Food & Drink


You wouldn’t think that your VP of HR would be the one to turn you on to premium vodka. Yet there I was. During an after work drink (sadly that fad is gone), I ordered a dry vodka martini with olives. Donna gave me a slight sneer and then ordered a Grey Goose with a twist. Ugh. Was that a career limiter?

And so it was that I came to settle on The Goose as my standard. Decades later, I read an article that suggested that all vodkas are alike and there was no point in spending extra on premium brands.  Hard to believe. Here in Cleveland, we started drinking Tito’s Vodka for no reason in particular and I did notice that it seemed a tad harsh. Penance for betraying the Goose perhaps.  And so it begged the question: Is premium vodka worth it?

Quite separately, my wife, Deb, and I were noodling fun, Covid-safe entertainment ideas and I offered a formal vodka tasting night. Good entertainment value, staying within our household bubble and it would answer that niggling vodka enigma once and for all. Deb smiled and nodded and it was to be.

The preparation

Deb did the shopping trip, asking the liquor store clerk for 5 bottles of 80 proof vodka, from premium to bargain and then had them packed, sight unseen, into a stapled brown paper bag. We pressed Deb’s daughter into service, labelling 5 glasses with the numbers 1 through 5, each with about 2 ounces of mystery hooch. Hidden behind our bar, in a sealed envelope, Ruthie left the intoxicant index. I prepared a tray of appetizers for palate cleansing and some sustenance value to keep us upright through the research. We were each equipped with a note pad, pen and years of drinking experience.

The methodology

We began with a sequential sampling while making confidential tasting notes. I tucked into Vodka 1 – fairly smooth with a clean finish. Not too boozy. A decent start for sure. A bite of an appetizer and then a mindful sampling of Vodka 2. Hmm. Quite noble, almost buttery, perhaps a bit harsh on the way down. I mulled the two in my mind as I savored my reduced salt Triscuit with vegetable cream cheese topped with two half grapes. On to the third. Quite decent, maybe the best of the bunch so far, with a meatier viscosity and a medium boozy finish. I glanced at Deb as she pondered her fifth taste…time to pick up the pace. Number 4 seemed pleasant enough, but was it as buttery as the others? And what of its relative viscosity? On to 5. Less mindful. Was it a little harsh? A bit reedy? Is premium vodka worth it?

What was Deb thinking?

I set down my cup and checked in with Deb. We agreed to compare tasting notes. Five was her overall favorite since it seemed to be the smoothest, but she was also partial to 2. I felt that 3 was maybe the best and mentioned about the superior viscosity. Deb gave me one of those “always an engineer” looks but gave 3 a re-test. While we each had a quasi favorite, neither was willing to fight for their grog. Who would have thought that drinking vodka could be this tough? Still, it beats working for a living. And if it is this hard to decide during a structured tasting, is premium vodka worth it for home purchase or bar consumption? More importantly, how would we pick a winner?

What would my eye doctor do?

I thought back to my last eye exam and recalled the endless inquisition of ” A or click B, and click click,, now C or click D?” Could that work here? I covered the numeric labels and handed Deb 2 and 5 to test, calling them A and B and making a clicking sound between each. Deb liked A better, not realizing that she had just abandoned 5, her overall favorite. I then paired up the rest, taking her to Vodka 4 as her overall winner. She repeated the ophthalmologist routine with me, sans sound effects. I ended up with 2 as my overall favorite, viscosity be damned. Neither of us had conviction in our choices.

The big reveal…

We opened the envelope and had a few surprises. My initial pick was my old friend Grey Goose. But I abandoned that during the eye doctor testing and ended up with Absolute. WTH? Deb had picked our lowest price brand initially but landed on Tito’s as her favorite. But by the end of the second round of testing things didn’t get any clearer. As we polished off the cups as part of our bar clean up, things may have been even less clear.

Is premium vodka worth it?
Is premium vodka worth it?

