Sick of your regular go-to brand of Vodka? Try one of these Vodkas all priced under thirty dollars. Each one is on sale at liquor stores in the Arlington area, so take a sip and read on to find a new match!
Square One Cucumber — 25.99
I imagine that Square One Cucumber flavored Vodka is really exclusively for the spa going crowd who needs to take the edge off. By this I mean that I am surprised and perplexed by the use (and admittedly, overuse) of cucumber as a flavor and particularly as a soothing component. Like aloe on a sunburn, the cucumber comes to the rescue before the familiar and harsh bite of vodka returns. However, the trade is a momentary but acute encounter with the actual flavor of cucumber, a vegetable not known for its distinct taste. I cannot openly say that I do not like this organic rye-based vodka because I enjoyed how the cucumber’s freshness made the aftertaste a pleasant experience (rather than a face-tightening festival of suffering). That said, the strength of the cucumber that is necessary to make it both noticeable and lasting becomes strange and unseemly, bordering on gimmicky, after a shot or two. I cannot think of the ideal mixer for cucumber, which strikes me as more of a garnish than central ingredient. There is, as one of my fellow tasters put it, “a story arc” to Idaho’s Square One Cucumber: it begins cool and fully-flavored but warms up as the vodka makes its presence known as the alcohol taste is resolved. However, this story is not one really worth reading more than once or twice, unless of course you really, really like cucumber.
Absolut Texas —22.99, on sale for 15.99
Absolut Texas: It tastes better than it sounds. Perhaps Absolut created “Texas” as a response to The Lone Star State’s own (much better) brand Tito’s. If so, it has failed to surpass Tito’s in quality and other flavored offerings in popularity (I found it on the sale rack), but it is a beautiful failure because Absolut has created a mid-market franken-hooch that I cannot get enough of. “Texas” is regular Absolut-brand Swedish (emphasis on ish) vodka infused with cucumber and Serrano pepper. Apparently these ingredients have some connection to Texan cuisine, though cucumbers and Texas are not my immediate vegetable-state association. Unlike the Square One Cucumber, the Absolut’s cucumber flavor is more a suggestion than a liquified vegetable. The Serrano pepper flavor, however, seems to ride the lead horse in terms of flavor strength. Taken as a sum of its ingredients Texas performs surprisingly well in shielding the consumer from the alcoholic taste. The Serrano sting, a dry heat, begins on the tongue, which sounds counter-intuitive but actually serves as a strength because it disguises the alcohol taste right from first contact, allowing for a smooth passage down. Instead of the sip-and-burn transaction one usually has with unflavored vodka, Texas zaps the mouth with pepper at first contact so that the imbiber does not notice the burn of the alcohol or the aftertaste of its rotten grain origins. It is a clever bait-and-switch and refreshing take (thanks to the cooling balance of a subtler cucumber) on flavored vodka. With Absolut Texas, it’s really a question of neutralization of alcohol rather than disguise. In other words, it walks the walk and talks the talk, making it perhaps the only Swedish cowboy on the market and worth more than its estimable novelty.
Boyd and Blair potato vodka — 27.99
Boyd and Blair potato vodka smells like maple syrup and tastes just a little like cake icing, making it more akin to rum than vodka. This is, in some ways, completely accidental: the sweetness is not from added corn syrup but rather just a part of the process of distilling the natural sugar out of the potatoes. The difference is obvious and enjoyable, making Boyd and Blair a tasting crowd favorite. It goes down smooth, with just a little heat to remind you that it is in fact, vodka. The quality and originality are remarkable, which sets Boyd and Blair apart from the other vodkas in this price range.
Skyy Blood Orange — 17.99
Tastes like an orange Sour Patch Kid. You know exactly what I mean.
Core Apple Vodka — 22.99
Core vodka, made from Catskill apples just north of here, lives in my notes as the “little vodka” for its stout cylindrical bottle. That said, it has arguably the largest impact on the testing group for its festive, full-throttle flavor and impact qualities. With an undeniable bite and prolonged, flavored burn, Core makes a strong first impression, like a throaty muscle car stuck a red light with a gaggle of Priuses. It tastes like whiskey if immediately afterwards an apple burped in my mouth. The aftertaste is that of a dead Macintosh haunting the tongue. I say these things not to be insulting, but to demonstrate its originality and the peculiarity that is, on so many levels, totally charming in the way it flouts expectations. It is exciting, lively and not at all smooth, which can really take away from the slick ideal vodka experience. But perhaps that’s the point: Core vodka is unafraid to taste like vodka. Its mission is to make Friday nights taste like Saturday nights. Though I can’t credit Core for excelling within all of the traditional vodka metrics, I can say definitively that it made me smile. Core is more about what it is than what it isn’t; it’s a vodka unafraid to be vodka. That, more than smoothness, might guide my next decision at the liquor store.
New Amsterdam Vodka —17.99
New Amsterdam Vodka is a true grain alcohol. That is to say, it tastes like what it is: near inedible grain spoiled so badly that consuming it poisons the body. What makes it special is that it has a commendable smoothness to it, which makes it stand out from its peers within its price range. New Amsterdam goes down very warm, even though the harshness is subdued. But that smoothness comes at a price: the aftertaste. New Amsterdam does not settle well and in fact elicits the sort of bodily recoil that should give consumers pause. From the second it touches the taste buds, the stomach twinges in an attempt to veto its passage. Taking a rough sip makes the upper arms tingle and the spine beg for mercy. It tastes of the rotten flesh of grain, the dull and semi-sweet flavor of organic matter past its prime. On a personal level, New Amsterdam strikes me as the sort of fun-juice that, paired with too much off-brand cranberry juice, could transform it into a ruiner of nights. However, the smoothness of this five-times distilled vodka actually makes it a pretty solid buy when compared to its just-a-bit cheaper competitors Popov and the illustrious Crystal Palace.
Crystal Palace — 7.99
Since the dawn of civilization, man has created tales of trickster gods and poltergeists that haunt and torment humanity. Whether it be Amaguq, the conniving Inuit wolf spirit or Hermes, Greek god of travelers and thieves, we have found ways to embody our minor sufferings as works of deliberate malice and cast the burden of our native suffering back up to the heavens. Every society and every generation has their own embodiment of evil-for-sport, creatures who thrive off of the fleeting suffering of mortals. For the Vassar student, our demon is Crystal Palace vodka. To drink Crystal Palace is to die a thousand plastic deaths. Until fire and acid can fuse and linger, clinging to the throat and tongue like napalm, Crystal will suffice. It’s the bile of other vodkas, the watery innards of its more estimable friends. Since I turned legal, I cannot tell you how much anti-fun I have had with a handle of Crystal by my side (and in many cases I mean that literally). It is a violent, silty, once-filtered carnival of pain. It’s also 13 dollars a handle. But to be enchanted with the riches of saved money is to sell one’s soul to the devil of the Poughkeepsie night, a fiendish goblin with no remorse. Stay away, my friends, for Crystal hath no greater wish than evil upon our young bodies and souls.