It seems like cheap vodka was made for college kids. The flavor can be masked with simple fruity mixers and the price point is within the budget of next to nothing - which is obviously the determining factor in picking up a bottle. Once you pass the college years, throat burning, low priced bottom shelf vodka is replaced with top-shelf, or at least slightly more expensive vodka brands like Tito, Luksusowa, Grey Goose, Absolut, or Belvedere. Don't misjudge those bottom shelf brands, though. Putting the bottom shelf to the test, Playboy Spirits Columnist Jason Horn blindly put five different brands, all $12 or less, to a taste test see if any were worth a sip.
From the get-go, it's probably hard to believe that Horn will find any of these cheap bottles worthy of buying. He states that vodka shouldn't be offensive and it shouldn't burn - that doesn't exactly scream bottom shelf to me. I'm pretty sure that offensive and burning is the exact definition of bottom shelf, but let's leave that up to the expert to decide.
Starting with Pinnacle vodka, bottom shelf doesn't sound promising. Harsh on the nose and harsh on the taste, burning is happening, but "not in a horrible way." I guess that means it's okay? In this case, mask the flavors with a mixed drink like a Bloody Mary, moscow mule, or some other vodka cocktail and you'll never know the difference.
Moving on to Popov, my stomach is churning. Not sure about you, but after those good old college days, I was hoping to never see a bottle again. Horn, however, doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he gives it an A minus. Perhaps I did have more taste in bottom shelf vodka as a college kid than I thought.
With the bottom of the bottom being an A minus, what does that mean for the rest? Well if you're UV Vodka, not good. I'm not sure what their slogan is, but if you're Horn it probably sounds something like this, "UV Vodka, bitter, burnt, acetone, and pure awful. Don't drink it. Please, if you have a bottle, save it for your cuts when you run out of isopropyl."
Smirnoff on the other hand smells like nothing, and tastes like nothing. Did someone pull the old "I drank from my parent's liquor cabinet" and replaced the vodka with water? He may have given it a C plus, but considering it tastes like nothing and will get the job done, I think it's the perfect example of a bottom shelf winner. SVEDKA on the other hand sounds about right. Citrus, apple, possibly a potato vodka, a slight bit of nose-hair singe, in a pinch this vodka will do. Thank you robots of the future. I wonder now what their flavored vodkas taste like.
Agree or disagree with Horn's choice for best vodka, if you take anything away from this it's that vodka is based on marketing, and cost and quality are unrelated. Now who's ready for shots of Popov? Anyone?