Vodka showdown, part 1
“Ketel One and tonic, extra lime.”
That’s my usual drink order. Ketel One is my favorite vodka and has been for years. The first time I tried it was at a Ketel One tasting event and I was surprised by how smooth it was. Smooth enough to drink straight, which is not at all my thing. Since then, I’ve been a Ketel One fan. I’ll (easily) choose other vodka if KO isn’t available. It’s not like I’m going to forfeit happy hour just because my favorite vodka isn’t available (hello?), but when it’s in stock there is no need to guess what vodka I’m drinking.
Or is there?
Earlier this week I decided to test my KO commitment as my husband and I conducted our personal vodka taste test. We purchased four well-known brands and devised a completely objective process to compare them, all while enjoying a cocktail or three.
Here’s how it worked. I poured two fingers of each brand into one of four rocks glasses. The glasses were marked for each brand and those marks were covered with tape. I left the room while my husband swapped the positions of the glasses, then we switched positions and I did the same thing. Probably overkill, but we want to make sure our experiment was valid. And we had a lot of time on our hands.
Now that the glasses were well positioned and completely mixed up, we let the testing begin. Ketel One, Grey Goose, Stolichnaya and Tito’s: Which would be judged superior?
We judged primarily on three factors: aroma, flavor and smoothness. After the second sample we quickly realized that the differences in aroma were very subtle; a little more or a little less alcohol smell, some with hints of citrus or grain. Differences in flavor were a bit more noticeable, but still within a fairly narrow range. Some had more of an initial bite, others had less. But because these all fall under the heading of “better spirits”, the differences in aroma and flavor weren’t going to make or break the winner. This was a contest for the smooth.
What we termed “smooth” is really drinkability. For the typical cocktail connoisseur, this translates into how easy is it to sip and enjoy the beverage neat, unencumbered by chaser or garnish.
We started in no particular order, sipping vodka “C” from the “A, B, C, D” line-up. Not bad once I got past the initial shock of straight liquor. That was quickly followed by B, D and A—maybe too quickly, based on my easily distracted conversation that ensued.
We scored each anonymous brand on a 1 to 10 scale for each of the three characteristics and totaled the scores. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much given the brands involved) there was only a 3 point range between the lowest score and the highest. Here’s what we found.
Tito’s earned the lowest score, which is not a knock against it considering the narrow range to high score.
Stolichnaya had the next highest score. We didn’t rate it the highest, but it’s still a solid option if you need to show up at a party with a bottle to share.
So what was the winning brand? Drumroll please—-it was a tie. Ketel One and Grey Goose both earned the same score. Ironically, under the anonymous conditions, my husband ranked Ketel One as his favorite and I chose Grey Goose. Surely this can’t be right.
We had a few more sips, transitioning into actual cocktails—Bloody Mary for him, vodka tonic for me, extra lime. An hour later we were glad we’d written down our scores, because at that point we loved them all.
And that’s the thing with good vodka. Even those that aren’t your absolute favorites (zero pun intended) are still great because vodka is such a versatile liquor. As we sat and sipped and discussed the many possibilities of vodka, we agreed that we’d need to repeat this spirited contest soon.
The next time we go out for drinks (whenever that is) I will likely start with Ketel One and tonic, extra lime. (Old habits are hard to break.) But now I know I have a viable back-up if KO is off the menu. Always nice to have a plan B.
Do you have a favorite vodka? Share in a comment below and we may include it in our next taste test. Watch for additional showdowns featuring other liquors.