Vodka is the world’s most popular spirit. It is also the one that, by law, must be colorless and of neutral flavor (unless flavored). These rules make vodka the dream date for mixers. Your bartender can do so much with vodka, therefor, sales are sky high.
But what is the world’s most popular spirit made from? Same as all alcohol, fermentation of plants! And then, because fermentation can only bring alcohol content to around 16% and vodka is about 35%, Vodka is also a distilled spirit.
Remember, during distillation the color is lost. And the more times a spirit goes through distillation, the more neutral the flavor becomes, which is perfect for clear, neutral vodka.
Vodka can, and is, made from many different plants, from corn to potatoes and tons of stuff in between.
How it’s Made
Vodka is one of the most simple of spirits. Because of its requirement of being clear and neutral, it is basically fermented, distilled and bottled. Vodka is often distilled more than once.
From every distillation run, the better vodka producers will take the middle flow of the distillation run. This middle part is referred to as the “heart.” The beginning of the run is the “heads” and the end is the “tails”. The heads and tails are not as pure and wonderful as the center heart run is. Thus, the better vodka producers only use the hearts.
Those vodka producers who don’t only use the heart of a distillation run are cheaply made and cheap to buy.
There are also cheap smoke detectors, condoms, bike helmets and car seats.
Cheap is cheap for a reason, and it’s usually not a good one.
Cheap vodka is made by cutting corners and providing the least quality product that the producer can get away with by law.
Why would you ever buy a cheapie vodka? To save money? Yes. That makes sense, but you get what you pay for. Cheap vodka is made by cutting corners and providing the least quality product that the producer can get away with by law. You can walk into a liquor store and buy a $6.00 bottle of vodka or a $35.00 bottle of vodka. What’s the difference? Generally speaking, the more expensive vodka will have used higher quality grain or grapes or potatoes or whatever, and get that product from a more reputable distillation house.
Quality distillers do a much better job at getting rid of the harmful and foul tasting heads and tails. They also distill their vodka more than once.
As we learned in the previous articles: (fermentation, malt, mash, distillation), any plant can be used to make alcohol. Why? Because every plant contains sugar, either available or in a starch state, and alcohol is simply sugar that was converted into alcohol via yeast.
There are hundreds of vodka brands, all using different base ingredients. Take a look below.
- Cardinal Sin Artisan
Corn is what makes America’s sweetheart drink: Bourbon. It is also a popular choice in the world of vodka. And to sweeten the pot, corn based vodka is a great choice if you suffer from celiaks disease or are gluten intolerant.
- Rain Organics
- Tito’s Handmade (my favorite)
- Mark One
- Tag No. 5
Grapes are usually only thought of as the creator of wine, but crazy as it seems, grapes make vodka too. Remember, any plant can be fermented and distilled, therefor any plant can make vodka. Vodkas made from grapes are also sage for gluten-free people.
- Hangar One
- Seagrams Wild Grape
- and many Three Olive vodkas are made from grapes
Potato based vodka is another great choice for those who can not consume gluten, because there is no gluten in potatoes! Potato vodka is always charcoal filtered.
- Blue Ice
As you see from this list, some of the most popular vodka brands use wheat as their base ingredient.
- Russian Standard
- Grey Goose
Vodka is neutral
Vodka is a neutral spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” It must be at least 30% ABV.
Neutral is kind of boring. Kind of. If you smell and taste a few vodka’s side by side, you will still notice some slight differences; it all depends on what was used to make it, just like the list above shows you; all vodkas do not all come from the same ingredient.
Most of the time vodka is made using wheat or rye, basically some type of grain. But, it can be made using any fermentable material. Potatoes are commonly used, beets are used, bison grass, molasses, grapes, etc.
The plant character does come through in the vodka but it is subtle. When compared to rum, whiskey and gin, vodka is pretty blasé. What’s great about vodka though, because of its neutral flavor and “lack of character,” it has excellent mixing ability.
Imagine buying a bottle of vodka to make yourself a dirty vodka martini. You even buy some fancy, expensive olives to garnish your dirty martini with.
You make the martini.
It’s ice cold and beautiful and you can’t wait to taste it!
You take a nice sip only to discover that the vodka you used was peach flavored.
Gross! Oh my God. That would be disgusting.
Vodka is supposed to be neutral, without character, flavor or aroma. Perfect for making a dirty vodka martini!
Lucky for us the above imaginary scenerio would never happen thanks to the law. If there is ever a flavor added to the vodka, it must be stated on the bottle.
And there are a ton of flavored vodka’s. To help you get an idea, I’ve listed some flavors below:
- 44 Degrees: Huckleberry
- Belvedere: Orange
- Cîroc: Peach
- Grey Goose: La Poire (Anjou pear)
- Modern Spirits: Black Truffle
- Three Olives: Green Apple
- Van Gogh: Banana
- Effin: Cucumber
- Kettle One: Citroen
- Absolut: Ruby Red
- Finlandia: Lime
- Smirnoff: Watermelon
- Hangar One: Mandarin Blossom
- Absolut: Peppar (pepper)
- Three Olives: Root beer
- Alaska Distillery: Salmon
So enjoy your vodka however you wish. The sky is the limit!