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Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka

Review: Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka  (86.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on Januarty 27, 2013

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 was produced here in Canada for the North American Market and bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

The First Impression 8/10

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 amongst 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 17.5/20

I served the Smirnoff Vodka after chilling it for several hours in my freezer, at a temperature of 1 degrees Celsius. The Vodka was slightly thickened and slightly creamy. I always serve Vodka in a shot glass, and in that shot glass the spirit demonstrated a very obvious scent of balsam, grain, and a sweep of lemon zest. When I took a sip, I found the flavour matched the scent. I tasted the spiciness of grain with that very light, somewhat earthy lemon/balsam flavour. I did not notice any metallic after taste nor any bitterness after I swallowed.

Later in my tasting room I sampled some more Smirnoff Vodka at room temperature, the flavours were slightly more intense (especially the spiciness) and the spirit now demonstrated a lightly bitter aftertaste. Many Vodkas I have tried will deteriorate much more than this at warmer temperatures, and I am somewhat impressed. The Smirnoff has a much harsher reputation, which appears to be more of a myth than a reality. (Many mass market brands 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 regimen is 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 is very lemon-like. Again my impression is that the Smirnoff is much more pleasant than I was expecting. I would not hesitate serve this Vodka to my friends. In fact, I served the Smirnoff 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 went out on a limb and sampled the Smirnoff on New Year’s Eve with all of my year-end snacking treats which included smoked wieners, a variety of cheeses including cheddar, Gouda, and Edam. Some fresh-baked bread and buns, and of course lots of pickles, and chocolate. Through the evening I sampled the food and swallowed some Vodka while watching old episodes of The Simpsons with my family. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and the food and the Vodka tasted just about right. There was no indication at all that the Smirnoff was not anything but a nice sipping Vodka, smooth enough to enjoy with good food and family.

Cocktails 26/30

Of course, towards the end of the evening, as the clock wound down to midnight, I mixed a few cocktails. I mixed a Vodka Daiquiri to toast the new Year with, and then I mixed a Vodka Cooler to cap of the evening. Both cocktails were very good. A few days later, I went back to the Smirnoff Vodka and mixed a Vodka Darby. Again the Smirnoff Vodka seemed to me to make a grand cocktail (see my final note below).


Final Score 86.5/100

(Good for Sipping and Shots, and for Mixing Cocktails)

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 flavours 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 86.5 puts it in good company with more premium brands.


Suggested Recipes:

Vodka Cooler

1 1/2 oz Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup

Lemon Lime or Club Soda

Fill a tall Glass with large ice cubes
Add Vodka, Lime Juice and sugar syrup to the glass
Complete with Soda
Stir gently
Garnish with a Slice of Lemon or 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 Vodka
1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed 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!


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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