Vodka is one of the staple alcoholic beverages in kitchen bars. BUT, have you ever wondered where that clear water-like liquid comes from?
This versatile spirit has an interesting story behind what we know it as today. You might be surprised to know its origins and how it’s actually made.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the crowd-favorite alcohol in the world.
What Is Vodka?
Everyone who has tried alcohol has probably drank vodka at least ONCE in their life.
Without a doubt, this strong alcoholic drink IS VERY VERSATILE.
- It can easily blend in almost any mix to produce cocktails.
- You can add to any beverage to spice it up.
- Others prefer to pour it into small glasses and take it as a shot.
Although it comes in many forms today, the regular vodka DOES NOT have any color nor flavoring.
Unlike other alcohols, after treating and distilling vodka, there should be no other materials or additives mixed in that would alter its taste, aroma, color, and character.
This differentiates regular vodka from other spirits. Vodka doesn’t carry over the flavor or taste of its source to its FINAL state.
To give an example: the distinct taste of TEQUILA is derived from BLUE AGAVE. Meanwhile, GIN retains the flavor drawn from JUNIPER BERRIES.
What Is the Standard Alcoholic Content for Vodka?
Believe it or not, there is a CLEAR SET OF RULES in place that regulates vodka production.
The United States’ Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau dictates that regular vodkas should be “bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).”
In simpler words, regular vodka today is made from a mixture of water and ethanol that collectively reaches a PROOF OF 80 – and no less.
What Was Vodka Originally Made Out Of?
There isn’t a definite nor proven account of where it was first created. There is a DIVIDE as to where it comes from.
Among a number of countries claiming the birth of Vodka – there are two that are highly plausible: RUSSIA and POLAND.
Let’s look at the etymology of vodka. The Russian word voda means water. Meanwhile, Poland has woda – which translates to the same word.
Historians suggest these are possible ways of how the word VODKA came about.
Discovery and Spread of Vodka
Although the history of vodka suggests it can be traced back to the 1300s or even earlier, this alcoholic drink hasn’t been widely known until the 1900s.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 paved vodka’s popularity in Europe – which may also be the reason why most would allude this drink to the Russians.
Russian families and groups migrated to parts of Europe. This started the proliferation of vodka across the continent and to the world.
Why Did People Start Making Vodka?
The main ingredient of this drink is actually POTATOES – who would’ve guessed?
Originally, vodka was made from the humble spud (some companies still use this today)and only averages 14% alcohol content. It was drunk for MEDICINAL PURPOSES.
The natural fermentation process of vodka makes it a good antiseptic or disinfectant.
In some movies, you might spot some characters pouring vodka over a knife to disinfect it before they perform a crude operation. It is a reference to how people used this to sterilize the equipment before cutting into a human’s skin.
Some accounts also suggest that Russians drank vodka to KEEP THEM WARM during harsh winters.
After a small amount of vodka consumption, it is known to generate warmth not only in your mouth but also throughout the body.
TRIVIA: Vodka was previously referred to as “burnt wine” due to its distinct taste. Of course, the burn comes from its high alcoholic content.
Other Sources of Vodka
Aside from potato vodka, some ferment any GRAIN that contains starch such as corn, rice, or rye.
One can also produce vodka by fermenting fruits (e.g. sugar cane, beet roots, grapes), vegetables, milk whey, and molasses.
How Is Vodka Made?
Now that we know where vodka comes from – the only question that remains is, “how is it made?”
There are different methods and grains used in manufacturing vodka all over the world.
Apart from the grain or product that will be fermented, or also known as “mash“, the procedure would also require malt meal and some yeast.
However, although some things and components may differ, they all share a common way of making vodka.
Stage 1: Fermentation & Filtration
MALT serves as the agent that would convert starch to sugar. Meanwhile, YEAST enzymes are necessary in order to produce alcohol. The enzymes break down the mash and extracts the oxygen.
The whole process would take 2-4 days to complete.
