Americans love their vodka. Bloody Marys at brunch, après work dirty martinis and if the mood calls for it – White Russian nightcaps. We love it shaken, stirred, on the rocks and for the purists – chilled, neat. We can’t get enough of this potent spirit and lucky for us we have over 300 brands to choose from.

Crap, we have 300 brands to choose from. Gothamist started wondering what differentiates one brand from the next? If vodka is supposed to be a “neutral” spirit, then wouldn’t all premium vodkas taste the same? Well, since our editor wouldn’t approve a trip to Russia, we went to Pravda in search of answers.

As we stepped downstairs, out of the frigid cold, into Pravda – it felt as if we were transported to Russia. The heat from the bar quickly warmed our hands and toes, leaving the vodka to warm everything else. We took a seat at the bar and placed ourselves in the hands of Pravda’s Vodka Expert/Barkeep Extraordinaire – Francis.

We began tasting vodka, served chilled, neat in a shot glass. To cleanse our pallet we nibbled on pickled mushrooms and sipped water. Our first sip - Zyr Vodka from Russia - was surprisingly full of character, not water with an alcohol burn like we anticipated (apparently – we should lay off the Pov Pov). We noticed a slight citrus character with a peppery bite. We went on to try 10 different vodkas, some we loved and others made us wince…but hands down, there was one clear winner, Stolichnaya (Stoli) Gold.

[For favorites and more, continue reading after the jump]

The Stoli Gold was by far the smoothest vodka we tried. This vodka had all the bite without any of the burn we noticed in other vodkas (ehehemm…Grey Goose).

Our Favorites:
Stolichnaya Gold, Russia, 80 Proof
Staraya Moskva, Russia, 80 Proof
Jewel of Russia Ultra, Russia, 80 Proof
Potocki, Poland, 80 Proof

Noteworthy Vodkas:
Level, Sweden, 80 Proof
Belvedere, Poland, 80 Proof
Zyr, Russia, 80 Proof

Not worth the hangover:
Grey Goose, France, 80 Proof
Ciroc Snap Frost Vodka, France, 80 Proof

While, the 10 vodkas we tried hardly put a dent in the 300 there are to choose from, this tasting helped us to understand the wonderful, subtle personality of vodka. This unassuming spirit has depth and character that is often masked with juices and sodas. If we love vodka this much now - just wait till we really get to know it.