What is the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Vodka?

Is there a difference between cheap and expensive vodka? This has long been one of the most heated discussions among vodka connoisseurs.

First and foremost, there are several misconceptions about the distinction between premium and cheap vodkas. For example, some of the most common beliefs are as follows:

  • Expensive vodka is distilled for long periods of time, which gives it a distinct flavor.
  • If you drink cheap vodka, you usually get a headache and a hangover.
  • When you drink cheap vodka, you feel a burning sensation in your throat.
  • The more expensive vodka is smoother and does not have a burning aftertaste.

The Facts

The difference between cheap and premium vodka is not just a matter of money. Rather, it's about the fact that excellent vodka does not burn, is usually smoother, and is distilled using better methods than poorer cheaper vodkas. Belvedere vodka from Poland, for example, is incredibly delicious and can be drunk neat on ice, yet it is reasonably priced. 

How Are Different Vodkas Made? 

Good vodkas are made from potatoes, grains, and sometimes fruit. However, the ones that do not taste as good are distilled versions that contain impurities from the original ingredients such as acetones and acetaldehyde. Initially, the residues from the original ingredients could not be eliminated by traditional distillation methods.

Many companies opt for few distillation cycles and cheaper methods of vodka production to save money. As a result, the vodka made by these companies contains a higher level of unwanted congeners that increase the bite and the burn you experience when drinking cheaper vodkas. The goal for any Vodka is to reduce the unwanted congeners down to a lower level to increase the smoothness and reduce the burn and the bite. This is done by reducing the amount of acetones and acetaldehyde in the vodka itself. This difference is the main reason why people distinguish between cheap and expensive vodka. 

Another possible difference is that cheap vodka leaves the drinker with a headache and a severe hangover the next day. There is a real cause for this. When you come across cheap vodka, it is almost always made with cheap ingredients in an inexpensive process that have higher level of acetone remaining once the vodka is bottled. The presence of these impurities changes the clarity, taste and texture of the drink. As a result, the risk of headaches and hangovers increases due to the higher levels of acetone and other unwanted chemicals. 

There is another, less-known cause of headaches. When a drink is inexpensive and readily available, consumers are more inclined to take a few extra shots of vodka and overindulge. One of the main reasons why people who drink cheap vodka suffer from headaches and hangovers the next day can also be attributed to this over indulgence and consumption. 

Does Temperature Affect Vodka?

Temperature Is crucial When creating vodka. The Temperature at which vodka is served distinguishes certain vodkas from others. This also depends on how much you crave the spirit. For example, the chilled version of vodka is preferred by experienced drinkers. This brings out the finest flavors of the spirit. It should be neutral in taste, clear and free from unwanted flavors. The additional flavors are reduced the lower the temperature of the drink. As any vodka connoisseur will tell you, The bets vodkas are those that achieve the least amount of additional flavors. The truer the Vodka is the purer is should be. 

The secondary flavors from other congeners and chemicals that remain in the bottled spirit after distillation will be accentuated by heat and become more prominent when the spirit is drunk at higher temperatures. As a result, the taste is significantly altered. When heated to a higher temperature, the unneeded components, such as impurities, rise to the surface. These flavors are no longer masked by the temperature. So the more subtle the flavor of the vodka, the colder the drink. Therefore, if you drink low-quality or cheap vodka at a lower temperature, you probably will not notice the difference as much as drinking the vodka at room temperature of higher.

Many people believe that cheap vodka gives them a burning sensation. This has something to do with the temperature of the drink when it is served but ha more to do with the levels of unwanted congeners that remain in the vodka. The most notable chemical that causes this burning sensation is acetone.

The Process of Distillation

A common misconception is that the more distillation processes that are performed, the higher the quality of the spirit. However, this is not necessarily the case. Yes, distillation helps refine the taste and aroma of the drink, but only to a limited extent.

The process of distillation does not produce alcohol, it is able to concentrate alcohol. The process starts with the wort batch or a wash that contains a lesser concentration of an alcoholic liquid. This is the liquid that is heated up and separated to produce the concentrated alcohol. A wash or a wort batch is basically a beer or wine like substance. Yeast is still used to produce the wash. Drinkable, or potable, alcohol is Ethanol. Water and ethanol boil at different temperatures and therefore can be separated. Ethanol boils at a temperature of 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit whereas water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. There are other important chemicals to know the boiling point of. These are Acetone which has a boiling point of 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit and acetaldehyde which has a boiling point of 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit. By heating up the wash in an enclosed and controlled environment these chemicals are attempted to be separated out in the attempt to create a purer concentrated solution. Other chemicals are present within the initial wash that are needed to be separated but often are not. This group of chemicals are called congeners. This process is complicated because of the different boiling points of each liquid/chemical. Some of these chemicals are wanted to remain in smaller amounts, but others are not desirable. When it pertains to Vodka the emphasis is placed on trying to remove everything else beside the ethanol in order to make a pure and smooth product. 

