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Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka (Red)

Review: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka  (88.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on May 16, 2017

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. Early in the next century, when the company was under the control of Pyotr’s son Vladimir, political upheaval shook the foundations of Russia. In 1904, the Tsar forced nationalization upon the Vodka industry, and Vladimir was forced to sell his distillery and the Vodka brand to the state. Later, during the Russian Revolution, the situation declined further for Vladimir, and he (and many others) fled Russia.

Vladimir then did what he had always done, he began to make Vodka, first in Constantinople where he opened a new distillery, and then a few years later, he moved production to Lwow, Poland (which would later become part of the Ukraine, Lviv). He re-established his Vodka brand, but now used the french spelling of his name, Smirnoff. The Vodka he produced must have been good, because over time Smirnoff Vodka has become more and more popular such 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. It is not only sold in many countries, it is also produced in many countries.

My understanding is that Smirnoff 21 is a triple distilled spirit, produced on a large multi-column still from North American prairie grain. The particular sample of Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka which I am reviewing (see photo in recipe section) was produced here in Canada for the North American Market and bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

I reviewed the Smirnoff No. 21 Red first in 2013, and then revisited the brand this year when I chose to compare four Vodkas in a small tasting competition(Smirnoff No. 21 Red, Reyka, Skyy and Last Mountain Distillery Hand Crafted Vodkas). I tasted the spirits in pairs, and when I determined which vodka from each pair was my preferred spirit, then I tasted the winners of each of the previous tasting sessions went head to head in a final taste-off.

As you will see from the review, Smirnoff No. 21 (Red) performed very well.

The First Impression 8.5/10

No. 1 selling products usually earn (and maintain) that status through intense marketing and budget pricing. Smirnoff Vodka fits the bill on both counts, and this philosophy is underscored by the bottle presentation. The Vodka arrives in an economical clear glass bottle designed for the bar trade. The red label and red topper make the bottle stand out clearly so that it is also easy to recognize among the other bottles on the bar. It is of a standard size, designed to be easy to store on the bar shelf, easy to grab and hold, and easy to pour.

As far as it goes, the presentation is adequate; although I dislike the pressed on metallic cap which seals the bottle. Many people like to toss their vodka into the freezer, and a cap which expands and contracts with heat and cold much more than the bottle it seals is not a good idea.

The First Sip 18/20

In each tasting session I served the Vodka spirits after chilling them for several hours in my freezer. The temperature of each spirit was about 1 degrees Celsius. The Smirnoff Vodka was slightly thickened and slightly creamy in my shot glass. The spirit demonstrated scents of fine grain spice, a sweep of citrus (lemon and lime) zest, and light touches of mint. When I took a sip, I found the vodka smooth with a flavour profile which matched the scents in the breezes. I did not notice any metallic after taste nor any bitterness after I swallowed.

Later I tasted the Smirnoff Vodka at room temperature, the flavours were slightly more intense (especially the spiciness) and the spirit now demonstrated a very light bitterness in the aftertaste. This light bitterness does not dissuade me from sipping especially as I notice very little burn or vegetal flavour. Because Smirnoff is perceived by many to be mass-produced and a cheap brand, I received a bit of online criticism for my favourable review of the spirit four years ago. However, so far in the tasting session the spirit is again showing itself to be a much better vodka than its price would indicate.

(Many brands with large market share are chastised unfairly just because they are mass market, the true test of any brand is in the glass.)

Taking a Shot 17.5/20

The next step in my tasting session was to consume a “shot” of Vodka, which for me is usually about 1/2 an ounce, again served cold. The Smirnoff goes down smoothly with a bit of spiciness tapping the tonsils, and just a touch of creeping burn or warmth in the throat. The aftertaste carries a bit of lemon-like flavour, and again my impression is that the Smirnoff is much more pleasant than others have reported. I would not hesitate serve this Vodka to my friends. In fact, I remember clearly that several years ago I served Smirnoff Red blind to my Polish friend Lukasz (who loves premium Polish and Ukrainian Vodka), and he expressed shock that the Vodka he was consuming was Smirnoff, and not some high-end premium brand.

Out for Dinner 17.5/20

I next sampled Smirnoff (and the others in the mini tasting competition with some snacks which included smoked wieners, a variety of cheeses including cheddar, Gouda, and Edam, some fresh-baked bread and buns, breaded spicy chicken wings, and some pepperoni pizza. Smirnoff Red worked great as a palate cleanser and all of the foods tasted fresh and yummy between swallows of Vodka. The spirit did not deteriorate as I snacked, and my positive impression of Smirnoff Red Vodka continued to build.

Cocktails 27/30

At the end each tasting session I mixed a small Vodka Gimlet with each spirit (see recipe below), and later I went back to the Smirnoff Vodka and mixed a Vodka Darby (see recipe below). Smirnoff Vodka Red mixes great cocktails in which the fruity flavours of the citrus pop in the glass. My sample of Smirnoff was a small 200 ml bottle, so I could not go into great depth with more cocktails; but I would not hesitate on another occasion to mix martinis with Smirnoff Red for my friends.


Final Score 88.5/100

(A very good to excellent Vodka in all phases of the Review)

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.


A Final Note:

Smirnoff is dismissed by many as being a mass market Vodka with a sterile flavour and limited appeal. I disagree most strongly. I have found the Smirnoff to have unexpected character, and a strong appeal both in mixed drinks and when consumed on its own. In fact my final score of 87 puts it in good company with more premium brands.


Suggested Recipes:

Vodka Gimlet

1 oz Smirnoff Red No. 21 Vodka
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/4 oz Sugar Syrup

Pour the three main ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the sides of the outside of the shaker begins to frost
Strain into a suitable glass

Enjoy Responsibly!

(Garnish if desired with a slice of lime)


Vodka Darby

This cocktail usually uses Gin as its base, but if the soda is not overdone, it is also a nice Vodka Cocktail!

1 1/2 oz Smirnoff Red
1/2 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 tsp Sugar Syrup
Splash Soda

Pour the first four ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the sides of the shaker are frosted
Strain into a suitable glass
Add a splash of Soda

Please remember to enjoy my cocktail suggestions responsibly!

If  you are interested in more of my cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


You may (loosely) interpret my score as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing Vodka.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are preferable.
85-89    Excellent!  Shots or cocktails!
90-94    You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 80    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89     Silver Medal (Recommended  for shots and mixing cocktails)
90 – 95     Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Sublime Cocktails)
95.5+       Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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