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The 2018 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Vodka

I have written before that I believe Vodka is the most maligned of the popular mainstream spirits. It is considered by many people to be a colourless, odourless, and tasteless spirit. In fact, many people believe the only utility Vodka possesses is that of a mixer.

However, this simply is not true. There are subtle aromas and flavours which can be appreciated when Vodka is sipped or when it is consumed as a shot. As well, when served with good food, a quality vodka has the ability to enhance the gastronomic experience by cleansing the palate between bites allowing you to taste each morsel more completely.

When I review Vodka on my website, I try very hard to convey my appreciation of these subtle nuances and the pleasure I derive when I encounter them.

Ketel One Vodka Martini

As for those Vodka Reviews, they continue to be among the most popular upon my website. And I must admit that reviewing vodka the way I do is certainly fun. The process and methodology I utilize where my friends are invited to participate as we sample and share both cocktails and food pairings with the Vodka spirit allows me to incorporate not only my views of taste and quality, but also my friends observations.

This year, I added a new Craft Distilling category to my Vodka Awards. This is in recognition of the efforts of the new Craft Micro Distilleries which have spread across the continent. These small distilleries are bringing about a change in the culture of consumers who are beginning to embrace the small batch spirits these distillers provide. Micro distilling is now more than a trend, it has become a permanent fixture in the landscape of spirits worldwide.

As is the case each year, all of my Rum Howler Awards are based upon my tastings and reviews of each vodka. I taste the spirit neat, and I may also mix a few cocktails with each spirit. All samples which I receive to review on my website are automatically considered for my awards for the year in which they are reviewed as well as the following year. I do my reviews, and then I set aside the remainder of the spirit aside until the end of the year when I reassess for the purposes of determining my award winners. As indicated, I also include those samples which were provided in the previous year so as to have a larger field to judge.

(I may also receive additional industry samples specifically for these awards.)

Here are the 2018 Award Winners:


The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka

and the winner is:

Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka

Runner-up Award to: Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka

Honourable Mention to: Shadow in the Lake Vodka

This category pays homage to the young Craft Distilling Industry which is flourishing across North America.

Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka is produced in Saskatchewan (one batch at a time) under the care and supervision of the Distillers, Colin and Meredith Schmidt. The Vodka is triple distilled and filtered three times through stone carbon before it is brought to 40% alcohol by volume and bottled.

Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka is produced by Goodridge & Williams, an independent craft distilling company located in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). The Vodka is produced from a slow distillation process which includes distillation through 38 column plates.

Shadow In the Lake Vodka which pays homage to the legendary beast Ogopogo. The spirit is produced from 100 % wheat grain grown in the South Peace area of British Columbia which is ground on sit . It is produced one batch at a time by Legend Distilling is a small craft distillery in the heart of B.C. Okanagan Wine Country.


The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Vodka Value
and the winner is:

Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka

Runner-up Award to: Skyy Vodka

Honourable Mention to: Extra Zytnia Vodka

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 in my locale was excluded.

Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov founded a Vodka Distillery in Moscow in the latter half of the 19th century. Pyotr’s Vodka was quite a success and was apparently the best-selling Vodka in Moscow by 1886. In 1904, the Russian Tsar forced nationalization upon the Vodka industry, and when the situation declined further Vladimir Smirnov (Pyotr’s Son) fled Russia. He re-established his Vodka brand in Constantinople, using the french spelling of his name, Smirnoff.

Skyy Vodka was created by Maurice Kanbar who formed Skyy Spirits LLC. in 1992 to market the spirit. The Vodka is quadruple distilled from American grain, and is also apparently filtered three times though California limestone prior to bottling. In 1999, the Compari Group (headquartered in Milan, Italy) purchased the brand, and Skyy is now a product of the Campari America Division.

Extra Zytnia is a Polish rye grain Vodka produced from 100% rye grain neutral spirit. The brand is considered ‘Retro’ in Poland hearkening back to the vodka spirit as it was produced a generation ago. Zytnia is in fact one of the oldest pure vodka brands in Poland.


The 2018 Rum Howler Award for the Best Cocktail Vodka

and the winner is:

Ketel One Vodka

Runner-up awards to: Reyka Small Batch Vodka

Honorable Mention to: Smirnoff No. 21 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.

Ketel One Vodka is a Dutch spirit distilled from European Wheat in copper pot stills. It is produced by the family owned Nolet Distillery (founded in 1691) in Schiedam (the Netherlands).

Reyka Small Batch Vodka is produced at Iceland’s first distillery (the Reyka Distillery) located 74km outside of Reykjavik in Borgarnes, Iceland.

Smirnoff Vodka does not have a single distillery of origin. It is produced in multiple facilities across the world according to a specific recipe. The particular sample of Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka which I sampled was produced here in Canada (at the Black Velvet Distillery) for the North American Market.


The 2018 Rum Howler Award for the year’s Best Overall Vodkas

and the winner is:

Ketel One Vodka

Runner-up award to: Norvegia Vodka

Honorable Mention to: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka

In choosing the Best Overall Vodka I was not only concerned with what made the best cocktails. I also considered the performance of any of the spirits as sippers, and how they paired with a variety of foods. These truly are spirits which offer the best of all worlds.

When the Ketel One brand was developed the name was chosen to recognize the coal-fired copper still that was originally used to distill it. In dutch that name is  Distilleerketel #1.  Although the brand was created by the Nolet family (in 1981) and is still produced at their facility in Schiedam, Ketel One Vodka is now sold world-wide by Diageo through an agreement reached with the distillery in 2008. It is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

Norvegia is a Norwegian Vodka produced from organic potatoes (the Trondelag varietal if you are interested). The spirit is five times distilled and brought to bottling proof with water sourced from the Folgefonna Glacier which was formed about 6000 years ago. The water from this glacier was bound to ice before airborne industrial pollutants were prevalent in the atmosphere, and as such the water from this glacier is so pure that it does not require chemical purification.

Smirnoff Vodka has become so popular that now (according to brand owner Diageo), it is the number 1 selling Vodka in the entire world being sold and distributed in over 130 countries.


The Winners

The The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka

The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Cocktail Vodka: Ketel One Vodka

The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Overall Vodka: Ketel One Vodka


rh-runner-up-2017The Runner-Ups

The The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner – Up Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Skyy Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Cocktail Vodka: Reyka Small Batch Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner – Up Awards for Best Overall Vodka: Norvegia Vodka


rh-hm-2017The Honourable Mentions

The The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Shadow in the Lake Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Value Priced Vodka: Extra Zytnia Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Cocktail Vodka: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka

The 208 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Overall Vodka: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka


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