We don’t know how to feel about vodka. Our favorite boozes, such as scotch, bourbon, and rum, spend years huddled in barrels to infuse maximum flavor into every last drop. Vodka, on the other hand, does everything it can to erase as much flavor as possible during the distilling process. The lack of flavor is the precise reason why vodka is the most popular booze on the market and the base for many of the world’s greatest cocktails. “In the hands of a skilled mixologist, vodka is the most versatile spirit on the market,” explains Jennifer Brackett, a bartender at the Burgundy Room in Los Angeles. “It pairs well with juice or soda, and the multitude of mixer options vodka has sets it apart from other hard liquors.”
That leaves two vodkas to choose from at the liquor store: good vodka and bad vodka. It’s easy to tell the difference. Good vodka tastes like almost nothing (unless flavored), while bad vodka tastes like turpentine. Brackett agrees: “A good vodka will have a very mild taste, odor, and smell. Its quality of distillation will make it smoother—and will also have you feeling much better the next day. The cheaper the vodka, the more chance of a headache and an undesirable taste.” Translation: Pony up the extra bucks for a decent bottle of vodka or pay for it in pain the next day.