The modern craze for cocktails meant that vodka saw a surge in popularity around the 1990s. Back then – and way ahead of the craft gin boom – it was all about purity. Vodka producers would go out of their way to cite the natural water sources used to dilute their spirit or would detail their (often-convoluted) filtration methods of choice. The goal was to have as neutral a spirit as possible, geared towards mixing those drinks at the bar.
In 2021, things have moved on. Now, the best vodkas are playing on the character of whatever lies at their base – be that potato, common cereal grains, rice, whey or beyond. The thing that defines this latest wave of vodka producers around the world is that they’re finally letting the flavour of the core ingredient do the talking.
The IWSC’s 2021 results confirm this trend. The USA’s Gold-medal winning Live Proud Vodka – made using corn grown in the Midwest – stood out for its notes of vanilla, barbecued corn flavours and sweet tropical finish. It sounds vastly different to those neutral spirits of the ‘90s. Guillotine Vodka Originale also scored 95/100 for its expression of fruit and lingering finish, with grapes from the Champagne region used in distillation. And of course Russia got a nod: Permalko’s Russian Reserve Soft Vodka was declared a wheat-based wonder with ‘flavours of sweet spice and silky stone fruits’.
If you find the gin world’s ever-expanding list of botanicals mystifying but you’re into the craft side of things in top spirits, these vodkas – all awarded Gold and Silver at the 2021 International Wine & Spirit Competition – could make for a great place to start sipping.
8 award-winning vodkas from the IWSC 2021
- Live Proud Spirits Inc., Live Proud Vodka. USA. 95/100
- Guillotine Vodka, Originale. France. 95/100
- Permalko, Russian Reserve Soft Vodka. Russia. 95/100
- Polmos Zyrardow, Belvedere Heritage 176 Vodka. Poland. 93/100
- Deep South Distillery, Cape of Storms Vodka. South Africa. 93/100
- Dada Chapel, Potato Vodka. Belgium. 93/100
- Great Women Spirits, The Countess Walewska Vodka. USA. 92/100
- Altia, Saaremaa Unfiltered Vodka. Finland. 91/100
How do we judge these spirits?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
How do we score these spirits?
Only the best spirits sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, spirits have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
More from Club Oenologique
Club O is an exclusive community and the go-to platform for wine and spirit lovers. Our flagship Club Oenologique magazine offers even more insights for enthusiasts and collectors. Based in London, our editorial team tells informative, inspirational stories from the world of wine and spirits, gastronomy and travel, as well as covering recommendations and the latest trends in drink. You can take a look at our Explained series, for instance, where we’re tackling grape varieties, regions and styles of wine and spirits. Alternatively, visit our Ask the Sommelier section, where experts answer your wine-related questions.
Top Rated Bottles
Live Proud Spirits Inc., Live Proud Vodka
Guillotine Vodka, Originale
Permalko, Russian Reserve Soft Vodka
Polmos Zyrardow, Belvedere Heritage 176 Vodka
Deep South Distillery, Cape Of Storms Vodka
Dada Chapel, Potato Vodka
Great Women Spirits, The Countess Walewska Vodka
Altia, Saaremaa Unfiltered Vodka
Spirits Handpicked by IWSC
Award-winning gin from around the world
The world’s best artisan vodkas
Five of the best corn-based spirits for summer sipping
The best spirits in the world
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