Top 5 vodkas--chosen by a Russian guy

Our Russian guy: Jacob Tselniker of Continental Liquors
Our Russian guy: Jacob Tselniker of Continental Liquors

It is said that the Russian word for water--voda--is the root of the word vodka, so this tells you a little about how Russians feel about the stuff. Russia vodka production is said to date back to somewhere between the 9th and 12th centuries. Originally created for medicinal purposes, vodka still does cure many ails, and while many people are familiar with larger producers, many of the finer brands get ignored. This is why we asked a Russian guy his top 5 vodka picks.

Jacob Tselniker, native of Kiev and manager of Continental Liquors in the Sun Ray Mall in St. Paul, knows his vodka, and is never afraid to tell you, "that is shit!" in his endearing Russian accent, when you bring a crappy brand to the counter. Tselniker thinks vodka is best served with simple foods like smoked meat and fish, herring or caviar. He says vodka should be served cold, out of the refrigerator, but not keep in the freezer. For flavor, the ideal is smooth and clean, with no aftertaste, but as far as the finer characteristics go Tselniker says, "everyone needs to build their own taste." When we asked Tselniker what to look for when choosing a vodka, his answer was simple, "Listen to me." And so we listen.

"Some people drive 500 miles for this vodka," said Tselniker, "it is so smooth." Made outside of Moscow in the Kristall distillery--the oldest distillery in Moscow--Dolgoruki is made with glacier water and distilled four times--a classic Russian vodka. $29.99

The Tall Blond is made in Estonia, and is called "The Queen of Vodkas." Thought to be one of world's finest vodkas, the name comes the light blond grains from which it is made. This vodka is triple distilled and "Exceptionally smooth," per Tselniker. The Tall Blonde is also very sought after because very few liquor stores stock it. $32.99 

Jewel of Russia has quite an extensive history which Tselniker filled me in on: this vodka is made in the factory where Smirnoff used to be made. It is sometimes called "black Smirnoff," because it is the "black sheep" ancestors of the Smirnoff family who started this second label when they lost their rights to the original. Again, thought to be one of the world's best vodkas, made in the traditional Russian style and known for its classic authenticity. $59.99

The only American vodka in the bunch, California's Hangar One is also very smooth (see a trend here?), and Tselniker especially likes the flavored varieties because they are infused with real fruit (no additives) with flavors including Mandarin blossom, Viognier grape, and Fraiser River raspberry. Hangar One also does many experimental limited-availability flavors like Chipolte, which sold out very quickly. $34.99 

And finally, Luksusowa is a potato vodka from Poland. Luksusowa translates to "luxury" in Polish, and this is a very upscale vodka. Luksusowa is triple distilled and a great value at $16.99.

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