I just saw an RT report about how the homo-lobby in the West is calling for a boycott of the Olympic games in Sochi and a boycott of Russian vodka. The footage in the report showed a cute slogan which the homos were promoting: "no Sochi, no Stoli". Now I don't have anything to say about Sochi or the Olympics, but I will say this: Stoli aka "Stolichnaya" is not a particularly good Russian vodka, and there might be purely gastronomical reasons to avoid it.
The main reason for the fame of Stoli is that in the middle of the Cold War the Pepsi company signed an agreement with the Soviet government to import Stoli in the USA (and export Pepsi to the USSR). So in the USA Stoli was "THE" Russian vodka. Happily, the Cold War is over (yeah, I know, Uncle Sam is trying hard to re-start it) and now Americans have much, much better options. So let me share some of them with you.
First you need to know that all vodka is is pure alcohol and water. Sounds basic, no? Not really, because how pure the alcohol and, especially, the water are makes a huge difference. Just like a top quality Scotch whisky like The Glenlivet is entirely dependent on the quality of the water of the one stream were Glenlivet takes its water, so does the taste of vodka also almost fully depend on the water it is made with. It appears that seemingly tiny differences in the chemical qualities of various types of water result in big differences in taste. Top of the line vodkas are therefore distilled and purified several times in proprietary processes which the manufacturers try to protect. I will not try to explain it all here - there are entire books about this - but I will say this: don't be fooled by the "only alcohol and water" argument as vodkas come in a huge spectrum of quality ranging from the absolutely vile and disgusting "throat burners" to the top of the line products like these:
First, there are the vodkas of the Russian Standard or "Русский Стандарт" official lineup:
1) base version: Russian Standard Original
2) improved version: Russian Standard Platinum
3) superior version: Russian Standard Gold
4) exclusive version: Russian Standard Imperia
Now the sales of liquors is no more than 50% taste and the rest is product positioning. This is also very true for vodka. So I will spare you the technical differences and directly go to the bottom line: Russian Standard Original is an amazingly good vodka (infinitely superior to Stoli) which you can get at a very reasonable price. Unless you are a vodka cognoscente, I would stick with this one. If you are willing to pay more for the really good stuff, then definitely try the Russian Standard Platinum which is very perceptibly superior to the Standard version. But I would skip the Gold and Imperia versions which, while very good, do not strike me as significantly better than the Platinum (honestly, I am not sure that I could tell the Platinum and the Imperia apart).
Second, the other top of the line vodka producer is the Moscow Crystall Distillery. This company has a big selection of vodkas but one of them really shines: the Youri Dolgoruki or "Юрий Долгорукий" vodka. Named after the 12th century founder of Moscow, this vodka is at least as good, if not slightly superior, to the best Russian Standard versions. Alas, it is harder to find, at least in the USA, but if you do see it somewhere - grab it, you will not regret it.
There are, of course, plenty of other good vodkas out there, including quite a few from the Crystall Distillery, but these two (the Russian Standard Platinum and the Youri Dolgoruki) are, in my opinion, the best ones out there, and both can be obtained without paying an exorbitant price.
And while I am on the subject of vodka, allow me to share a few tips on how to drink vodka.
You will hear experts telling you that it is wrong to drink vodka ice cold, that it should be cool or even at room temperature. Nonsense! Don't trust them. Your bottle of vodka must absolutely spend the night in the freezer and should come out "steaming cold".
The best way to drink it is in a small shot glass called riumka (рюмка) in Russian. Nothing fancy at all, a basic simple shot glass like the one shown here is fine.
If you want, you can also use a more elegant glass like the second one shown here.
One thing you should absolutely avoid is to drink vodka from a regular glass. This is a vulgar Soviet-era habit which is the sad expression of a time when vodka was used simply as a source of alcohol simply to get trashed and not as a refined way of enjoying foods. Foods? Yes, absolutely.
The best way to enjoy vodka is definitely with food.
What kind of food?
There are many options here. In fact, most foods do benefit from being preceded by a shot of top quality ice-cold vodka. How? Nobody really knows, but it is a fact that our senses of taste and smell seem to be enhanced by a small shot of vodka. This is just a short list of what can be enjoyed with vodka:
Smoked salmon, crabs, pickles, mushrooms, baked appetizers (with meat or cabbage), black bread, salmon roe, black caviar, hot and cold soups, green onions, smoked herrings, backed potatoes with sour cream, hams, smoked sausages, etc. etc. etc. To get a feel for the possibilities, just go to google images and copy and paste the following two terms in the seachbar: закуски водка .
My personal favorite is the very basic combination of the Russian black bread, some chopped green onions, a few pickles and maybe a few marinated mushrooms. Simple stuff yes, but all these products must be 100% organic, top quality and homemade (for the mushrooms). Not the GMO and chemicals laced canned foods we are fed by corporations.
One more advice: do not waste any good vodka on cocktails. If you like Screwdrivers or Bloody-Marys use Stoli or even something cheaper.
Anyway, if the homo-lobby wants to boycott Russian vodka I would suggest that drinking it becomes a deliciously politically incorrect crimethink which, if your religion permits it, should be committed and encouraged. And, as everything else in life, this sampling of vodka should be done with taste, with moderation, and only with the best products possible.
PS: one more thing - don't drink too much vodka, or you might start feeling like this: :-)