What Kirkland Vodka Tells Us About How We Discuss Spirits

Can a spirit be both ubiquitous and underrated?

Pouring vodka
Do we need to change the way we discuss vodka?
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In the world of booze, there are plenty of cases where opting for a premium brand will give you a genuinely transcendental experience. I still have strong memories of being floored by a rare single malt from Bruichladdich several years ago, for example. Even as countless high-end spirits make the reasons for their price tag clear, there are also some stunning bargains to be had — including the moment a few years ago when Aldi’s house brand Scotch earned impressive marks.

Whisky isn’t the only case of a store brand spirit leaving experts amazed by what they’ve just sipped. In a new article for Slate, Scott Nover chronicled the phenomenon of vodka enthusiasts gravitating towards an unlikely choice: Kirkland Signature vodka, Costco’s in-house brand. “Connoisseurs (and anyone who puts them to a taste test, really) consider them legitimately good,” Nover writes.

Nover’s article isn’t just about the merits of finding a bargain in the spirits category, though. His article explores a broader question, which is to say: are there ways we should be discussing vodka differently? Part of this question has to do with our expectations of vodka. Should it be entirely neutral? Should there be hints of flavor or something broader on the palate?

I can relate to this internal debate quite a lot; vodka has never been my spirit of choice, though I have enjoyed bison grass vodka several times over the years. (“There are also notes of lavender, vanilla and, of course, cut grass,” Naren Young wrote about bison grass vodka in 2015. “When mixed into a cocktail, almost every single vodka on earth gets lost in the quagmire. Not this one.”)

Some of that has to do with expectations; opting for a gin tasting on a trip to London a few years ago opened my eyes to what that spirit could accomplish. Nover’s article makes an elegant case that vodka is due for a similar moment — which makes the fact that Kirkland Signature vodka is at the heart of his argument all the more intriguing.

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Nover (and the experts he spoke with) also pointed to another challenge when talking about vodka: the fact that it can be made from a variety of plants, some of which lead to wildly different tastes. (New Jersey’s 3BR Distillery makes a pea vodka, for instance). Exploring vodka can be a far more rewarding experience than you might have thought; or, as Nover writes, “The most important thing about appreciating a vodka, then, is to simply pay attention.”


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