The Story of Vodka
Vodka’s origins continue to be contested but currently there appears to be a draw between Russia and Poland who both lay claim to its invention. Early records trace vodka’s origins back a thousand years to Eastern Europe and seemingly equally to the sparring duo. Even the word for vodka (voda in Russian, wódka in Polish) is the same and literally means “little water,” the water of life.
Both countries first used it for medicinal purposes and it’s still used to treat ailments today. The Russians began commercial vodka production in the 14th century and gave distilling licenses to the nobility which led to a rampant moonshine industry. Early written records of Polish vodka production date back to about the same time and commercial distilleries were common in both countries by the 18th century.
Russian Vodka is a famous alcoholic beverage of exceptional quality that is loved and enjoyed by millions of people around the World.
Today vodka is made the world over: in Russia and Poland, plus Sweden, Finland, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Estonia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greenland, New Zealand, Japan, the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and just about everywhere else.
Unlike wine and beer, vodka is relatively simple and quick to produce. It can be made from just about anything that contains starch that can be fermented into alcohol, such as grains (wheat and rye are most common), potatoes, beets, corn, sugar cane and grapes. Some vodkas have been made from apples, carrots, onion, bread and even hemp seed. The Czech Republic lays claim to to the hemp variety.
The process involves water fermented together with the chosen starch and yeast. The resulting “wash” is distilled in continuous stills or pot stills until the distillate is ultra pure and neutral tasting. Pot stills leave more flavour of the raw ingredients. For further refinement, many vodkas are filtered through charcoal. The way the spirit is distilled and what it’s made from ensure that each brand has a distinct smell, flavour, aftertaste and burn. Most vodkas are 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume).
Vodka by nature and design is a neutral spirit without distinctive aroma, character, taste or colour and is measured by purity standards. In spite of this legal definition, most vodkas do have a subtle uniqueness of character, flavour and aroma. Those made from potatoes will taste oilier and fuller-bodied than those made with rye or corn. Generally, Eastern European vodkas have discernable tastes and character, while Western vodkas tend to be more neutral with little obvious flavour. The best have purity and depth – they’re elegant, neutral and balanced. Vodka’s mouth feel (for example, oily or silky), the burn (a good thing) and aftertaste are key.
Today’s bartenders use vodka to enhance and amplify other flavourful ingredients like tinctures, bitters, herbs, fresh juices and other liquors or liqueurs in their craft cocktails. More often than not they’ll use a top-shelf vodka in step with the quality of the other ingredients to deliver a superior drink.
How do you know which vodka to choose? Cost, taste and how you are going to consume it – in mixed drinks and cocktails, neat or on ice – all factor in.