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What Is Vodka Made From? Types of Vodka

By
Lauren Platero
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Vodka is the primary liquor in many alcoholic beverages. From happy hour menus to your local liquor store, vodka is one of the most popular drinks of choice for numerous reasons. Vodka is known as a type of well liquor, which is a lower-cost alcohol that bartenders often use as a base for mixers, rather than top-shelf brands. It can be bold and flavorful or plain and mild. Regardless of which type of vodka you add to your glass, it’ll certainly boost your drink’s potency. 

Vodka comes in many different forms and flavors, which creates a diverse selection for mixed drinks or sipping it neat (completely on its own). Vodka is unique from one bottle to another. There are countless beverages that use the ingredient, yet it would be a challenge to find two that taste the same. Vodka is a staple in every bar, and cocktail menus would be much shorter without it. 

Before jumping into the many reasons why vodka is such a spectacular liquor to have on hand, let’s determine what it is and its origin. 

What Is Vodka?

By definition, vodka is a distilled alcoholic beverage. It is made by fermenting grains, such as rye, corn, and wheat. The beverage is clear, with very minimal scent and flavor notes. 

The history of vodka traces back to Russia, Poland, and Sweden. Throughout the years, vodka has become one of the most popular types of alcohol of all time for the boost it gives to mixers. Vodka remains the base liquor for many of the most popular cocktails in bars and restaurants. 

In the United States, vodka is classified as such once it reaches an ABV of 40% or higher, while it must be 37.5% in European countries. However, vodka usually has an ABV of 95%.

Learning how to calculate ABV is crucial before consuming such a high alcohol content. Since vodka has the highest alcohol content of all spirits worldwide, knowing how to correctly measure alcohol is critical when estimating the amount you’re about to consume (learn more about what does one part mean). 

Types of Vodka 

Lists of drink specials often contain several types of vodka. Plain vodka is a common ingredient in drinks to add a twist, while flavored vodkas are what the bar staff may choose to incorporate into drinks with more transparent flavor profiles. Supplementing a flavor in strong alcoholic beverages can create a smooth and easy-to-drink experience. Check out our complete bartender's guide book to explore creative drink ideas. 

Vodkas with additional flavors are easier to make than you might think. If you have a favorite flavor, you can probably find it in the vodka aisle. Infusion processes with fresh fruits and herbs occur by steeping the ingredients into finished vodkas, while some distilleries simplify the process by adding extracts and liquid flavors to the vodka. 

Since flavored vodka usually contains only one flavor ingredient, it’s a fantastic allergy-friendly option. The use of fewer ingredients during production limits the risks of cross-contamination, which gives consumers with severe allergies a wider variety. 

Many vodka brands sell plain and flavored versions. Here are some of the most popular vodka brands currently on the market:

  • Absolut 
  • Grey Goose
  • Tito’s
  • Ciroc
  • Van Gogh 

How Is Vodka Made?

Vodka is made from the fermentation of ingredients such as potatoes, grains, fruits, and sometimes sugar. Typically, grain is the most popular substance used during the fermentation process, with rye being more common than others.  

After the ingredients are added to water and brought to a boil, yeast is added to the mixture, which allows the fermentation process to begin. It is during the fermentation process that sugars are turned into alcohol. The fermentation substances generally vary from one geographic region to the next, but the process remains the same. 

Many consumers claim that vodkas made from potatoes are smoother, easier to drink, and offer a much better mouthfeel. It is also the healthier option, as it is gluten-free and has a low number of macronutrients. If you’re looking to drink vodka neat, opt for one derived from potatoes, as this kind of vodka typically has a greater flavor profile.

Only 3% of vodkas are derived from potatoes, so it’s a rare find for vodka enthusiasts. Though you may not find the vodka style on every shelf, the silky-smooth consistency and clean finish will make for an unforgettable drink. 

Five of the most popular vodka brands that use potatoes during the fermentation process include the following: 

  • Chopin
  • Blue Ice
  • Boyd and Blair
  • Monopolowa
  • Woody Creek

Origin of Vodka

The word “vodka” is derived from the Russian term voda, which translates to “water.” Historians often debate the origin of vodka, but the majority believe that it stems from Russia during the 14th century. Though many experts believe that vodka originated much earlier than the 14th century, there are few records and recipes that confirm an earlier discovery. 

By the 15th century, vodka was one of many high demand products to sell, and production was steady. Home stills and commercial distilleries began selling bottles consistently through the centuries and later distributed to Western European nations.

Originally, vodka was only popular in Poland and Russia, but it eventually became a popular choice for Americans and Europeans after World War II. Since this era, it has remained a best-selling liquor in Europe and the United States. 

Common Vodka Mixers 

You can enjoy vodka neat or as the base liquor for a cocktail. Between March and May, some of the spring cocktails containing vodka offer seasonal fruit juices, while other mixed drinks like martinis and cosmopolitans are found on various types of menus all year long. 

Vodka is usually the liquor of choice when creating a cocktail since it doesn’t disrupt the flavors of the other ingredients. Other alcoholic beverages like rum and whiskey have such a distinct flavor that they don’t always pair well with mixers.

In fact, this is why many consumers and bartenders get creative with adding vodka, whereas whiskey brands often create their own blends with unique flavors. For these types of alcohol, adding new flavor notes can warrant much more experimentation than it does with plain, odorless vodka. 

If you’re feeling unsure of what to ask the bartender but want to try vodka, the following popular mixers are delicious and will create a super simple combination (learn about more drinks to know as a bartender):

  • Cranberry juice to create an approachable and simple drink to sip. 
  • Club soda, which makes a fizzy match for many meals. 
  • Strawberry lemonade to create one of many refreshing summer cocktails.
  • Orange juice, which would make a Screwdriver. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Vodka 

What Kind of Alcohol Is Vodka?

Vodka is ethyl alcohol without a smell or flavor, according to United States government documentation. However, many brands add slight alterations to make them different from others on the market. Unique differences may include flavorings, dyes, and water to dilute the flavor intensity. 

Is Vodka Just Alcohol? 

Yes, vodka is a form of pure alcohol with zero impurities. However, many vodka brands sell formulas that are diluted with water to eliminate the robust strength.  

Vodkas with artificial and natural flavors might already be diluted with fruit juices and extracts. It pairs well with so many mixers since the combination creates a balance. With this in mind, drink responsibly!

How Do You Drink Vodka? 

Consumers can drink vodka in several different ways, including on the rocks, with a mixer such as juice or soda, and as a shot. Vodka has a robust flavor and provides an intense mouthfeel, so many people opt for a sweet and fruity mixer. However, combining vodka with a mixer isn’t necessary, and you may even enjoy it neat–especially if it’s in one of your favorite flavors.