| Vodka Overview
Vodka is the dominant spirit of Eastern
Europe. It is made by fermenting and then distilling the simple sugars from a
mash of pale grain or vegetal matter. Vodka is produced from grain, potatoes,
molasses, beets, and a variety of other plants. The choice of pot or column
still has a fundamental effect on the final character of Vodka. All Vodka comes
out of the still as a clear, colorless spirit, but Vodka from a pot still (the
same sort used for Cognac and Scotch whisky) will contain some of the delicate
aromatics, congeners, and flavor elements of the crop from which it was
produced. Pot stills are relatively "inefficient," and the resulting
spirit from the first distillation is usually redistilled (rectified) to
increase the proof of the spirit. Vodka from a more "efficient"
column still is usually a neutral, characterless spirit. Except for a few minor
styles, Vodka is not put in wooden casks or aged for an extensive period of
time. It can, however, be flavored or colored with a wide variety of fruits,
herbs, and spices.
Ukraine, