Vodka has long faced unfair slander by bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts alike. Often dismissed as "tasteless," "neutral," or "a missed opportunity for gin," you may overhear craft mixologists accusing it of lacking the complexity and character spirits like whiskey or gin are celebrated for.
This reputation is unfair and unearned. Vodka is one of the most versatile and popular spirits in the world for a reason and has a rich, storied history that dates back centuries. Historians have traced vodka's origins to medieval Eastern Europe, where monks and alchemists in Poland and Russia first distilled it. Initially used for medicinal purposes, vodka gradually gained popularity as a social lubricant and celebratory ritual and became a staple of Slavic culture. By the 19th century, vodka production had become a big business, with distilleries emerging across Europe and beyond. The vodka of today is, in our opinion, a total staple in cocktail making, and perfect for mixing. It's time to stop the hate, one cranberry cocktail at a time.
Read more: 23 Cocktails To Try If You Like Drinking Gin
Different Types Of Vodka Demystified
The type of vodka you choose to drink neat or mix into your cocktails matters. The quality of grain, how many times the spirit is distilled, where it's distilled, and much more impact its mouthfeel, body, and potential for mixing. Distillers can create vodka with everything from the common (corn, wheat) to the unexpected (pineapple, grape).
Corn vodka is the most popular type, known for its buttery, slightly sweet flavor profile and gentle finish. If we're talking cranberry cocktails, the sweetness of corn vodka complements the tartness of cranberries, resulting in a harmonious balance. Smirnoff and Titos, brands crafted from corn, are prime examples of corn vodkas you'll probably see selected for your standard vodka cran at your local watering hole.
While corn vodka reigns as the crowd favorite (how many times did you hear Titos ordered last time you were at a bar?), rye vodka boasts a more robust flavor profile, adding a spicy, peppery note to cocktails. Polish purveyors, like Belvedere, are renowned for their rye-based vodkas that add a delightful complexity to warm cranberry drinks. Wheat vodka offers a smooth, slightly creamy texture, making it an excellent base for creamier cranberry cocktails. Grey Goose, a French vodka crafted from soft winter wheat, embodies this style with its elegant, crisp, clean flavor.
Robust Rye Vodkas For Warm Cranberry Cocktails
Rye vodka, Poland's greatest contribution to the spirit world, is particularly well-suited for warm or spicy cranberry cocktails due to its bold and assertive flavor profile. The peppery notes of rye vodka, reminiscent of black pepper and cinnamon, complement the tartness of cranberries, creating a luxurious and rich flavor profile. The robust character of rye vodka also stands up well to the addition of warm spices commonly used in winter cocktails, such as cardamom, nutmeg, and clove.
Rye's full-flavor persona makes it an excellent choice for cocktails that aim to capture the essence of the holiday season. When combined with cranberry juice and warm spices, rye vodka forms the backbone of festive and flavorful drinks that are perfect for sipping by the fire or enjoying at holiday gatherings.
One of the most popular and well-known rye vodka-based cranberry cocktails is a warm Cranberry Mule. This twist on the classic cocktail combines rye vodka, cranberry juice, and ginger beer, resulting in a comforting tipple with the power to clear up a cold. Here are three excellent rye vodkas and how to use them to make your best holiday cocktails even better.
Wheat Vodkas For Cold & Boozy Cranberry Cocktails
Wheat vodka, with its low-key flavor and smooth texture, takes precedence when crafting cold, booze-forward cranberry cocktails like the beloved Cosmopolitan. This vodka variety seamlessly blends with the tart and tangy cranberry flavors, allowing the spirit's inherent characteristics to shine through. Unlike rye vodka, which boasts a boldly assertive flavor profile, wheat vodka plays a harmonious supporting role, highlighting the other ingredients without overpowering them.
In a classic cosmopolitan, the subtle sweetness of wheat vodka perfectly complements the cranberry's tartness without sacrificing dimension. The result is a balanced, sophisticated libation that embodies elegance and refinement.
Master mixologists often turn to wheat vodka for its ability to elevate cranberry-based cocktails without overpowering the other ingredients. This vodka's delicate nature allows the nuances of cranberry and other components, such as citrus and lime, to take center stage, resulting in a dangerously drinkable gustatory experience. Whether you're seeking a refreshing daytime libation like a Sea Breeze cocktail or a strong sophisticated evening indulgence (we're looking at you cranberry-infused vodka on the rocks) wheat vodka stands as the ideal base spirit for cold, booze-forward cranberry cocktails.
