Vodka is the world's most popular spirit, but its rich potential for natural taste is also the least appreciated. In the West, distillers filter the hooch heavily to create a neutral liquor that adds an undetectable kick to your Moscow mule or bloody Mary. But in vodka's homelands, Poland and Russia, distillers follow a different philosophy. Their brews retain the character of the original ingredients, which can include anything organic and fermentable, from potatoes to grain to beets. And although these artisan vodkas are best drunk neat and chilled, some connoisseurs suggest sampling the spirit in a wine glass at room temperature. This allows the vodka to aerate and, when it hits your tongue, reveal its true flavor. If you feel a burning or tingling in your mouth, then you're drinking the cheap stuff. A good vodka will create a warming sensation that gradually spreads through your body. So put away the soda water and tomato juice these vodkas deserve the glass to themselves.
Call it alcohol alchemy. This talented firm of Polish distillers has perfected the art of transmuting the humble potato into a super-smooth and creamy drink. It's an excellent body warmer, ideal for downing after a day on the ski slopes. ($60; www.chopinvodka.com)
First produced by the aristocratic Potocki family in 1816, this is a liquor with a legacy. Made from Polish rye, it's distilled only twice and is unfiltered, letting it keep its nutty aroma and robust, chocolatey taste. ($60; www.potockivodka.com)
JEWEL OF RUSSIA ULTRA
Don't be fooled by the imposing packaging this Russian wheat vodka is surprisingly delicate. Any impurities are removed during a five-stage process in which the spirit is filtered through charcoaled peach and apricot pits. ($120; www.jewelofrussia.com)
The hip-hop star's vodka of choice: both Jay-Z and Missy Elliott like to big up this silky Polish brew. Made from a single type of grain Dankowskie gold rye and water from the distillery's own wells, this slightly sweet spirit makes a perfect vodka martini. ($50; www.belvedere-vodka.com)