or not, not all vodka looks alike! Sight alone is the easiest way to discern the best cheap vodka, especially when you’re at a liquor store where taste testing isn’t an option. The best cheap vodka will be totally crystal clear, especially you can only achieve the best vodka, period, with two simple ingredients: wheat and water, or corn or potatoes and water, for the gluten free crowd. Once you pop the bottle, you can swirl your cheap vodka in a glass and assess its legs like you would a glass of wine, but since this liquid’s clear you’ll need some really good light.
Smell The Best Cheap Vodka
Apparently, professional spirit sommeliers rely on smell even more than they do taste. When it comes to vodka, that principle gets a little tricky. Lightweights famous favor vodka because, at its best, the spirit has minimal scent or flavor. Make sure not to swirl your glass too much, because that’ll unfairly activate the vodka’s ethanol notes. Start small, then smell more. If a cloud of rubbing alcohol odor still assaults you, then you’ve chosen wrong.
Taste The Best Cheap Vodka
Now this one’s obvious. In fact, before we get into technicalities, let’s get clear: The best cheap vodka is the one you enjoy the taste of. Plain and simple. But if you’re aiming for a more factual criteria to impress a date or dinner party, here’s some other notes for your pre-soiree sample. Make sure to draw some air into your mouth while the vodka sits on your tongue, and assess the mouthfeel as much as the flavor. Take your time before swallowing, since the spirit’s flavor profile can change over time. And don’t forget to consider how all that will pair with your mixers.
Rinse And Repeat
If you’ve chosen right, then you’ll be sipping your new favorite cheap vodka well into the night. When sniffing out your contenders, return to test again and again, bearing in mind that vodka’s characteristics shift over time. A 15-to-20 minute refractory period should do it.
Russian Standard — Original Vodka
Where else to start but with the nation best known for vodka? According to Russia Beyond, once upon a time the country averaged an annual per capita consumption topping 14 liters—even though that figure’s since fallen by factors of five. Some say the blatant favoritism comes from vodka’s flavor pairing well with Russian food, others say its a matter of health. Either way, we trust Russian Standard not only for its roots, but its reviews. Out of all 49 ratings levied on alcohol hub Drizly, the brand has managed to score a sterling 4.8 star average. More recently the comments there have gotten pretty political, but we think Kirill put it eloquently: “Dunk on lovers of the military-industrial complex with this delicious, smooth vodka.” And only $19.99 for a liter!
Now we’re getting somewhere—here’s a country you might not expect to hear in the same sentence as “vodka!” And the surprises don’t stop there. Finlandia’s earned acclaim even before the taste test for their ultra sleek packaging. Inside, however, is a spirit that Vine Pair calls “steely” and “minerally glacier.” Intriguing, for sure, but their 88 out of 100 rating is utterly unbeatable for a best cheap vodka that costs under $22 for a liter. It’s got a clean, strong character, no frills necessary, so consider this spirit for your more spartan, soda-based drinks.
Absolut Original Vodka
Now, we’d be remiss to round up the best cheap vodka brands out there without mentioning at least one of the spirit’s iconic names. Burnett’s, Svedka, and Skyy are all conspicuously missing from this list. It’s not a college frat party, after all. But Absolut as a brand has proven themselves apart from the red solo cup crowd, especially with the advent of their higher shelf offerings like their sexy—and pricey—Elyx spinoff. We still love the original Absolut though, not just for its ability to get the job done at price point better called “affordable” than “cheap,” but also because it’s clean to the taste, to the point it won’t give you the same nasty hangover of its counterparts.
Deep Eddy — Ruby Red
This one’s a relatively recent arrival on the market, and a newfound favorite amongst lovers of flavored vodka. If you’re still feeling like a youth at heart, the company’s offerings range from Cranberry to their most famous, Sweet Tea, with a dubious Original variety in there. However, the company’s Ruby Red grapefruit flavor has proven a fan favorite, supremely mixable with several flavors of seltzer, especially lime. Tasty, but not too sweet, suiting your refined palate.
We saved the best for last. Since it became the first spirit brand legally distilled in the Lone Star State in 1995, Tito’s has rapidly risen to best cheap vodka acclaim, in no small part because it’s made from highly economical corn “using old-fashioned pot stills,” and therefore fits the gluten free dietary craze. They make it from potatoes now, too. Even if you’re open to imbibing upon bread, Tito’s is noted for its completely clear appearance, silky smooth taste, and pleasantly warming throat feel. It’s got a touch of sweetness that promises to perk up your cocktails without overpowering them. This one holds its own, but let’s the good times take center stage. Cheers!