Unique Grain-Free Vodkas For Simple Mixes
Traditionally, the vodka-making process starts by fermenting grain (usually wheat, rye, or corn). That mixture is then distilled, filtered, diluted (60% water to 40% spirit, sometimes more especially in Eastern Europe), and, finally, bottled. This process has been the vodka-making playbook since the eighth century.
Today, new players are entering the chat. Distillers are creating innovative non-grain vodkas from sugar cane, pineapple, and more everywhere from Sonoma to South Africa. This is great news for the grain-adverse and the adulterous alike.
The easiest way to upgrade your next vodka cranberry is to reach for a unique vodka. Anything beyond the wheat-rye-corn paradigm is typically under-utilized, even by vodka truthers. For those seeking a truly distinctive vodka experience, buckwheat vodka stands as a remarkable choice. Its nutty and earthy undertones impart a depth of flavor that compliments cranberry's tartness in a truly unexpected yet delightful manner. Sobieski Vodka, a Polish vodka crafted from buckwheat, embodies this distinctive character and elevates cranberry cocktails with its rich and layered taste. Venturing beyond the realms of wheat-based vodkas allows mixologists and enthusiasts alike to explore a myriad of unique flavor profiles, transforming the classic vodka cranberry into an extraordinary and unforgettable experience.
Chopin Rye Vodka is a premium spirit crafted in Poland using classical methods. It is made with 100% Dankowskie Rueben, which is a rare variety of rye that is grown in the Masovian Plains of Poland. The brand's spirit makers source the rye from one local farm close to the distillery. The vodka is distilled four times and then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of six months. This process results in a lively, distinct flavor that challenges the notion that vodka should be "smooth."
Chopin Rye Vodka is perfect for warm spiced cocktails because it has a robust flavor that can stand up to the spices. It is also smooth and mellow, so it does not overpower the other ingredients in the cocktail. Some of the best warm spiced cranberry cocktails to make with Chopin Rye Vodka include a cranberry hot toddy or a spiked cranberry-apple cider.
A home bar is never complete without a bottle of Belvedere. This Polish vodka brand is as beautiful to drink as the bottle is to look at. Belvedere is a name synonymous with luxury and quality, and its many accolades continue to cement it as the epitome of Polish vodka. Crafted with dedication and expertise, Belvedere has carved a niche as a must-have in any bar. Even the trendy cocktail bars that don't carry many vodkas will, more often than not, keep Belvedere stocked.
A true testament to its exceptional standard, Belvedere is the world's first super-premium vodka and holds the distinction of being crafted entirely from Dankowskie Gold Rye, a heritage grain with genes that pre-date the intensive agricultural production and scientific plant breeding we see today. This rare ingredient imparts a subtle sweetness and a full, velvety mouthfeel, setting the sipper apart from its counterparts. The Belvedere is the base of Martha Stewart's favorite cocktail and performs exceptionally in complex cranberry cocktails, too.
For especially complex cranberry tipples, this rye flavored with bison grass is a go-to (it's also very pleasing on the rocks). Zubrowka, a unique Polish vodka, adds an earthy and intriguing dimension to cranberry cocktails. Its distinct flavor profile stems from the infusion of bison grass blades during distillation. This age-old tradition imparts a herbal, slightly sweet taste with hints of vanilla, almonds, and coconut.
The history of bison grass vodka dates back to the 16th century when it was produced exclusively for the Polish nobility. Its popularity grew throughout Europe, and it is now enjoyed worldwide. The vodka's association with the European bison, featured on its label, adds to its allure.
Zubrowka's complex flavor profile complements the tartness of cranberry juice, creating a captivating interplay of flavors. The herbal notes of the vodka enhance the cranberry's natural bitterness, resulting in a well-balanced and sophisticated cocktail. For extra excitement, Zubrowka Rose elevates cranberry tipples with rosehip and juniper notes. Bartenders appreciate Zubrowka's versatility. It can serve as the main spirit in cranberry-based cocktails or be combined with other ingredients to create unique concoctions. Its distinct flavor adds depth and intrigue to any cocktail, making it a favorite among adventurous mixologists.
Reyka Vodka is produced in Borgarnes, Iceland. The distillery that produces Reyka is located near a small fishing village and uses water sourced from a nearby spring that has been filtered naturally through lava rock. Reyka is made using a single-batch distillation process and is known for its smooth taste and distinct, slightly sweet flavor. Reyka's exceptional quality makes it a firm favorite amongst connoisseurs and bartenders alike, particularly when it comes to crafting the perfect cranberry cocktail.
