Understanding Vodka

by AlexanderandJames

Understanding Vodka; its origins, the distilling process, the taste and flavoured vodka

You might be surprised at how much you don’t know about vodka; it is possibly one of the least understood and misrepresented spirits around. Despite myths such as, “It has no taste” or “It’s too harsh to drink on its own”, vodka remains one of the most consumed spirits, its natural flavour often being diluted in sweet cocktails or mixers.

Vodka 101

One common misconception is that all vodka is made from potatoes. By definition, vodka is simply water and ethanol. The word itself is derived from the Slavic term for water “voda”. Vodka is commonly made from grains such as corn, rye and wheat but it can also be made from apples, beets or grapes, such as Cîroc vodka. It is a highly distilled spirit, usually to approximately 190 proof (about 95% alcohol) before it is diluted.

Ciroc Vodka
Ciroc Vodka

What makes a vodka ‘clean’?

The distilling process increases vodka’s smoothness but also tends to remove its natural character; this is why vodka is considered a neutral spirit. Components such as ‘heads’ (ethyl lactate) or ‘tails’ (fusel oils) are removed during this process by the distiller, with some vodka going through as many as five distillations before being bottled. Filtering can be done either during the distillation process or afterwards to remove any final traces of unwanted substances that might affect the vodka’s flavour. Dilution with water, after distillation, brings the alcohol content down to a more drinkable level (around 40%). Vodka is usually unaged, allowing it to be bottled right after distillation.

The taste of vodka

If you’re wondering how a ‘neutral’ spirit can have taste, it really comes down to the quality of the ingredients used at the initial stages of fermentation and the distillation process. A well distilled vodka is often described as being ‘clean’, referring to the lack of impurities. Unlike American vodkas, European vodkas tend to retain more of the spirit’s natural flavours in order to maintain a distinct taste.

Flavoured vodkas

Although flavoured vodkas such as orange, peach or raspberry have been around for a while, the flavours used vary with many using artificial ingredients to mimic particular flavour notes.  It’s worth reading the label carefully if you want to ensure your vodka uses only natural sources.

A well-chosen vodka is a luxurious gift appealing to a broad range of people and is good to keep in mind for both friends and colleagues.

Ketel One Citroen Vodka
Ketel One Citroen Vodka
Ciroc Coconut Vodka
Ciroc Coconut Vodka
Updated: 06/17/2013, AlexanderandJames
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