You may not be making it rain at the club or playing cards in the back of a smoky garage with a hard-nosed Russian named Timur Kenzaghul, but the rise of artisan spirits ensures that you can still drink vodka. The spirit has recently undergone a renaissance, thanks in part to distillers from around the world who take advantage of native ingredients and traditional distilling methods to put their own unique twists on the drink.
Ultimat, Bielsko-Biala, Poland
The 40 percent ABV Ultimat, a Polish vodka, contains spirits made from potato, wheat and rye. From the potato, the vodka gets its richness, from the wheat, smoothness, and from the rye, a hint of grain. Forty percent is typical of Eastern European vodkas, and the reason why is your fun fact of the day: Dmitri Mendeleev, father of the periodic table, became Russia’s Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures in 1893, where he was charged with setting the state standard for the production of vodka. Although he found 38 percent to be the ultimate number, spirits were taxed based on their proof, and so the state rounded up to simplify the computation.
Vikingfjord, Oslo, Norway
Vikingfjord is a potato spirit made with glacier water that won a gold medal in the Unflavored Vodka category of the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. For $13, you’d be hard pressed to find a better vodka, though we still recommend using it for cocktails.
Reyka, Borgarnes, Iceland
Jumping $10 in price (and a thousand miles to the east), one finds another 40 percent ABV spirit, Reyka, the first vodka to be distilled and bottled entirely in Iceland. Drink this one neat. The distillery, which runs on geothermal energy, makes the peppery spirit in small batches using arctic spring water and “lava rock filtration” — which is, we were excited to discover, exactly what it sounds like.
Our/Berlin, Berlin, Germany
The Our/ line, a product of Pernod Ricard, produces and bottles small batch vodkas in eleven cities around the world. Our/Berlin, a 37.5 percent ABV vodka produced and hand-bottled in Berlin, Germany, gets made with pure Berlin water and German wheat, which gives the spirit a floral note.
Bluewater Organic, Everett, Washington
Here in the States one finds a variety of interesting vodkas, including Bluewater Organic, a copper kettle distilled spirit made from wheat and alpine water, and bottled in American-made glass. Picking up on the American “green” tradition, Bluewater only uses USDA-certified organic ingredients and belongs to 1% for the Planet, a collection of eco-friendly businesses that offer one percent of their gross sales to environmental organizations.
AnestasiA, Bend, Oregon
AnestasiA jumps on another American tradition: avant-garde style. The bottle, which pays homage to the spirit’s five-time quartz crystal, neutral charcoal and crushed volcanic rock filtration process, won the 2013 Best Bottle and Best Case award from the Beverage Tasting Institute. The spirit itself, known for its crème brûlée finish, won a 2013 gold medal from the International Craft Awards.
Ao, Kyushu, Japan
One of the most recent vodkas to enter the market comes from the House of Suntory, makers of Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu whiskies. The use of rice distilled in pot stills, as well as local spring water and a bamboo-based filtration process, yields a crisp, earthy, mineral-y spirit that’s great for sipping or as a base in cocktails.