Drink Responsibly (ie 0-2 drinks/day). Prices are formatted 750ML/1.75L (otherwise known as a Fifth vs a Handle).
Check out a great list of cocktail recipes, most recommended are official IBA (International Bartenders Association) recipes. Be sure to try a white russian, moscow mule, and with juice – screwdriver, sea breeze, or cape codder (vodka cran) for something dessert-sweet – espresso or chocolate martini!
The best vodkas are made from rye.
Budget Vodka for Shots/Mixing
These all display great taste for their value. Even though they are in order from best tasting to worst, if one is the standout cheapest choice, go with that. Rain (corn) > Sobieski (rye) (much better than following) > Svedka (swedish winter wheat) > Fris (wheat) > Rokk ~$10/$16
For a small bump in quality, Tito’s at $23/1.75L (more for shots).
Hard to find (available in Canada/Europe but not the states): Moskovskaya $10 (even better taste and value than the above vodkas, stereotypically this is the vodka of the Russian “commoner” vs Stolichnaya for the communist leaders)
Great Value in Vodka
[Russian Bite (as Russians like a soft bitter bite to their Vodka]
– Nemiroff $18 (hard to find) – Authentic Ukrainian vodka. The silver is classic but the pepper is also really good.
– Kalashnikov $18 (hard to find)
– Russian Standard $17 – the bottle with Russian lettering on it (wheat)
If you cannot find either of the above, try 42 Below ($20/750) or Imperia $27
[Flavorless / Tasteless – for the Non-Russians]
– Ketel One $23 (more for mixing, wheat)
– Prairie Organic $17
– Smuggler’s Notch
– Blavod $24
[Best for Making Your Own Infused Liquor]
– Rain Vodka $20 – Sweet so don’t need to add sweetener, would taste more natural
Absolute Best Vodkas for Vodka Connoisseurs
These are more for sipping!
– Cold River $40 is another great one, definitely better than the crafted Chopin, and displays complex flavors for a vodka.
– Belvedere Intense Unfiltered 80 $50 (again complex flavors) (rye)
– Hangar One (smooth and complex fruity undertone) $30
Other Authentic Russian Brands: Jewel of Russia or Potocki (rye) or Double Cross
DO NOT GET: As is the case with liquor, some may be Nasty or Bad Value –
(Cheap Potato-based) – Luksusowa, Chopin (expensive high-end potato)
(Corn-based) – Tend to be flavorless with no body, and subtle medicinal flavors. Smirnoff, Tito’s, UV, plastic bottle – Karkov, Popov, Phillip’s.
(Grape-based) – Will give bad hangovers, technically grappa but it’s not from Italy. Ciroc – very smooth and sweet. Aviv and Ultimat too are super smooth and very little flavor, overly expensive
(Wheat) – Absolut, Skyy, Grey Goose (French wheat. made for Americans), Three Olives (England wheat) – tad expensive for its quality range, Vox (Netherlands wheat), Pinnacle (French wheat)
(Barley-based) – Finlandia
(Mix) Stolichnaya (both wheat and rye)
Okay Value – Reyka $26, Death’s Door $27, Van Gogh
Have not tried: Parliament, Flagman, Zelyonaya Marka (Зеленая марка)