When we think “top-shelf,” we think of literally out-of-reach, burn-a-hole-in-my-wallet, bottles of liquor sparkling on the top shelf of a bar. Usually, the kind of bottle that makes a perfect gift, or is broken out for a special occasion. And a top-shelf vodka is one of the go-tos in those occasions. The word “vodka” finds its roots in “voda”, Slavic for water. For vodka distillers, the perfect vodka would be reminiscent of water–without distinct flavor, clear, and smoother than silk on the way down. This usually means the distillation process is intense and requires very clean, pure, water. Especially for the best of the best. And we would definitely describe the following premium vodkas as the best of the best. Note that these are not listed in any particular order.
Zyr Vodka – Wheat and Rye base, 40% alcohol (80 Proof)
Hailing from Russia, Zyr proves quality comes from attention to detail. This vodka uses a vigorous method to capture a taste described as velvety-smooth, and with a slightly sweet finish. At each step in the process, there is a strict taste test. The water is filtered five times before it even reaches the blend of quintuple-distilled wheat and rye, used in the distillation process. After being distilled, the product is quadruple-filtered before its final tasting.
Chase Vodka – Potato base, 40% alcohol (80 Proof)
Though most potato vodkas originate from Poland, Chase is the first potato vodka to come out of the UK. Chase Vodka stands out against traditional vodkas and is considered to be one of the best among top-shelf premium brands. The potatoes used in the distillation of this pristine vodka are grown on the grounds of the distillery, a Herefordshire family farm in England! This farm-to-bottle operation is unique on this list. It should also be noted, for the record, we love the bowtie.
Snow Queen Vodka – Wheat base, 40% alcohol (80 Proof)
If Kazakhstan wasn’t originally on your radar for vodka production, don’t feel bad–it wasn’t on ours either. However, their reigning vodka export, Snow Queen, has undeniable purity and elegance. The wheat used to make this vodka is fully organic, a rarity, from family-run farms across Europe. Their traditional distillation results in a balanced, smooth and delicate vodka. Snow Queen deservedly takes its place on the top-shelf, probably in an ice castle singing show tunes.
Winter Palace Vodka – Grain base, 40% alcohol (80 Proof)
Keeping with the regal theme, Winter Palace is an excellent top-shelf vodka from France. It’s distilled six times with water from the acclaimed Cognac region and pure French grains. This subtle and simple vodka has citrus notes, and is truly as refreshing as the spring water it uses at the distilleries. The distributor, Emperor’s Brand, also boasts a line of premium cognacs.
Reyka Vodka – Grain base, 40% alcohol (80 Proof)
Reyka comes straight from the glacial springs of Iceland, which is home to water filtered naturally through volcanic rock and thus one of the purest water sources in the world. Reyka is unique in several ways, the surrounding geography of the lava fields, the spring water used, and the way it achieves its trademarked smoothness in a single distillation.They achieve this crisp, clean finish using special, copper equipment. We’re sure the volcanic rocks used in the distillation process don’t hurt either! Also, their master distiller, Thordur Sigurdsson, is a member of the town’s firefighters and police force. He’s definitely serving AND protecting us from choppy vodka.
For more info, or suggested serving check out their website.
Crystal Head Vodka – Corn base, 40% alcohol (80 proof)
You may have noticed Crystal Head’s eye-catching bottle reflecting even the dimmest light source into your eye. This Canadian vodka, from the province of Newfoundland, has a unique blend of creamed corn and peaches that truly sets this vodka apart. Distilled four times, Crystal Head is then filtered an additional seven times. Three of these filtrations pass through precious crystals, also known as Herkimer diamonds. The result is an extremely pure vodka. The creators and conceptualizers are Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd and American Artist John Alexander. They both shared a fascination with crystal skulls and many of the associated supernatural legends. Dan Aykroyd, fascinated with the supernatural. Who would’ve guessed?
42 Below Vodka – Wheat base, 40% alcohol (80 proof)
Apart from being based in New Zealand, and being founded solely because the owner saw a vodka ad claiming to hail from the purest country, and he wanted to prove that New Zealand was the purest country, the 42 Below company hosts a hilarious bartending competition called the 42 Below Cocktail World Cup. It’s often themed and pits skilled bartenders against one another. Getting back to their vodka, it uses soft New Zealand spring water, and non-genetically modified wheat in its triple distillation. It is then filtered a total of 35 times. The result is an exceptionally smooth top-shelf vodka, with numerous awards, and a sense of humor. Definitely check out their “Story of 42 Below.”
A lot of vodka enthusiasts would faint if they saw these masterful bottles poured into Screwdrivers, Moscow Mules or Bloody Marys. To make sure no one collapses, we would recommend them served chilled and neat, savored in a simple vodka martini, or mixed into the specific distiller’s recommended combinations. Before you go, we have one more vodka to talk about. If these previous vodkas were top-shelf, consider the final (bonus) vodka on this list to be the roof.
The most expensive bottle of vodka in the world, a bottle of Russo-Baltique Vodka, is reportedly worth 1.3 million dollars and is considered to be a work of art rather than strictly a spirit. It’s a one-of-a-kind vodka that was featured in House of Cards, with a diamond encrusted cap and gold and silver bottle. In a world full of art thieves, it then makes perfect sense that it was recently stolen. And then found dented and drained under a highway overpass. Classic.
Whether you’re trying to obtain an obscenely expensive diamond encrusted bottle, some top-shelf vodka to display at home, or gifts for friends, always remember to enjoy responsibly. We sincerely hope, if nothing else, this article gives you a few things to talk about next time someone orders a vodka martini.