We’re gonna let you in on a little secret. If you’re looking for some bottles of vodka to add to your bar cart, there’s no need to gravitate toward the most expensive ones. (In fact, many bartenders consider moderately priced bottles to be top-shelf vodka). We know you cringe at the thought of cheap vodkas, but this isn’t your bargain bottle that has more in common with rubbing alcohol than it does with a quality spirit. We’re giving you the best bottles under $30 to add to your rotation whether you’re batching cocktails for a big weekend get-together or just in search of something affordable for your game night vodka sodas.
Vodka is a neutral spirit. Unlike aged or more complex spirits (think gin) that have layered flavor profiles, vodka really has nothing to hide behind, says Brendan Bartley, head bartender and beverage director at NYC’s Bathtub Gin. But if you’ve got a trained palate or pay close attention when sipping vodka, you might be able to notice certain grains have different mouth feels. A rye will give you peppery notes, while some wheats are creamier, he adds. Potato vodkas are grassy and earthy, while corn imparts a velvety mouthfeel.
Rather than price, take a peek at the ingredients and pay attention to the base—if it’s grain, potato, or even fruit, Bartley suggests. That way, you can experiment with which bases you like best, which is more important than a price tag or label.
“When I drink vodka, I’m looking for what the vodka is trying to tell me and how well it’s been executed,” Bartley says. “There are some amazing vodkas at very affordable prices, it’s just about finding what works for you.”
Sure, Tito’s is a classic. But if you’re looking for other cheap vodkas that receive high marks, here are eight recommendations from bartenders and spirits experts.
Bartenders Name Best Cheap Vodkas Under $30
1. American Liquor Co. Vodka
The base of vodka is everything, Bartley says, and that’s why he’s impressed with American Liquor Co. Vodka, which has a harmonious blend of wheat, corn, potato, and rye vodkas. “There’s a lot going on with this spirit, and I think Master Blender Chris Montana does a fantastic job finding the sweet spot pulling it all together,” he adds. “The flavor comes through with an elegant mouthfeel, some slightly peppery notes, and a vanilla-like finish.”
2. Prairie Vodka
Made with corn from the Midwest, Prairie Vodka is a bright, smooth organic spirit. “They obviously don’t use pesticides or chemicals, but they even have a huge buffer zone to make sure other farmers’ chemicals don’t intrude on their farm,” Bartley says. “The love and care really comes out in the vodka, giving a slightly citrus note with some subtle fruits.”
3. Smirnoff Vodka No. 21
For value, history, and availability, you can’t beat Smirnoff Vodka No. 21, says Anthony Caporale, dean of spirits education at the Institute of Culinary Education. “It’s the most popular vodka in the world, and you can trace its lineage back to a Moscow distillery opened in 1864,” he says. “The brand is responsible for creating the Moscow mule and is rumored to have played a part in the origin of the bloody Mary, so those are two of my favorite drinks to mix using No. 21.”
Stolichnaya is the formal name. But you know this vodka as Stoli. It’s a medium-bodied vodka with citrus rind and pastry frosting flavors that has a clean if not slightly sweet finish. “A wonderful, wheat-forward vodka from Russia, Stolichnaya is one of the best everyday vodkas,” says mixologist Timo Turner of Cocktail Society.
Luksusowa is one of just a few widely available vodkas made from potatoes, and the best-selling among those, says Caporale. “Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of vodkas are made from grains, not potatoes, and what a vodka is made from can lend some of the most easily detectable character to the finished product.” Luksusowa, a Polish vodka maker, has been turning spuds into spirits for nearly a century. Try this smooth sipper in a classic bloody Mary.
Reyka makes its vodka with water from an Icelandic glacial spring that runs through a lava field. It’s filtered with lava rocks and distilled in Borgarnes, a small peninsula where master distiller Pórõur Sigurõsson is also a police officer and firefighter. “I first tried it because of the back story,” says Nicholas Fatta, a bartender at Iron Oak Post in downtown Melbourne on Florida’s Space Coast. “I’m a huge proponent of green energy, and Reyka uses glacial water and the distillery is powered using geothermal energy from underground volcanoes.” Sip it on ice or try it in a Moscow mule.
7. Suntory Haku Vodka
Made with Japanese white rice and filtered through bamboo charcoal, Suntory Haku Vodka has a soft, subtly sweet profile. When Fatta’s customers ask for a top-shelf vodka, he pours from this bottle, leaving them surprised by its affordability. “It’s one of the cleanest vodkas I’ve had,” Fatta says. He suggests drinking this rice vodka on ice with a small squeeze of lemon.
8. Ketel One
A classic, Ketel One is made with wheat. It’s clean, aromatic, and complex, says Kim Haasarud, president of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild and owner of Garden Bar in Phoenix, Arizona. Keep a bottle on hand for martinis and cocktails, she suggests. “It definitely has some body to it and it works well with savory flavors,” she adds.
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