Taste and See

Following on the heels of Operation Swill, the New York Post conducted its own survey of 50 imbibers to see how many of them could tell the difference between good and bad vodka. Or perhaps I should say super-premium and value-brand. As it turned out, only 56 percent preferred high-end Grey Goose over Alexis, which sells for about $8 (and I am guessing does not come in frosted-glass).

“I would just order the cheap one from now on. If you can’t taste the difference, I would go for the low end,” said Emma Taylor, 22, after knocking one back. “I don’t make that much money.”

But of course there are those who would not want to be seen drinking Alexis instead of Grey Goose. It’s about image—the guy wants to impress his date and show that he’s classy and sophisticated. I am not saying this is the right attitude—just that, as Ricky Jay said in Boogie Nights, “It is what it is.” And while the two drinks may taste similar on the spot, would one of them give you more of a headache than the other? I don’t mind the taste of Svedka with my club soda and lime, but the next morning I’ve had horrendous hangovers from it, as opposed to, say, SKYY.

At some point, I’m going to have to take the value-brand vs. super-premium challenge. (I did a blind taste test once and, having told my bartender friend I was a fan of SKYY, was able to correctly identify it as my favorite out of four blind shots.)

So are all vodkas the same? No. Some are distilled from wheat and others are distilled from corn, potatoes, grapes, and even cactus. Distill it once or twice, with all those congeners floating around, you will notice differences in character (even if the government says there should be no discernible traits). Distill it six or more times, the vodka becomes a purer product. And this is where it becomes hard to make distinctions. Then you start adding flavors. But exceeding a certain percentage, it must be labeled flavored vodka. More character or more purity? You can’t have both, can you? When Vodka: An Illustrated History is completed, I hope to have some answers.

Hat tip: Jim Swift

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