Reyka's crisp and exceptionally clean profile combines perfectly with the tartness of cranberry juice, creating a balanced and refreshing beverage. Whether you prefer a simple vodka cranberry or a more elaborate creation, Reyka Vodka is sure to elevate your cranberry cocktail experience.
In addition to its superior taste, Reyka Vodka is also a responsible choice for those looking for a sustainable spirit. The distillery is committed to minimizing its environmental impact and practices eco-friendly production methods such as leveraging renewable energy sources, recycling waste, and even using the leftover grain from production to feed local livestock.
This sugarcane vodka from South Africa has eucalyptus notes that lend to a more sophisticated vodka cranberry. The production process of Vusa Vodka is nothing short of meticulous. After multiple distillations, the vodka undergoes a filtration method involving carbon and quartz crystals. This innovative technique removes impurities while preserving the vodka's delicate flavors and aromas, resulting in an unparalleled smoothness.
The result is a vodka that boasts a captivating aroma characterized by subtle hints of citrus, vanilla, and white pepper. Vusa Vodka delivers a remarkably smooth and velvety texture on the palate, with a well-rounded flavor profile that combines sweetness, spice, and a touch of minerality. The finish is clean, and crisp, and leaves a lingering impression of elegance.
When paired with cranberry juice in a cocktail, Vusa Vodka surprises and shines. The vodka's inherent smoothness harmonizes seamlessly with the tartness of cranberries, creating a perfectly balanced and refreshing drink. Vusa Vodka isn't mainstream yet, so you're better off ordering it online to impress your friends at your next house party instead of searching for it on the shelf at your favorite bar.
Don't sleep on the standard. Russian Standard Vodka, hailing from (you guessed it) Russia, offers exceptional value for creating big-batch cocktails. Crafted using high-quality wheat and water treated through a cutting-edge filtration process, it boasts an unparalleled smoothness and well-rounded flavor. Following traditional distillation techniques perfected over centuries, it showcases Russian vodka's rich heritage.
This affordable, entry-level vodka performs well in a classic Cosmopolitan and is a must for any home mixologist seeking a cost-effective base for their cocktail experiments. It effortlessly blends with cranberry juice and other ingredients, allowing the unique flavors of the cocktail to shine through. Make hosting your next party easier and more affordable by stocking up on a few bottles of Russian Standard and batching your cranberry concoction -- and if you need a little guidance, fear not. Ina Garten's big batch of Cosmopolitans has a super easy ratio. No party fouls on the Barefoot Contessa's watch.
Sometimes, you just can't beat the classics. Cîroc, a brand synonymous with luxury and sophistication, is a true masterpiece in the world of vodka. Hailing from France, this vodka starts from fine French grapes, resulting in a spirit of legendary smoothness and exceptional taste. Cîroc's distinctive character and remarkable quality make it a top choice for crafting exceptional cranberry cocktails.
The process of crafting Cîroc is an art form in itself. By selecting only the finest Mauzac Blanc and Ugni Blanc grapes, Cîroc ensures the highest level of quality from the very beginning. These grapes undergo a meticulous cold fermentation process, followed by a five-fold distillation in copper pot stills. This time-honored method preserves the natural flavors and nuances of the grapes, resulting in a vodka that's sexy and synonymous with party. Cîroc's sophistication lends itself perfectly to straightforward cranberry cocktails. Its delicate grape undertones complement the tartness of cranberry juice, creating a fruity, easy-drinking mix.
Pau Maui Vodka
Say Aloha to the only vodka in the world distilled from pineapples. Pau Maui vodka brings the bright spirit of Hawaii to your home bar and shines in a summery vodka, cranberry, and orange cocktail.
The Pau Maui vodka production process starts in the middle of Hawaiian pineapple fields that have been harvested for over a century. The Maui gold pineapple used for Pau Maui vodka is, indeed, the gold standard. With an extra sweet taste, this pineapple is ideal for fermentation because of its high sugar content. However, just because pineapples are the base of this vodka, there is no distinct pineapple taste. Instead, sippers enjoy the familiar flavors of a clean and crisp premium vodka. The pineapples in Maui benefit from warm sunny days, cool nights, fresh water, and volcanic soil, allowing for a clean flavor similar to Reyka. Purchasing Pau Maui not only ups your vodka cranberry game but also supports a small Hawaiian business and shows gratitude for Maui's agriculture.
