Cheap Vs Expensive Vodka: What's The Difference?

Though it may surprise you to learn, when it comes to alcoholic beverages a higher price tag does not automatically mean higher quality. With vodka, there are plenty of supposedly high-end choices that aren't worth the cost and some notable cheapies that absolutely are.

One popular vodka myth posits that there isn't actually a difference between vodkas at all. This likely stems from the fact that, as NPR podcast Planet Money explains, all vodka must be distilled to a specific standard, regardless of its price point. On the opposite end, there is the belief there is a noticeable difference between cheap and expensive vodka, with the cheap ones certain to burn on the way down and give you a bad hangover (via Pristine Vodka).

But these aren't truly the main differences between cheap and expensive vodka, as the price alone will not guarantee a good or bad experience.

With vodka, ingredients matter

You can probably call to mind the experience of drinking bad vodka. It might burn on the way down, taste a bit like rubbing alcohol (or a lot, depending on how unfortunate your experience is), and doesn't really deliver any particular flavor notes. A good vodka, as Thrillist describes, has a distinct taste and will go down smooth.

As explained by Planet Money, many vodkas end up tasting extremely similar due to their regimented distilling process. Inverse reports some brands have found that good marketing can get consumers to pay up for the spirit, and for some expensive vodkas this may be the only reason for their price difference from a cheaper vodka: the brand simply convinced you it was worth more.

There are some expensive vodkas that are actually better than others, though, and the reason for their high price stems from the quality of ingredients used. Absolut Elyx CEO Jonas Tahlin told Men's Journal a vodka made from high-quality ingredients — like custom-grown wheat designed to have the perfect ratio of starch to protein – will create the best flavor. Lower-quality ingredients (like sugar beets or molasses, according to Distiller) are often used to make cheap vodkas. Pristine Vodka explains it is common for distillers to cut costs by choosing cheaper ingredients, which leads to many of the negative associations people have with vodka.

So next time you're in the liquor store or eyeing the top shelf at a bar, remember price isn't everything, but it isn't nothing either. You'll just have to taste to find out.