Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Is $10 Exclusiv Vodka As Good as Grey Goose?

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


I got a flu shot the other day, even though I am a paragon of health and I have very little contact with the short and sneezy subset of humanity that spreads disease via finger paint snot art and sociopathic disregard for personal space. I'm not a kindergarten teacher, an emergency room nurse, or any other sort of virus magnet, but I still got flu-proofed the other day because Bottom Shelf research director Emily told me to, and I do what I'm told when all it requires is a 5-minute pit stop on the way to the ham store.

Even though I'm not likely to catch the flu and I try to limit my exposure to needles and bureaucracy, I didn't mind filling out a couple of forms and getting shot in the arm, because I try to do my part for herd immunity. And, like I said, Emily told me to, and I figured I should listen to her because she is definitely my wife and possibly a doctor.

I'm not entirely certain what Emily does all day. I know she works at a hospital, and she's not the janitor or the accountant, but I don't think she's a doctor—or at least not a doctor-doctor—either. She went to grad school for a hundred years and she wears those doctor sweatpants to work sometimes, which would seem to argue in favor of physician-hood, but then that doesn't explain why my Lexus is short a couple wheels and says Schwinn down the side. Beats me. All I know is she works at a hospital with her buddy Jessica.

Jessica went to our wedding, where she met our friend Alex. Emily and I usually aren't big on arranging romantic matches, because we're selfish and because most of our friends are either picky or undateable, but we thought Jessica and Alex might make a nice team because they both have the good sense to like us and liquor. They are now happily drinking together several nights a week. Jessica favors tequila, as do most honest women, while Alex is more of a Jameson kind of fellow. But he'll drink high-end vodka in his Red Bull from time to time, and he's from Russia, and this is a story about vodka, so let's take this opportunity to address Exclusiv, a newish wheat vodka from Moldova.

It turns out Moldova doesn't even border Russia (Romania and Ukraine), but I don't have any Moldovan friends and I do have a deadline, so we're sticking with the Alex theme here. Alex makes a good living but I'd still like to find him a cheaper substitute for his Grey Goose, because Jessica likes boats and yet for some reason does not own a boat. I'm not one to tell a man how to run his relationship, but I will note that I got a flu shot just to keep my wife happy, because sometimes you have to indulge your partner's desire for luxuries such as rudimentary walk-in health care and boats.

I'd never heard of Exclusiv until their publicist emailed me a couple weeks ago to announce that this up and coming import focuses on quality and value rather than flash and packaging, which allows Exclusiv to be "on par with competition like Grey Goose and Ketel One." She called Exclusiv one of the "highest quality vodkas on the market" and noted that it won Double Gold in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Sounds like Jessica better start thinking of boat names, right?

Sadly, no. Exclusiv isn't bad, and it's certainly worth the $10, but when I tasted it blind next to Grey Goose (both are wheat-based), it was depressingly easy to tell the difference from the first whiff. Grey Goose smells like very little, with light pine and a hint of citrus astringency the only clues that it's not water. Exclusiv smells like cheap vodka: predominantly nail polish remover, albeit with an admittedly pleasant undercurrent of vanilla.

The good news for bargain-hunters and Moldovophiles is that the difference is less pronounced where it counts: Exclusiv's bark is worse than its bite, as the chemical notes are muted in the drinking. Exclusiv is eminently drinkable, and I will keep my free sample around for Bloody Marys and what not. It is not, however, "on par with competition like Grey Goose."