So, you're tired of drinking bottom-shelf vodka, but you can't afford to drink Grey Goose and Belvedere all the time, or your just fed up with outrageous prices.
Time to bust out the charcoal! No, not the briquettes you use to grill with. I'm talking about activated charcoal, aka activated carbon. The same stuff that's in most home water filters (BRITA, anyone?). The stuff looks like gunpowder and is really cheap, despite what the filter company may try to tell/sell you.
My local homebrew shop carries bags of the stuff, and in fact it was Mike Schwartz, owner of Belmont Party Supply, who turned us on to it. As my fiance and I stood in line holding our 1.75 L bottle of Kamchatka, Mr. Schwartz explained that we could turn our bottom-shelf beverage into a product comparable to Grey Goose with a few simple steps. And boy was he ever right! A few runs through this system and you'll have your friends wondering why you're serving good stuff instead of your usual swill. Hell, go ahead and put it in a bottle labeled "house vodka". Best part is, you can use this system for water too, although I wouldn't use the same charcoal!
If you don't have an awesome homebrew shop, look at pet supply stores or water specialists. The same stuff is used in aquarium filters.
This is really easy. Here we go:
Easy Liquid Filter
-pinch of activated charcoal
-2 liter or other plastic food-grade bottle with plastic cap
1. Cut the clean and rinsed 2 liter bottle in half, discard lower half
2. Poke a few holes in the bottle cap with your knife, and screw it on tight.
3. Invert the bottle's top half (makeshift filtration vessel) and line the inside with your coffee filter. You might want to run a little water into it to get the filter to adhere to the bottle. The filter should cover the holes you poked in the lid.
4. Put a little pinch of your activated charcoal in the rig.
5. Pour vodka or whatever you want to filter into your new tool. Just make sure you have something to catch your filtered liquid underneath! Usually I just set the bottle-half on top of a big glass.
And that's it! One run through and your vodka will improve noticeably, two runs and you won't even recognize it. This smooths and mellows out the flavor so much you'll want to start drinking it straight (wuss). Alternatively, you could tie the activated charcoal into a tea bag and swish it around in your vodka for a while, or you could just dump some straight in your bottle and shake it. I prefer using a filter because I don't like granules of stuff in my vodka, although consuming the charcoal won't hurt you. If you want to be really fancy, try running the vodka through five or six times. All of a sudden that "six times charcoal-filtered" label on the bottle of Ripovf vodka eight shelves up doesn't seem so daunting, does it?
What exactly is happening in your simple filter? Well, fusel oils (a major hangover cause) and other bad-tasting/smelling impurities are being absorbed into the charcoal's many pores, leaving us with a purer product. If you filter your water, it will absorb the chlorine, among other things. But remember, your little pinch of charcoal can only absorb a certain amount. You can work off the same pinch for a while, but you'll definitely be able to tell when it's no longer working by the change in taste...and you'll remember why you started doing this in the first place! Just toss your used charcoal and load the filter with a new pinch. Good as new.
You can use this method for other spirits, but remember, charcoal-filtration will change the flavor. Some impurities give certain alcohols their characteristics; for example, you don't want to filter bourbon. The best effects are achieved by starting with neutral spirits, e.g. vodka, gin, grain alcohol (everclear). Although I must say, one of my best homemade wines ever was a batch of blueberry, charcoal-filtered and fortified with brandy.
If you already have one of the pitcher-type water filters, you could just run your vodka through there a few times and have a comparable product. But look into buying some activated charcoal, and get a load of this. No harm in saving a few bucks, right?
P.S. - Send me a bottle of your filtered vodka and I'll tell you if you did it right