40 –50 % Alcohol By Volume
Vodka was first produced in fourteenth century in Eastern Europe. However, Vodka didn’t come to the United States for quite some time. Most American’s didn’t understand Vodka because of its simplicity. Americans were accustom to drinking more complexed spirits like Bourbon or Rum. Shortly after the second World War, Americans found Vodkas calling in mixed drinks. A Californian restaurateur named Jack Morgan, tried to unload excess amounts of ginger ale by creating the Moscow Mule. The Moscow Mule consisted of Vodka, ginger ale, and a lime. Then, Hollywood took the spirit to new heights. In 1955, Vodka sales accounted for three percent of the American spirit market. In 1982, vodka jumped to holding twenty-two percent of the same market. Today, Vodka consists of nearly a quarter of the entire market.
Vodka, in Russian means “small water.” Vodka is a distilled spirit produced without distinctive character, aroma or taste and produced by methods approved by the federal government. The only requirement for producing vodka is to treat neutral spirits in such a manner as to render it completely free from any trace of “distinctive characteristics.” However, most vodkas have a slight scent or taste that accompanies it. Neutral spirits are high proof alcoholic distillate that presumably lacks character, aroma or taste. The product has been purified to a high degree and contains only minute traces of congeners (solids, acids, esters, aldehydes and fusel oil). The fact that these substances are not completely screened out by distillation is what requires the vodka to devise other means of removing them. Vodka is produced by a traditional distillation process that renders it a high proof liquor. The proof of the spirit refers to the spirits alcohol content. Vodka is not necessarily more potent than any other distilled spirit. It has its potency marked on every label, usually 80 to 100 proofs. Vodka can be produced by either starches or grains such as corn or wheat. Grain vodka is considered to be the superior of all vodkas. Vodka is distilled from a fermented mash. Vodka relies on pure water and natural grain and is distilled at a high proof to make it a neutral spirit.
Rye is the most common raw material in Poland, and also finds its way into some Russian vodkas. It tends to produce vodka with a nose reminiscent of rye bread, and has a pleasing sweet spiciness on the palate.
Wheat is the most popular grain for vodka in general, and is the grain of choice in Russia. Wheat vodkas are frequently associated with a clean flavour and an aniseed finish, sometimes with an oily mouthfeel.
It is easy to imagine a spirit made from potatoes being an inferior product, whereas in truth potato vodkas tend to be more expensive than their grain counterparts. The potatoes used for vodka production have a much higher level of starch than ordinary potatoes, yet the yield is still much lower than any of the other common raw materials, which drives the production costs up. Potato vodkas tend to have a creamy flavour and texture, with a weighty mouthfeel. They are generally a speciality of Poland, though they can be found in other countries.
Corn has the largest yield of the grains and is generally only used in western vodkas. It is associated with buttery, sweetcorn flavours.
Barley is the least common of the grains used in vodka, and is usually associated with Finland. It tends to have a smooth, slightly sweet flavour.
Molasses tends to be used in cheaper vodkas, though this depends on the cost of grain. A vodka made from molasses must now state this on the label (in fact, any vodka not made from grain or potatoes must state its raw material on the label).
Other Raw Materials
Some modern vodkas are made from a mixture of materials. These are generally known as ‘multigrain’. Others are made using more distinctive ingredients, such as grapes, sorghum or quinoa.