The Best Vodkas for Martinis, According to the Pros - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

The Best Vodkas for Martinis, According to the Pros

One of the quickest ways to turn off many a Martini drinker is to make the cocktail with vodka. And plenty of bartenders eschew the use of vodka too. But with the craft spirits movement continuing to yield a bounty of premium vodkas, the spirit’s Martini fortunes are changing. We asked some vodka-savvy bartenders to share which brands they think make an exceptional Vodka Martini (aka Kangaroo).

Alex Jump, Death & Co Denver

“I think the Amass Vodka, which is distilled with marigold, chamomile, and lemon, makes an absolutely delightful Martini. It features really delicate and floral botanicals that complement a blend of blanc and dry vermouths perfectly, without being washed out.”

Devon Tarby, Gin & Luck

“My preference for a best all-around Martini vodka has to be Ketel One. It has enough brightness and acidity to work well in a Dirty Martini (I find richer vodkas can feel too oily in this format), while also having enough body to carry the lower-ABV dry vermouth that is key to a classic Martini (I find that the mouthfeel of lighter vodkas tends to get washed out in this format).”

Daniel Shoemaker, Teardrop Lounge, Portland, OR

Suntory’s Haku Vodka is an unsurprisingly exceptional entry in a field that has otherwise been uninspiring. Too commonly, we have come to expect neutrality from vodka. Most companies (because of market demand) focus on multiple distillations and overwrought filtration processes that strip out impurities that might otherwise lend depth, nuance, and complexity. But Haku, with its nearly flawless distillation of polished rice has—in addition to a profoundly luxuriant mouthfeel—an exquisite flavor (candied grains) and aroma (soft Meyer lemon peel and tamed vanilla) to boot. Utterly unique all the way around, it’s a genuine surprise to the uninitiated. [Using this vodka], we default to the original Martini recipe: equal part spirit to dry vermouth with a dash of orange bitters.”

Eric Simmons, Maple & Ash, Chicago

“For a classic Martini, you have to go with Grey Goose. I visited Le Logis where it’s made, and learning about their process changed my entire perspective on vodka. Everything revolves around making the smoothest vodka possible. I’m also a big vermouth fan, and it’s the best vodka to pair with it. I do a 50/50 for this reason because vermouth is truly what makes a Martini shine. So 1.5 oz. of Grey Goose vodka and 1.5 oz. of Dolin Dry Vermouth, stirred over ice, strained, and served up with a lemon or grapefruit twist for garnish.

Recently I also discovered this Greek vodka called Kástra Elión, which is distilled from olives. It makes the best Dirty Martini ever! It’s incredibly smooth and has just a slight salinity to it, which plays well with the brine. I make mine with 2 1/2 oz. of vodka, 1/2 oz. of Dolin Dry Vermouth, and 1/2 oz. olive brine, stirred over ice, and served up with these bright red Cerignola olives l found at a local Italian market. They have a clean, almost fruity taste to them instead of salty, which balances things out nicely.”

Julian Cox, Fanny’s Restaurant and Café, Los Angeles

“I enjoy Kástra Elión vodka because it’s made from olives and has a nice salinity that complements the Martini. The World’s Best Martini [at Fanny’s] is not a Dirty Martini, but it has all of the qualities of a good Dirty Martini!” 

Rob Krueger, Bar Chrystie, New York City

“Despite the common thinking that vodka neutrality lets it be easily hidden behind a cocktail’s other ingredients, any spirit deployed in a Martini has got to have flavor and texture or the result will be vapid. Belvedere Estate Rye Smogory Forest is as characterful as any vodka on the market. Its base is a single-estate rye grain from Western Poland distilled to let the character of the raw material shine with toasted bread, spice, and caramel notes predominating. Dolin Dry Vermouth has a substantial citrus, floral, and herbaceous nose but possesses a delicate bitterness that doesn’t overwhelm the base spirit. It’s also slightly off-dry, which helps carry flavor and gives a mouthfeel that agrees with the viscosity of the unfiltered vodka.” 

Shawn Lickliter, République, Los Angeles

“Haku Japanese Vodka from Suntory is distilled Japanese white rice fermented with koji and filtered through bamboo charcoal. It’s super clean with a great mouthfeel without being cloying.”

Tony Abou-Ganim, Author of Vodka Distilled

“When it comes to a Vodka Martini (Kangaroo), I like a big, robust Polish vodka, such as Chopin rye or potato or Belvedere—a vodka that can stand up to and complement vermouth. As a rule, I find that most vodka does not work well with vermouth. That said, the soft yet aromatic bouquet of Vermouth de Chambery, which Dolin dry is, works very nicely with the spicier notes of Belvedere or Chopin rye vodkas, with a swath of lemon peel!”

Big Olive Martini

Bar Chrystie fat-washes the vermouth with extra virgin olive oil, which, according to Krueger, gives it “a pungent and grassy note that marries with the expressive grain character of the Belvedere and cool herbaceousness of the vermouth.”

2 oz. Belvedere Smogory Forest Estate Rye
1 oz. Extra Virgin Vermouth

Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail or coupe
Garnish: pitted Gordal olive

Stir all of the ingredient with ice, then strain into a frozen glass. Add a single pitted Gordal olive on cocktail pick. 

Extra Virgin VermouthCombine 750ml of Dolin Dry Vermouth with 150ml of extra virgin olive oil in a non-reactive, lidded container. Cover and shake to distribute the oil throughout the vermouth. Chill in a refrigerator for 48 hours, allowing the oil to rise to the top and solidify. Remove the puck of oil and strain the chilled vermouth through a coffee filter to remove any oil that remains. Re-bottle for use. Keep refrigerated. 

Rob Krueger, Bar Chrystie, New York

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