15 best vodkas perfect for martinis, mixing and straight sipping

Character and flavour are in vogue in 2021 – all hail the vodka revolution

Alicia Miller
Friday 18 June 2021 11:16
<p>We tried drinks of different origins in a wide variety of styles</p>

We tried drinks of different origins in a wide variety of styles

Ever since gin stole the limelight a few years back, vodka has been – let’s face it – kinda uncool. Why drink an odourless, flavourless spirit when you could sip on something packed with enticing juniper, exotic herbs and spice notes?

But fashions come and go, and change is afoot. Craft distillers are now pouring the same passion and innovation into vodka that they previously did with gin. With both sustainability and character in mind, new spirits are being created from unique bases, with boutique production methods and careful sourcing.

Unlike in its 1990s heyday, the best vodkas are no longer about bland neutrality – instead, they show off ingredient quality and distillation skill. Yep, vodka in 2021 is seriously interesting.

With that said, when pulling together our list of best vodkas, it wasn’t a prerequisite for them to be new. Some of the very finest vodkas out there have been around for some time; we’re just appreciating them afresh. What mattered most in our test was that the vodkas expressed character true to their story, and were delicious to drink.

People drink vodka in many different ways so, beyond personality, we were most concerned with showing variety. We wanted to include vodkas of different origins and styles, as well as ones to suit mixing and straight sipping alike. With just one very subtle, irresistible exception, we drew the line at including flavoured tipples, though; because once you start playing with infusions or colouring, vodka becomes a whole different thing.

Read more:

We chilled all our vodkas right down before tasting, to ensure they were at optimum drinking temperature. Then, to make sure they really were the best, we sampled them neat in a spirit tasting glass, as well as in a classic martini with dry vermouth and a lemon twist – stirred, not shaken.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best vodkas for 2021 are:

Beluga noble Russian vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: Overall

It’s a cliché for a reason; when it comes to vodka, there’s just no beating the Russians. And when sipping this, you’ll understand why. Clean, gorgeously creamy and with a long-lasting finish, Beluga is an ultra-smooth, classic vodka that still maintains its body and character.

It’s made with malt spirit and Siberian well water, then triple filtered and left to rest for 30 days, a technique that (they say) dampens any harshness and enriches flavour. Translation? No matter how you employ it – martini, Moscow mule or by the mugful – it’s dangerously drinkable, with nay an alcoholic burn, just a gentle, elegant warmth.

Such finesse normally comes at a premium price point. But at safely under £35, Beluga is affordable – and that’s what makes it our star. It’s sophisticated enough to pull out for 007-style martini hour, but wallet-conscious enough to pour liberally at a party, too.

Copper Rivet Distillery vela vodka, 40%, 50cl

Best: Grain-to-glass

If someone tells you that vodka doesn’t have flavour, pour ’em a measure of this. Made in Kent by the River Medway from wheat, barley and rye grown on the Isle of Sheppey, it’s a rare beast in that it’s distilled from grain to glass – meaning the producers, Copper Rivet, keep control over the entire process. And what flavour comes as a result. Following fruit and cereal notes on the nose, a bright palate moves from rounded fruitiness to smooth richness, finishing with a wee tickle of pepper.

Don’t waste all this deliciousness by mixing with heavy tonics or sweet fruit juices; pour it over a giant ice cube, then savour each sip slowly. Welcome to flavour country… population: you.

Isle of Wight Distillery mermaid salt vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For bloody marys

The first thing we like about this Isle of Wight-made spirit? Its scaly, mermaid-style bottle – it feels fun and contemporary, not like a back bar leftover from the Nineties. Second, we love that it’s net zero and free from plastic; even the seal is biodegradable. Eco-points, check.

But the main draw is its totally unique profile. This vodka is gently infused with sea salt harvested on the Isle of Wight’s south coast and tempered with local mineral water, giving it a saline sense of place. It sounds weird, but it works; a subtle savouriness on the nose becomes more pronounced on the palate with a tingly, moreish salty-sweetness.

Mermaid is clearly made for martinis. A vesper works brilliantly – a dash of quality gin will really balance out that salty character. Or, to blast hangovers clean away, try it in a Bloody Mary with a dash of pickle or olive brine.

Chopin potato vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: Potato vodka

With a typically rich, rounded and creamy mouthfeel, potato vodkas can almost drink like a meal. And yet this Polish iteration – launched in the 1990s and named after the country’s most celebrated composer – manages to balance this characteristic heft with elegance. No wonder it has such a heaving awards’ cabinet.