The first vapors that boil out of the wash are the more volatile chemical compounds that have a lower boiling point than water and ethanol. These are typically known as the “head. The desirable portion of the wash is the ethanol. This is called the “heart”. For Vodkas the goal is to create a purer ethanol concentration were the head is be discarded by diverting the flow of vapor emerging during the distillation process at different temperatures. Where the “heart” would want to be separated out and saved to be used later. 

Once the head and ethanol have been heated past their boiling points and separated the remaining alcohols are less volatile with higher boiling points. This is known as the “tail”. The distillation process continues to separate out these chemicals from the rest. The heating up of the wash typically continues until the remaining liquid in the wash is <1% alcohol when tested. At this point It is less economical to continue to try and separate further. The “head” and the “tail” are usually added to the next wort batch for the next distillation cycle to recycle any trapped ethanol that remains.

This is important to note because with Bands that boast multiple distillation cycles because, although this may reduce unwanted congeners, most of the remaining unwanted chemicals are trapped and are unable to be separated with additional distillation alone. 

There is skill involved with the distillation process and the master distiller needs tio be able to judge and know when the right moment is to cut the distillation outflow from the “head” to start collecting the ”heart” and then turning it off when it’s the “tail”. 

For example, if the vodka is distilled eight times to improve the taste, the concept is outdated. This is because, after the initial distillation cycle, it has reached saturation and is no longer relevant. The taste will not change no matter how many times you distill it after that. 

This process of distillation has been perfected over the last century. Many vodka brands advertise their products by telling potential buyers how many times the drink has been distilled. However, this is merely a marketing ploy that does little to improve the taste. There is another facet to this idea. The number of distillations does not matter if the ingredients used to make it are cheap, low-quality and full of impurities. Therefore, even several distillations cannot mask the taste of impurities in the spirit. 

More recently the technology that has improved the taste and quality of spirits is in the aging process and the filtering process of spirits after distillation has been performed. With Vodka specifically, we don’t age the final product. So in order to further reduce the remaining unwanted chemicals filtering is needed to be performed. 

Filtering and aging is a time consuming process and many distilleries will use basic technology that is not very effective in reducing unwanted chemicals to a meaningful extent. When it comes to filtering there are two main chemicals that are wanted to be removed in oder to increase the quality and smoothness.

Acetaldehyde: This chemical is the byproduct of plants as part of their normal metabolic processes. It can also be produced by the oxidation of ethanol. The Boiling point of acetaldehyde is 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit and is the reason why you have a bad hangover the next day after a night of drinking and is also a carcinogen.  

Acetone: I am sure this is familiar to a lot of you as a cleaning solvent. But it is a substance in the group of ketones. This is used as the active ingredient in nail polish remover and in paint thinners. The boiling point of acetone is 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Acetone is one of the main reasons people will “black out” when drinking alcohol. 

Due to the time it takes to reduce these chemicals further most brands of vodka elect not to. The best option a consumer has in reducing these chemicals on their own is in buying specialized filters and filtration systems and do it on their own.

There are not very many options, but the best one is Classy Spirits Filtration system that has been proven to reduce acetone by up to 58% and acetaldehyde by up to 10%. This filtration system is to be used by the consumer after you purchase the bottle of vodka. You pour the vodka through Classy Spirits filtration system , it take 30-45 seconds to filter 2.4 fluid ounces of vodka. Classy Spirits sells countertop units that can be used very easily and each of their filters lasts for up to 15 bottles of vodka and then you would need to by a replacement filter. 

This is a vey easy and cost effective way to purchase cheaper vodkas and turn them into very high end high quality vodka.


Vodka can be distilled from a variety of base ingredients that all will have different congeners and chemicals remaining after the distillation process that can add to the flavor and taste profile of the final bottled product. Everyone's palate is also different and individual. There is no easy discernible difference between high-cost and low-cost vodkas. The difference is between high quality and low-quality based off of the remaining unwanted chemicals in the final bottled product. Even if expensive vodkas are made incorrectly, they can have the same unappetizing taste. 

Although it is believed that many flavor and fragrance molecules are removed during distillation and filtration, research has shown that slight differences in composition can remain.

When it comes down to it the distillation process alone is not able to remove all the unwanted chemicals and in order to reduce these chemicals further an additional filtration step is needed. Because almost all brands don’t take the time to additional filter the final product it is important that you buy a filtration system that can further reduce these chemicals. In the long run it will save you money to purchase one of these filtration systems and buy lower cost vodkas that you can then increase the quality of on your own by filtering the bottled spirit yourself.

Check out Classy Spirts Filtration System to increase the quality and smoothness of Vodka by removing the harsh and harmful chemicals that remain in bottled Vodka bottles!

 Take a look at the best 15 Vodka cocktails you can make at home or order at the bar!