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.

12 Comments

  1. Great book and loving the articles.

    I don’t have a preferred vodka as the taste profiles tend to be the same so I tend to buy the cheaper brands as I tend to mix.

    However, this would have been an interesting experiment but with Gin instead, whereby each flavour profile is very unique and distinguished. So, easier to get a flavour preference.

    Looking forward to the next article.

    • Gordon Stein Reply

      Thanks so much Jay! We just had a chat about doing something similar with Gin. Well worthwhile to compare all of these regular purchase items, rather than just buying by rote!. Please let me know of other articles of interest. Stay safe, Gordon.

      • I personally don’t like vodka, but I do think there is a difference in taste. Not necessarily by price, but by taste. I also feel that if you’re going to put any sort of mixer with your vodka, it really doesn’t matter. You can’t taste it through olive juice, soda, cranberry, etc. The only time when I feel taste matters…is when you have an extra dry martini, or you’re drinking it straight neat or on the rocks. In that case, Chopin is the way to go. The price doesn’t always reflect the quality or taste.. Well, that’s my two cents. Over and out.

        • Gordon Stein Reply

          Great input – thanks so much Kindra. I find that after a sip or two of vodka, my mouth is anesthetized (sp?) to the point where I can’t tell if the next shot is bourbon or Malbec! Keep those comments coming! Gordon

  2. Craig Farrow Reply

    Gord, another ‘beauty’ into the Cashflow Cookbook! Love this one! Had they taught finance/economics like this when I attended university, I would have graduated on the Dean’s list! Keep them coming! C

    • Gordon Stein Reply

      Thanks Craig! Lots more posts coming up every week and I am underway with the USA edition of Cashflow Cookbook. All the best and stay safe!

  3. Donna Lamoureux Reply

    Hey Gord… I really enjoyed the vodka comparisons! A real eye opener. Well done. I always thought Vodka was Vodka – and would usually purchase the least expensive brand. Also enjoyed your book Cashflow Cookbook. A ton of great information. I wish I had this in my 20’s… I could buy a house in California by now 😉

    Keep up the great work.

    Cheers

    Donna Lamoureux
    Whitby, Ontario
    Canada

    • Gordon Stein Reply

      Thanks Donna! I wish I read Cashflow Cookbook in my 20s as well! Stay tuned! lots more blog posts coming every Friday. Stay safe out there, Gordon

  4. Thanks for the wealth building ideas!
    I really like the comparison posts, and I think they are the type of content that can bring a wide demographic to the site.

    Cheers!

    Kerry

    • Gordon Stein Reply

      Thanks Kerry – glad you are enjoying the content. Let me know if you have any suggestions for other posts. Take care, Gordon

  5. I have been doing a similar sampling over the past 18 months, but less formal. I can say that I really have no preference when mixing, but an ounce of Belvedere Vodka straight is our overwhelming first choice.

    • Gordon Stein Reply

      Thanks Steve – I’ve heard something similar from other readers…makes me want to add Belvedere into the mix for some off-blog testing! Take care and stay safe, Gordon

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