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Vodka 101

From parties to supermarket shelves, Vodka has been an ever-present drink across our adult lives, something we recognise easily, from it’s clear complexion. But what exactly is Vodka, and how is it made?

In modern times, we associate this clear, colorless drink with Russia, with Vodka meaning “little water” in Russian. But did you know, the word Vodka first appeared in Polish court documents all the way back in 1405? Regardless, we’re not here to dispute the origins of vodka, and so, let’s get right to talking about what is vodka.

Traditionally, vodka is made with grain, with rye most commonly used. Water is added to the grain of choice, followd by heating of the mixture. Yeast is added subsequently, with the heat resulting in fermentation, converting the sugars to alcohol. Thereafter, the distillation process begins.

After distillation, the vodka is judged, quite literally, through a trial by fire. The freshly distilled vodka is exposed directly to a flame; If it lights up, the vodka has passed the test, if not, it is seen as too weak and will be distilled again. As a general rule of thumb, vodka is free of flavor, which is achieved by repeated heating and distillation. While the vodka cools from this process, it returns to a liquid state and is ready to be filtered and bottled.

Now that we know a bit more about vodka, let’s talk about the various types of vodka available for you to discover. A common misconception is that all vodkas are made with potatoes, but potato-based vodka is just one of three main vodka categories - Neutral Grain Spirit, Potato-based and Fruit-based.

Neutral Grain Spirit, as its name suggests, is odorless, colorless and considered neutral in flavor. The making of a neutral grain spirit involves 3 steps

  1. Selecting a raw material
  2. Fermentation
  3. Distillation and rectification.

Contrary to popular belief, a very small amount of vodkas produced worldwide are actually Potato-based vodka’s, taking up only 3% of worldwide vodka’s available. One possible reason for potato-based vodka being such a niche segment may be due to its increased complexity when it comes to the fermentation, with the added fact that the potatoes need to be peeled before the distillation process.

That being said, potato-based vodkas are able to distinguish themselves from other vodkas with their earthy, nutty flavor contributing to a savory vodka with a taste considered more fleshy than the other types of vodka.

Fruit-based vodka, as we commonly recognise in the form of raspberry, grapefruit or even watermelon flavors, are produced in one of two ways - through an infusion process of the base vodka or through added flavoring.

Infused vodka, as its name suggests, requires the base vodka go through an infusion process. Naturally, this will lengthen the time taken to produce the vodkas, by about 3 full weeks. This however, makes the drink much more flavourful with its added colors and aromas, resulting in a unique, enjoyable taste suitable for most. Some examples of infused vodka include the Absolut range and Smirnoff Apple (as shown above).

Flavored vodka, being similar to Infused Vodka with the added taste to the drink, is often looked at as one and the same. However, flavored vodka does not go through the same, lengthier infusion process as infused vodka, which consists of base ingredients such as fruits and herbs. Instead, flavored vodka is made by adding artificial flavoring to the base vodka, or through a more natural process by adding in fruits during the distillation process.


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