Our Conclusions

  1. A vodka tasting night was a good switch-up to our Covid repertoire of Netflix, TV and watching movies.
  2. We had no idea which vodka tasted the best.
  3. Our new favorite vodka is New Amsterdam. Unless something else is on sale.
  4. We likely don’t drink enough vodka to get rich by switching brands, although that may not be true of all of our friends. You know who you are.
  5. There is always a smarter way to buy everything. This one was just for fun, but it shows that I have been over paying on something by more than 2.5 times. For no reason. Over 40 years of drinking, might that extra cash have done better investing in alcohol stocks rather than the premium brands? Let’s take a look!
Buy cheap vodka and invest the difference
Buy cheap vodka and invest the difference

In the chart above the golden line shows the growth in the S&P 500, a proxy for the overall growth of the US stock market. The other lines show the growth of the stock prices of three major alcohol companies, Diageo (DEO), Brown Forman (BF.B) and Constellation Brands (STZ) over the last 10 years. Buying cheaper vodka and investing the difference would have been a path to wealth! Remember that past results may not be indicative of future results and that readers should do their own research or consult a registered financial advisor on any investment. This chart and these securities are for illustrative purposes only. Most stocks won’t grow at anything like this rate, but being careful with your spending and investing wisely will make a big difference over time.

A big thanks to Deb for her testing help and some good laughs as we adjudicated the elixirs.

Next week, I’ll be back with Part 3 of How to Stop Worrying about Money. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, go get caught up now so that you are ready for Friday.

What are your thoughts on vodkas? Can you tell the difference? Let me know in the comments below.

Behold the beautiful RC Harris waterworks building. Built in 1930, it was dubbed the Palace of Water. With marble interior, gleaming brass fixtures and an Art Deco style, it has earned its historic building status. Despite its advanced years, the plant still produces 800 million litres a day of fresh, clean drinking water. I live across the street from it, so I see a daily reminder of how lucky we are to have a virtually unlimited supply of the life-giving nectar. Could this water plant be a reminder of how to tap into easy savings?

At current rates, water costs about $3.80 for a cubic meter. That’s a lot of water. Putting it into terms we can relate to, filling a one litre bottle costs about 1/3 of a cent. Quite economical. Especially when you compare that to, say Dasani bottled water which is also made from, well, tap water and costs about $2 at retail.  And what to make of those souls lugging cases of bottled water from Costco to minivan, then minivan to driveway and driveway to kitchen, typically somewhere near the faucet. Yes, the thing that spouts the unlimited supply. Splurge on a fancy stainless steel water bottle, and enjoy some fresh tap water while saving the oceans from some polyethylene terephthalate that they don’t really need.

Picture a 17 pound block of sugar

But people don’t just drink water. they drink a lot of soft drinks. In 2018 we will drink about 65 litres of the stuff per person. Thats about 200 cans of pop for each of us. Which you can think of as us consuming about 7.8 kg of sugar (picture a 17 lb weight plate at the gym – not that they come in that size). 200 cans of pop holds about 30,000 calories or enough to help us each gain 8.6 lbs a year. If you are drinking the diet version, you will save the sugar, but you may be embalming your body with a curious mix of chemicals. Cost wise, these 200 cans of pop add about $400 year which we could all put to better use.

Looking at a typical fast food lunch, the “entre” is somewhere around $8-$10 but the drink adds another $2. So swapping out the drink for plain water is another way to tap into easy savings. It’s like having a 20% discount card at every restaurant in town. And the drink may be adding 15 – 20% of the calories as well, and loading you with sugar that you can do without.  Ask them to put the water into your refillable bottle, saving them the cost of the cup and the earth the extra landfill. If they whine about giving you tap water explain that you need it to take your pills. 

Sparkling, glacier fed, oxygenated, imported or tap?

At high end restaurants, they love to get the fancy water flowing to swell the cheque size. Up selling. Some restaurants run contests around it to optimize profits. Others actually “make’ their own signature water. When the question comes, request tap water. Maybe add a bit of lemon. Won’t affect the conversation, the business deal or the taste of the food. Another way to tap into easy savings.

An easy habit to change

CBS recently reported that 75% of Americans fall short of the recommended 10 cups of water a day. Time to hydrate. I know, water is a bit boring. Add some ice. If you substitute tap water enough times, everything else will seem too sweet, your health will benefit and you will free up  bit of cash for debt repayment or incremental savings. Switching to water works the same as changing any habit. More on that here.

Have you switched to tap water? Still stuck drinking pounds of sugar a year? Let me know!