The Best American Vodka

Dan Baker/The Manual

The Manual Spirit Awards recognize the best damn booze in America. Across nine categories — Bourbon, Rye, Single Malt Whiskey, Unaged Rum, Aged Rum, Vodka, Flavored Vodka, Gin, and Brandy — we blind-tasted multiple products from around the country to determine our champions. Each of the winning bottles was judged on appearance, aroma, palate, finish, and how well the product represented the category as a whole. Our focus on smaller craft distillers in the U.S. allowed us to highlight spirits that, we hoped, our readers have not tried yet.

Best Vodka

Highwater Vodka

Vodka is a neutral spirit, which means that the final product has no taste, color, aroma, or any other characteristics. It may not be distilled below 180 proof or bottled at anything less than 80 proof. Vodka can be produced from any kind of material (wheat, corn, sugar, potato, et cetera) as long as it fits the standards above.

Highwater Vodka
Dan Baker/The Manual

Of the vodkas we blind-tasted, we felt that Jackson Hole Still Works’ Highwater Vodka best expressed this ideal. The neutrality of the vodka was not overpowered by alcohol heat or any other factors. The creamy mouthfeel makes it beyond palatable and infinitely drinkable in a variety of cocktails.

Highwater Vodka is produced from locally grown corn and oats in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is 40 percent alcohol by volume and available in most stores in Wyoming and some in Idaho, though the distillery says it is working on expanding its territory.

Tasting Notes

  • Appearance: Highwater Vodka is clear.
  • Nose: A very neutral nose. The vodka does not have too much of an alcohol burn.
  • Palate: Clean and mild, Highwater Vodka has a velvety, mouth-coating quality to it. There is a slight sweetness and it slides smoothly across the tongue and down the throat.
  • Finish: A short, neat finish with little to no residual burn.

About the Distillery

Jackson Hole Still Works focuses its efforts on creating grain-to-glass spirits that utilize local products as often as possible — even down to the water, which comes from a nearby mountain river. Friends Chas Marsh and Travis Goodman began the distillery in 2015 and currently produce two products: vodka and gin. The bottles feature work by local artists (in partnership with The Art Association of Jackson Hole) that change from year-to-year, further enhancing the community-centric aspect of the business.

How to Enjoy It In a Cocktail

White Russian

You don’t have to like vodka — or even spirits — to know what a White Russian is. Highwater Vodka makes a great White Russian due to the creamy mouthfeel, which parallels and enhances the consistency of the cream. For step-by-step instructions, check out our detailed video on how to make a White Russian.

Glass: Rocks glass
Tools: Large ice cube maker, stirring spoon

  • 1.5 oz Highwater Vodka
  • .75 oz coffee liqueur
  • 1 oz cream

Method: Pour vodka and coffee liqueur into a rocks glass filled with a large cube of ice. Float cream on top and stir slowly.

Best Vodka Runners-Up

Ringleader Vodka Valentine Vodka
Backwards Distilling Company Valentine Distilling Company
Mills, Wyoming Detroit, Michigan
Valentine Vodka
Another Wyoming-made vodka, Backwards Distilling’s Ringleader Vodka is a show in a bottle and soft on the palate, making it a great addition to a back bar. The nose on Dry Fly is distinct and immediate. Lavender, juniper, and mint all pop out, leading to some fruity notes on the body, which is palate-coating and meaty.

Credits

Article by Sam Slaughter

Copy editing by Nicole Raney

Photography by Dan Baker

Video by Dan Baker and Riley Young

Art direction and page layout by Genevieve Poblano

Creative team: Will Hawkins, Hanif Jackson, and Chris DeGraw

Shot on location at Grandy Army Tavern in Portland, Oregon

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