Because of its big flavour – earthy, buttery and with a hint spice, then a long and clean finish – you could do worse that just keeping this perennially in the freezer, pulling it out for frosted shots (ideally downed with an Eastern European-style feast, because this vodka can definitely handle a food pairing). But Chopin is capable of far more than that. Try it in bolder cocktails that need a bit more weight; think a dirty martini or a retro white Russian.

Fair quinoa vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For feel-good sipping

This French vodka – the only one made from quinoa – gets its name from the fact that it’s Fairtrade, as well as organic. Two checkmarks right there, straight out of the gate.

The taste? It starts out quite gentle, building to a nutty, warm crescendo that tapers off with a bit of grain spirit kick. Fair is on the lighter side, but with a long old finish, notes of almond peel, and a bit of grippiness too. This definitely isn’t a run-of-the-mill pour.

Because of that bit of kick, we find you can get away with using Fair in mixed drinks with bolder flavours – it isn’t too easily drowned out. Make ours a screwdriver.

JJ Whitley artisanal Russian vodka, 38%, 70cl

Best: Budget buy

Given that this bottle is less than half the price of many on this list, it’s pretty darn impressive. It just goes to show that great vodka isn’t necessarily about glitzy nightclub sponsorships or boutiquey start-up distilleries – JJ Whitley has been producing spirits since 1762, and the years of experience show.

A fresh, uncomplicated nose leads on to a spiced, creamy and rich palate. For a weeknight martini when you don’t want to splurge, or a garden party where you’re turning out lots of different drinks on a shoestring, this is an essential buy. Gold star.

Chapel Down chardonnay vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For wine lovers

There’s more to love about this vodka, from English winemakers Chapel Down, than its stunner of a bottle – part frosted glass, part crystal cut. It’s triple-distilled by head winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire, who uses a dash of the estate’s own fine chardonnay grapes in the mix along with English wheat spirit. The result is a super smooth, velvety and light vodka with a real fruitiness – green grape, fresh-cut granny smith apple and peach notes included. If you find most vodkas to be overly spirity, or even too creamy, the way this pour dances across the tongue will have you seeing the drink with fresh eyes.

Now, for how we’d drink it. It’s pretty splendid neat, though it also makes a fine dry martini (just don’t overwhelm it with too much vermouth, and hold the olive). Lighter, fruit-forward cocktails work too. For example, a French 76, with a twist of lemon and Chapel Down’s own chardonnay-based Brut NV sparkling wine, is a no-brainer.

Oxford Rye organic vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For dirty martinis

Here’s a mighty delicious vodka that blows bland, characterless pours out of the water. Thanks to careful distillation in handmade copper stills, plus a rye base sourced with real care – grown within 50 miles of the Oxford distillery to strict organic Soil Association standards – its nose is brimming with character. Chocolate, brioche, prune and coconut all waft from the glass before you even get to sipping; let it warm up a bit and you’ll get enticing malty aromas too. Oxford Rye is a modern, crafted dry vodka made for a drinker that appreciates gin and whisky, too.

Stir this into a dirty martini, with just a wee splash of gordal olive juice and a high-quality vermouth (we’d use La Quintinye extra dry in this case). That magic match of pickly brine with the vodka’s gentle aromatic sweetness makes for one heck of a cocktail hour.

Eight Lands organic speyside vodka, 42%, 70cl

Best: For whiskey lovers

When you think of Speyside, you probably think whisky. But over at Eight Lands, for the moment anyway, there’s not a drop to be found; they’re focused on making world-class vodka and gin instead. A sweet nose of vanilla, espresso and cacao gives this pour real character – a product of a two-stage fermentation process with organic barley and wheat.

The palate, rich and rounded, has coconut and spice notes – and a gentle power that manages to still feel elegant. The dash of Scottish spring water, sourced from right by the distillery on the lower slopes of Ben Rinnes, no doubt helps with that knock-out flavour profile.

Black Cow pure milk vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For richer cocktails

A vodka made from milk might not sound enticing, but wait until you try this. Made in West Dorset from whey – the by-product of cheese production – along with a serious dose of innovation, Black Cow is an impressively tasty vodka for its price point. And, as you might expect given its origins, it’s udderly rich and creamy.

It’s not just a gimmick. Even once you get past the back story – it was developed by cheesemaker and farmer Jason Barber to cut waste from his long-running family business – Black Cow is a delight to drink. Subtle vanilla notes on the nose, and a wee smidge on the palate too, makes it at home when mixed in with richer, sweeter cocktails. Try it in a lemon drop (with Cointreau and lemon juice) or, if you are feeling properly old-school, a sex on the beach, with peach schnapps, orange and cranberry.

