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The 2017 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Vodka

rh-winner2017Last year, I pointed out that there seems to be a divide among vodka producers between those who value purity of spirit above all else, and those producers who allow their vodka spirit to express a certain level of flavour. I am firmly in the camp of those who enjoy the subtle aromas and flavours which can be appreciated when Vodka is sipped or when it is consumed in a cocktail. However, this past year I began to notice that some vodka makers are taking this philosophy too far.

This new phenomena appears to be part of the craft spirit movement. Using their small micro-stills the micro-producers are embracing a great deal of more flavour within their vodka spirit than I would ever have suspected. As one micro-distiller explained to me,

“Vodka doesn’t have to be a colourless odourless spirit meant only to be hid in a cocktail or tall soda drink. It can and should be enjoyed on its own, for its own sake.”

That sentiment sounds right to a point; however after tasting this particular producer’s vodka I wondered if perhaps he was merely justifying the outcome of a distilling process that (for economic reasons) did not fully rectify the spirit. The heavy congeners within the spirit certainly gave it flavour; however the flavour achieved was fusel with strong  vegetal components the combination of which did not fit my paradigm of excellent vodka.

SAM_0403 Vodka Martini

Vodka Martini

To that end, my call to all producers (new distillers and old) is that when they distill this spirit which we call vodka, the aim should be to eliminate fusel flavours and heavy congeners. That is not to say that vodka should be refined to the point of being a tasteless spirit. But the flavours that are left within should be light subtle flavours which enhance rather than dominate the vodka experience (and the cocktail experience). This may be a more expensive road to tread; but it is a road that will lead to repeat sales (and perhaps even a Rum Howler Award).

And that is my year-end rant with respect to vodka, a spirit which I plan to spend more time on this year as I continue to embrace cocktail culture and try to bring some of that culture to my snowy Alberta locale. It is time to reveal the 2017 Rum Howler Award Winners with respect to that spirit we call Vodka.

As is the case each year, all spirit samples which I receive to review on my website are automatically considered for Rum Howler Awards in the year they are received and then again for one additional year. This means the field of entrants for my 2017 Rum Howler Vodka Awards included all of the Vodka spirits I reviewed in both 2015 and 2016.

The list of this spirits includes: Absolut, Alberta Pure, AnestasiA,  Big Rig Premium, Belvedere Unfiltered, Finlandia, Iceberg, Norvegia, Opulent, Our/Detroit, Polar Ice, Potter’s, Shadow in the Lake, Skyy, Three Point, and Zytnia (Extra) Vodkas. (18 in all)

Here are my 2017 Rum Howler Award winners for excellence in the production of Vodka:


extra-zytniaThe 2017 Rum Howler Award for Best Vodka Value
and the winner is:

Zytnia Extra

Runner-up Award to: Finlandia Vodka

Honourable Mention to: Alberta Pure

I considered two major factors in determining the Best Value Priced Vodka. The first was the Vodka’s mixability in a range of cocktail styles, (this year I mixed two cocktails with each spirit; a Vodka Gimlet,  and a traditional Vodka Martini, and the second was how it tasted neat when sipped and when consumed in a shot (when served neat at room temperature). I weighed these factors against the price of each spirit in my locale. As this is a value category, any Vodka which was priced above $30.00 per bottle was excluded.

Extra Zitnia Vodka was chosen to be this year’s Best Vodka Value. Frankly it is a wonderful vodka spirit which not only works great in short and tall cocktails, it is one of the best Martini Mixers I have encountered at this low price. Finlandia was Runner-up, while Alberta Pure Vodka deserves Honourable Mention. All of these spirits fit the bill as very good vodkas at a decent price.


Unfiltered Reverse Vesper SAM_1582The 2017 Rum Howler Award for the Best Cocktail Vodka

and the winner is:

Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka

Runner-up awards to: AnestasiA Vodka

Honorable Mention to: Iceberg Vodka

For this category, I was only concerned with what made the best cocktails. I did not consider price, and I did not consider the performance of any of the spirits as sippers. I mixed a standard Vodka Gimlet with each spirit, and then a Vodka Martini with to determine the very best Cocktail Vodka.

It should come as not surprise that the ultra premium vodkas, Belvedere Unfiltered, and AnesasiA, each garnered awards in the cocktail category as each is a fantastic mixing spirit; the surprise was that Iceberg Vodka joined them with an Honourable Mention. I admit that as far sipping and shooting goes, Iceberg doesn’t impress me; but as soon as I mix the spirit in a cocktail the vodka becomes something special. If an economy mixing vodka is what you want, Iceberg is a great choice.


belvedere-unfiltered-rye-vodkaThe 2017 Rum Howler Award for the year’s Best Sipping and Best Overall Vodkas

and the winner is:

Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka

Runner-up award to: AnestasiA Vodka

Honorable Mention to: Norvegia Vodka

For the second year in a row, the clear winner in both the Sipping category, and the Best Overall category was Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka with its light flavours of milk chocolate and caramelized sugars which reminded me of freshly baked bread crust. In a rare occurrence (for the first time in six years of Rum Howler Awards), the three Best Sipping Vodkas were also selected as the three Best Overall Vodkas. This speaks not only the quality of each spirit but their versatility as well.

Anestasia and Norvegia are superb examples of Vodka spirits which feature slippery nuances of flavour within a clean crisp construct. All three of these Ultra Premium spirits can be sipped with great enjoyment, and for even greater pleasure they can be paired with a variety of different foods as you enjoy the company of friends and family.


rh-winner2017The Winners

The 2017 Rum Howler Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Zytnia (Extra) Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Award for Best Cocktail Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Award for Best Sipping Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Vodka: Belvedere Unfiltered (Rare Diamond Rye) Vodka


rh-runner-up-2017The Runner-Ups

The 2017 Rum Howler Runner – Up Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Finlandia Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Cocktail Vodka: AnestasiA Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Sipping Vodka:  AnestasiA Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Overall Vodka: AnestasiA Vodka


rh-hm-2017The Honourable Mentions

The 2017 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Alberta Pure

The 2017 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Cocktail Vodka: Iceberg Vodka

The 2017 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Sipping Vodka: Norvegia

The 2017 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Overall Vodka: Norvegia


2 Responses to “The 2017 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Vodka”

  1. neandrewthal said

    Does Zytnia being named best value Vodka mean Zirkova Vodka is no longer available in your location? That would be a shame as it is such a great value it almost counts as a life hack and I’m so glad I was tipped of by this website as to the quality of Zirkova.

    • Zytnia winning best value Vodka means it is the best bang for my buck. It has actually never been available in Alberta (to my knowledge at least), but it is available in Ontario through the LCBO. I used LCBO pricing in doing my comparisons when I could not find an Alberta Price.

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