Costco's store-brand imported vodka has earned an impressive cult following — especially for such a bargain booze. It's won over spirits aficionados both behind the bar and the byline, as they rave about its clean, silky flavor, and speculate about its origins.
Many think Kirkland's French Vodka is Grey Goose in disguise because it's made in the same distillery. Others say it can't be because, at about $20 for nearly two liters, it's one-third the price of the Goose. One thing's for sure, though: Nearly everyone agrees it's amazing.
Could it really be just as delicious (or, as some tasters have reported, even better than) as that premium brand? In order to clear up this mystery, and see if Kirkland's French Vodka was really worth all the hype, I had to give it a try.
Since I live in Portland, Oregon, this was no easy feat. Costco can't sell liquor in Oregon but I managed to get my hands on a bottle, plus Kirkland's American vodka too, which is impressively distilled six times. With these bottles in hand, I set up a tasting at Shift Drinks, my favorite cocktail den in Portland, where I knew owners/industry vets Alise Moffatt and Anthony Garcia could lend their expertise, plus a few other vodka brands for a more comprehensive comparison.
Because we had to conduct our tasting before the bar opened, there weren't enough staff members on hand to cajole into setting up a blind tasting for us. But none of us had any prejudices, preconceived notions, or even the slightest inkling of how things would shake out, so it didn't really matter. In fact, we were collectively shocked when we all chose — you guessed it — the Kirkland French Vodka as our favorite.
Here's how it went.
1. Kirkland French Vodka
Right away we noticed this vodka's viscosity. It was silky, with a medium-weight heft akin to a white wine (most of the others we tried were more watery). Anthony praised the vodka's "supple" mouthfeel and "fresh linen" aroma. Alise agreed, saying it was "sweet and bright."
Anthony and I both picked this Polish vodka as our second favorite (although the Reyka was very close). It wasn't quite as weighty as the Kirkland, but had a similar creamy mouthfeel — this time paired with vegetal notes of spicy horseradish.
This was Alise's second favorite and was very nearly mine and Anthony's too. A newer "hipster" vodka from Iceland aimed at young, discerning drinkers, it had a lighter weight to it than our first two picks, but it was very smooth with a clean, sweet taste offering up intriguing mineral notes. "It smells like river rock," said Anthony. And indeed we could almost taste them.
4. Ketel One
Similar in silky viscosity to the Kirkland, this ubiquitous classic distilled from European wheat tasted "austere," with faint "metallic" notes and earthy/mineral-y hints of "boiled potato skin." Not our favorite, but not our least favorite, either.
5. Grey Goose
This is the spirit that everyone thinks is secretly poured into bottles of Kirkland, but it was clear right away that this is a very different product. It wasn't as silky and weighty and had far more alcohol heat both on the nose and the palate even though both are 80 proof. Flavor notes skewed toward daikon radish, white pepper, and lemon pith.
6. Kirkland American Vodka
We all scored this one last, mainly because it was so boring. It seems after being distilled six times all the flavor was distilled right out of it. It went down as thin and tasteless as water, with a peppercorn bite at the end, which Alise noted gave it a very "gin-like element."
What do you think? Do you prefer Costco's French vodka? Something else? Tell us in the comments below!