Sipsmith sipping vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: On the rocks

The clue is in the name; this 100 per cent wheat, unfiltered vodka has been specially designed for sipping. We like it best intensely chilled, poured over a giant ice cube, then grandiosely swirled around the glass à la single-malt whisky styles.

In all seriousness, though, Sipsmith’s vodka has just the right amount going on flavour-wise to keep it interesting to enjoy over ice – think a touch of sweet, rounded nuttiness and toasted flour, but still plenty of freshness. It’s also got a long finish and satiny texture to back that flavour up, with a clean, soft warmth. From the company that helped kick off Britain’s craft gin obsession, this is one spot-on vodka.

Grey Goose vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: Big brand

While we love a boutiquey vodka, they aren’t always available in bars and restaurants. And in those cases, when it’s time to turn to a big, readily available brand, Grey Goose is the winning pick.

Made from French winter wheat sourced from Picardy, and tempered with spring water from Cognac, it comes with a certain prestige reputation and, of course, a premium price point. The character here comes mostly from its texture – it really is impressively light and smooth – plus a sprinkling of delicate citrus notes that could pair with just about anything. Grey Goose isn’t about taking over your glass; it’s about putting forward a classy, easy-to-like drinking experience. And to that we say, santé.

Turncoat molasses vodka, 40%, 50cl

Best: For expresso martinis

First things first: this is a bone-dry vodka. And yet, the unusual molasses base from which it is distilled gives it a real perceived sweetness on the nose – somewhere between freshly harvested sugarcane (there’s a definite green note in there) and golden syrup. It’s just what’s called for when whipping up a quality, grown-up espresso martini, where you want a subtle kick of flavour without veering into sickly territory.

Made in Liverpool by an indie distiller with a bar in the Albert Dock, this boutique spirit is also a pretty pleasant vodka to sip neat, should your palate veer that way. As with most of the vodkas listed here, just be sure to chill it down first, tempering the alcoholic heat and bringing out that velvety smoothness.

Cove vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For citrussy cocktails

Straight from Leanne Carr’s family farm in Devon, and produced using King Edward potatoes and fresh county spring water, Cove Vodka has a crisp, fresh quality, underlined by a richness from the spuds. In other words, if you find most potato vodkas a bit too weighty, this lighter iteration may get you on board.

It tastes clean for a reason. Cove keeps it simple with just those potatoes – grown in the sea air, which might explain that subtle salinity on the palate – and the essential yeasts for fermentation. As good with a slug of light tonic water as it is for proper mixing, that bright profile makes it a brilliantly diverse drink. We like it in particular in bright, citrussy cocktails – think moscow mules (with lime and spicy ginger beer) or Sex and the City-style cosmopolitans.

BrewDog rogue wave vodka, 40%, 70cl

Best: For BrewDog groupies

BrewDog may be most famous for its beer, but that’s not all they do. Enter rogue wave vodka – a “single malt” drink made by their distillation wing from barley, wheat and ale yeast in Aberdeen. In typical BrewDog fashion, there’s a slightly quirky angle attached – it’s named after a one-armed cousin of one of the founders – but the PR spiel doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a really lovely, characterful vodka to drink.

Distilled over seven days in a unique “three bubble” copper still, it’s got a distinct icing sugar and almond skin note, and is clean on the finish – very clean. The low-key branding, a complete 180 from normal OTT-luxe vodka labelling, is a breath of fresh air, too. A perfect wallet-friendly buy for your 2021 vodka revolution.

The verdict: Vodkas

There’s a lot of fine vodkas out there. But if you want something that’s going to bring flavour to desert-dry martinis and complex mixes alike – and come in at a reasonable price point too – then we’d buy the Beluga noble Russian vodka. It really just goes to show that the old cliché is correct: Russian vodkas really are some of the best in the world.

And if you’re seeking something produced a bit closer to home? It’s a tricky toss-up, but from a first-rate roster of British bottlings, our favourites were Copper Rivet Distillery’s vela vodka,  Isle of Wight Distillery’s mermaid salt vodka and Chapel Down’s chardonnay vodka. All three come with bucketfuls of flavour, and are shining examples of what great vodka tastes like in 2021.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on spirits and other alcoholic drinks, try the links below:

Fancy taking a tipple to your next picnic? Try our best canned cocktails, from seltzers to classic G&Ts

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.