Vodka is supposed to be flavorless, says the TTB, the government bureau that regulates alcohol. Some bottles may have grassy undertones and others a sharp bite (here’s looking at you, Georgi!), but, ultimately, understatement is the name of the game.
And so mixers matter when you’re making vodka cocktails. To determine the best juices, sodas, and other dance partners for vodka, we turned to an utterly subjective source: ourselves. We gathered VinePair staff and extended family for a taste test.
Our criteria? All mixers had to be widely available, disqualifying that tasty Concord grape syrup a friend from Maine sometimes brings to Thanksgiving. We prioritized simple, two- or three-ingredient drinks and, for sake of consistency, made every cocktail with one of our preferred affordable vodkas, Prairie Organic.
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Here are six of our favorite vodka mixers, ranked.
For those moments when you want to drink something that barely tastes like anything and you’re fresh out of White Claw, there’s the Vodka Soda. We suggest a heavy-handed squeeze of lime for flavor. And if you’re looking to go top-shelf, treating the Vodka Soda like a Highball, with a quality spirit, craft mixer, and careful dilution, can be revelatory.
If you previously swore off tonic water, cringing at that almost medicinal quinine taste, now is your time! There’s an array of quality craft tonics on the market with subtle flavors. We are partial to Fever-Tree’s “Naturally Light” reduced-calorie tonic and Q Tonic Water.
Even though breakfast-friendly OJ is America’s top-selling juice (by a landslide!), the classic Screwdriver is rarely mentioned alongside Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and other brunch favorites. It’s a shame, really, because vodka and orange juice blend quite well, with sweet, tangy citrus offset by an almost imperceptible bite of booze.
Half & Half Spindrift
The bubbly Arnold Palmer from sparkling water purveyor Spindrift is an excellent complement to vodka, especially if you pour it over ice and garnish with a lemon wedge. The results are bright and breezy, the perfect late-afternoon or happy-hour sipper. The only thing keeping this from ranking higher on our list is availability — Half & Half is sold on Amazon and in chains like Target, but it’s a pretty specific item, and you might not have it lying around when the mood for a vodka cocktail strikes.
Grapefruit Juice and a Splash of Soda
As with pretty much every item you consume, the caliber of your ingredients matters here. Pour a few ounces of good-quality grapefruit juice over a shot of vodka on ice, give it a stir, and top with soda water and a lime wedge. It’s a light, bright, slightly effervescent version of a Greyhound cocktail.
Lime Juice and Simple Syrup
It’s admittedly slightly more laborious to squeeze limes and make simple syrup than, say, open a jug of OJ, but the effort pays dividends in this lo-fi vodka Gimlet. We suggest using the classic cocktail ratio: equal parts simple syrup and lime juice, plus twice as much vodka, served ice-cold.