Grey Goose is the brainchild of spirits entrepreneur Sidney Frank, who you may know from his other contribution to the spirits industry: Jägermeister. Crafted in the Cognac region of France, this fine French vodka starts with an uncompromising foundation using soft winter wheat and Gensac spring water. The vodka then undergoes a five-step distillation process that results in a spirit of unrivaled quality. The lengthy distillation ritual removes all impurities, ensuring that the vodka is free of harsh aftertaste. Grey Goose is then charcoal-filtered for its iconic crisp taste. This luxurious flavor profile provides an elevated base for classic cocktails like cranberry mules, cranberry martinis, or a pitcher of cape cods.Grey Goose does not include any added sugar, making it a go-to for the diet-conscious. Whether you prefer a simple cranberry and soda, or a more complex cranberry martini, you can't go wrong with Grey Goose. Learn more about its lore in our Grey Goose bottle guide.
Absolut Citron is a Swedish vodka produced by Absolut Company, a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard. Introduced in 1988, Absolut Citron quickly gained popularity for its vibrant citrus flavor. While originally intended as a summer seasonal vodka, Absolut Citron's popularity secured a permanent place in Absolut's portfolio.
Absolut Citron is made using the same winter wheat as all other Absolut vodkas and undergoes the brand's signature continuous distillation process. The vodka is then flavored with natural citron peel, which gives it a vibrant and refreshing citrus aroma and a smooth, slightly sweet flavor. The result is a well-balanced vodka that complements cranberry juice without overpowering it.
Whether enjoyed on the rocks with a splash of cranberry juice or as part of an extra tangy Cosmopolitan, Absolut Citron adds a delightful, citrusy twist to any cranberry cocktail. In addition to its mix-ability, Absolut Citron also shines in simple two-ingredient cocktails such as the Citron Drop, where the vodka is paired with lemon juice and sugar syrup.
Ketel One is the Dutch people's greatest contribution to vodka. A wheat vodka finished with charcoal filtration, Ketel One differs from other vodkas because it is copper pot distilled. The addition of a tiny amount of pot-still finished distillate to the otherwise neutral spirit adds a soft dimension of character without crossing into full-flavor territory.
Ketel One exudes elegance and grace with a slightly sweet taste, underpinned by hints of citrus, black pepper, and fennel. These tasting notes lend Ketel One to a wide range of cranberry cocktails. The brand's distinctive characteristics make it a superb choice for simple mixes, vodka shooters, as well as more intricate concoctions that demand a malleable base spirit.
Even a bar with very few vodka options will usually still often have a requisite bottle of Ketel One on hand. Mixologists continue to praise the mixability and consistency of Ketel and it continues to be a sought-after choice for both patrons and the bartenders that serve them.
A delightful citrus-flavored vodka from the renowned Stolichnaya brand, Ohranj captures the essence of Mediterranean orange groves with its vibrant taste and aroma. Crafted using Stolichnaya's distinctive distillation process, this premium vodka combines the smoothness and purity of Russian vodka with the refreshing zest of natural oranges.
For a classic and easy-to-make cocktail, mix Stolichnaya Ohranj Vodka with cranberry juice in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a fresh orange slice or a twist of orange zest for an aromatic touch. You can also add a splash of soda or sparkling water to create a spritzy Cranberry Orange Spritz.
If you're feeling adventurous, consider crafting a more sophisticated cocktail. Combine Stolichnaya Ohranj Vodka, cranberry juice, freshly squeezed lime juice, and a dash of orange liqueur in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist or a skewer of fresh berries.
Selecting the best vodka for cranberry cocktails comes with many considerations. Is the cocktail warm? Spicy? Simple? Will it be a small batch? Big batch? Served on the beach? Served on the moon?
The truth is, there's no simple answer for which vodkas are best with cranberry cocktails. To make things less nebulous, we divided our list into three types of cranberry cocktails: warm and robust, crisp and boozy, and simple and straightforward. This distinction allowed us to give more precise recommendations. Those looking to make holiday cocktails should reach for one of the recommended ryes; the person in pursuit of the perfect Cosmopolitan will want to look toward wheat vodkas, and for the barfly who is bored with their vodka cranberry, we offered three non-grain vodkas to add allure to the classic tipple.
The selection process was guided by the expertise of a professional bartender, who shared valuable insights and recommendations based on years in the trenches being tasked with odd demands such as "Can you make a vodka cranberry but spicy?" or "I want a vodka that doesn't taste like vodka." Most importantly, we've tried these vodkas in different cranberry concoctions more than once.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.