- It starts by HEATING the mash with the water and malt mixture.
- After heating, any solid waste or material would be strained and removed from the mixture. This stage produces fermented sugars in the remaining liquid – which is commonly referred to as wash.
- Once the wash is cooled down, it’s stored in a vat where the yeast would be added. It’s crucial to seal it tightly so the yeast can properly break down the sugar and turn it into ethyl alcohol.
Stage 2: Distillation
Depending on the manufacturer, the wash can stay in the vat for 2-4 days.
After this period, the wash is heated again until the final outcome is somewhere between 30-40% ABV.
- To achieve the crystal clear quality of vodka, the wash is distilled AT LEAST three times to remove any impurities.
- Distilling the raw spirit is also a way to eliminate traces of H2O that was placed in the first stage. In effect, the alcohol’s volume is greatly increased.
Companies nowadays use the distillation count as an indicator of vodka quality. Experts suggest that the vodka which undergoes the most distillation process has better quality and overall taste.
For example, Ciroc boasts 5 distillation stages of their vodka.
However, NOT ALL companies have hopped on this trend.
Grey Goose’s vodka only undergoes one stage of distillation. This is made possible by the quality French ingredients they use to make the vodka.
Stage 3: Dilution
The final stage is when companies process the final product before making it available to the market.
There are cases when companies DO NOT dilute the final product. This leads to it having HIGH ABV which makes it impossible to consume on its own.
Commonly known as “rectified spirits”, these liquids are bottled and sold without adding other components.
A good example of this is Everclear. Banned in around 15 states, their vodka reaches 190 PROOF – TWICE than the average and recommended proof for vodka.
#1 – The Most Expensive Bottle of Vodka Retails at $3,750,000 USD!
Leon Verres’ Billionaire Vodka is the most expensive vodka in the market. The vodka is made from an old Russian recipe. The processing of its raw wash is also quite exquisite.
It also goes through THREE particular distilling processes – the first one is through ice, followed by a Nordic birch charcoal, and the final stage is with crushed diamonds.
#2 – Drink It Cold
Like most liquors and cocktails, vodka is best served chilled. Consuming lukewarm vodka is incredibly warm and leaves a lingering unpleasant taste.
Consumption of vodka is easier and more enjoyable when it is ICE-COLD. Pop it in the fridge for roughly an hour. In this way, it accentuates the taste of the vodka without the drying, warm feeling.
Try it. Your taste buds will thank you!
#3 – Vodka Is Lighter Than Water
Looks may be deceiving.
If you have 2 identical glasses in front of you – one of them containing water and the other vodka, how would you tell the difference without tasting? WEIGH THEM!
The lighter one is the vodka as it weighs 5% less than H2O.
#4 – The Day It Ran Out of Vodka in Russia
Russia experienced a vodka drought on May 9, 1945.
This isn’t because they stopped making vodka. The reason behind this is that the Russians partied a bit too much when the Soviet Union won over the Nazis.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Grey Goose vodka made from?
Grey Goose prides itself from only distilling their vodka ONCE.
There are only two things in their ingredient list which are both sourced from France: spring water from Gensac-La-Pallue and soft single-origin winter wheat grains from the Picardy region.
What brand of vodka is made from potatoes?
There are a number of brands that produce vodkas made from potatoes – Luksusowa, Karlsson’s Gold Vodka, Vesica, Chopin, Chase Original Vodka.
Among these, the most awarded and recognized potato based vodka is Chopin Vodka.
Is Absolut vodka made from potatoes?
No. Contrary to common belief, Absolut does not use potatoes to craft their vodka. They actually make it from winter wheat grains as their mash to produce their famous vodka drink.
The rich history of vodka gives a GLIMPSE to the different usage of this alcoholic beverage.
Behind the clear liquid is a rigorous process to achieve high quality vodka.
And who knows, the history of vodka might be an interesting story to tell before you open and drink that bottle of vodka!
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.