The Drink Blog

Drink in your beverage knowledge here.

Flavors of Vodka; Way besides Whipped Cream…

alcohol alcohol training bar training bartender mixology vodka

“It might be water, it might be vodka. But it’s worth a shot either way” -


Styles & Ingredients do make a difference. Just because it may look like water it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing there. A glass of vodka has subtle flavor nuances that many are not really aware of. Since this clear & versatile spirit is so often mixed, people don’t really know what it tastes like. Let’s explore some finer details on our adaptable friend.

People often don’t take vodka as serious as whisky or tequila. A whisky fan may talk about the peat smoke, oak aging or distillation method. Have you ever heard anyone talk about vodka? Probably not too often; right? Why not? Where’s the respect for this popular spirit. Since most drinkers don’t ever drink room temperature vodka by itself, you’ll never get the full experience and differences in vodka flavors. Vodka is seen as cheap or ultra expensive in a lot of cases. With no thought about the subtle flavor differences or knowledge on why a vodka may be more expensive than another.


Common Fallacies About Vodka

Unfortunately, it’s a common belief that vodka flavors are non-existent. That they don’t really have a specific scent, or character. Sometimes they’re expensive, sometimes they’re not. But there’s not really much difference besides the price of the bottle; right? It all tastes about the same, is the common thought. This is far removed from the realities of vodkas that come from the European origins of the spirit; Russia & Poland. We need to look at the base ingredients and realize that there are big differences. In Europe, vodka is thought of much differently.

Often, large producers take mostly light flavorless ingredients and distill from that. (Think of it like white bread). Not a ton of flavor. But then you have rye bread or wheat bread that has a lot more flavor. Vodka can be framed in the same manner. Flavorful grain ingredients, will provide a flavorful “neutral or plain” vodka. Flavorful, even considering that it’s an unflavored vodka that is.



European Vodka

European vodkas tend to be savory, have rich aromas, and are texturally different from other vodkas. For example, take a vodka based in Poland or Russia, distilled from rye grains. Think of rye bread: intense, nutty, rich, oily, flavorful—that’s basically what you get when you distill a spirit from that grain.

Vodka shouldn’t be thought of as flavorless and bland. A good quality vodka ought to be packed with flavor, scents, and have a delicate mouth feel. All of that is a result of the nature of the raw materials you distill from. The vodka should preserve some of the personality of the original ingredients.

Multiple Distillations & Flavor

Some distillers might think the more times you distill a vodka, than each distillation will improvement. “The more the merrier” Not true. Don’t pick a vodka because it’s been distilled hundreds of times. If a vodka has been distilled hundreds of times, it’s most likely because the ingredients it’s been distilled from are bad. Each time it’s distilled, more and more compounds are being removed from the distillate. After awhile all you have is high octane raw alcohol. Then it’s up to the water being added to it to bring any flavor. That shouldn’t be the case.

Vodka should have subtle flavors that is imparted from the grains used to make it. When distilling grains like rye or barley, they can get fiery and intense. So, to mellow them out it has to be distilled a few times to take some of the intensity out. But unfortunately, Western distillers often go too far with the distillations. Too many distillations = Lack of flavor.

Inexpensive Vodka

Most often, you can tell a cheap vodka right away. It’s kind of sad. Watery. There’s no real texture to it. Other times, it’s just a flash of terrible fire in the mouth and then it’s gone as fast as it came. There’s no finish to it. As with any other alcohol, the longer the aftertaste, the better the quality. Unfortunately, distillers can use tricks to try to confuse people but not actually improve the quality.

Instead of using better quality base ingredients, they’ll use sugar and glycerin to develop smoothness, or to improve the feel, aroma, or flavor of the spirit. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve vodka flavors. But by using short cuts, there really is a noticeable difference most often. There’s a reason some vodkas are a lot more expensive than others. Sure its marketing costs, but quality ingredients are in there too. You can save the inexpensive stuff to mix your vodka with orange juice.

Wheat Vodka

Wheat is a gentle grain. Distill it too many times and it’s ruined. Wheat vodka flavors tend to be very light, crisp, and have notes of fresh grass & citrus. In general, wheat makes for a very welcoming vodka, a very crisp, clean & good all-rounder. By itself r mixed into a martini or other light cocktail.

Barley & Rye Vodka

Barley & Rye based vodkas tend to be richer and spicier than other vodkas, as stated before. If the analogy is that white bread doesn’t taste like anything; then rye bread is its flavorful cousin. The same thing goes for a vodka made from these grains. Notes of black pepper & spice with rich toasty oily notes can be found in these vodkas. That is provided that they weren’t distilled too many times. 

Potato Vodka

Vodka from potatoes…? Put a potato and some wheat grains next to each other. What do you notice? The wheat grains are light and airy. The potato is thick, heavy, and dense. Now this may be superficial, but I think it relates well to the end product. What are mashed potatoes like? Rick and creamy texture on the palate. The vodka is very much like that. It’s all about the texture.  Potato vodka will be very luxurious and full on your palate. Provided that you are enjoying it with minimal other ingredients, you should be able to notice the difference in texture.

Vodka Texture

As we know, vodka is a very subtle and nuanced product. When drinking it, most often people aren’t going to be consuming it in it’s own. What does that mean then? It means, that it would be hard for people to notice any real differences between different kinds. So, we need to rely on it’s texture or mouthfeel then instead of an actual vodka flavor. We can think of vodka in terms of how it feels. Is it oily, rich, thick or viscous? Or perhaps it might be watery, light, harsh, prickly, or hot? Vodka with water is the best way to determine the different textures in your vodkas.

Freezing Vodka

People freeze vodka all the time. What do you notice? First, it won’t completely freeze because of the alcohol content in it. The water freezes, so it turns into an alcohol slushy. Is it good to enjoy it this way? Sure. If you like it, why not. But you’ll notice you will miss a lot on flavor when doing this. Tasting is always done at room temperature so that you can taste the differences. When anything is served too cold, it dulls all the senses and you won’t be able to taste much. Freezing does make the vodka feel more rich. It envelops the mouth with its thicker, viscous texture. Texture is not a flavor per say, but it should be mentioned. 

Flavored Vodkas

I’m sure we’ve all seen the shelves of flavored vodkas. From a simple citrus flavored vodka, to bubblegum, whipped cream and chocolate flavored vodkas. Unfortunately, whipped cream flavor in a bottle is not natural. More than 90% world’s flavored vodkas use artificial flavor additives, and chemicals. Basically, a flavor that is desired is bought from a food chemical factory. It’s then added to the neutral vodka and mixed together. Now you have a flavored vodka. That’s not to say there aren’t great vodka flavors out there. There are many. But most often these will be the more naturally flavored versions. Such as Lemon, Orange or Vanilla flavored vodka.



And there you go. Who would’ve thought that there was flavor in regular vodka? As stated, it’s really all about the base ingredient. Start with something flavorful like rye, then you ‘ll end up with a flavorful vodka. Start with corn or even straight sugar, and you’ll end up with a much different spirit. I’m not saying it’s a worse product. It’s not for me to say. At the end of the day, we all have different preferences. If you like it, great! Vodka Margarita? Why not. Enjoy it, be it inexpensive or pricy! Don’t listen to what anyone tells you. You do you. Cheers.


Want to learn more about cocktails, bartending & alcohols in general? Get the Ultimate Beverage & Bartender Course BundleNot ready for that yet? Get our Free All Alcohol & Bartender Guide as a free gift.

Class is in Session. Drink Up!


Start learning today with your FREE Alcohol & Bartender Training Guide!

Over 75 pages + 40 cocktail recipes!

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.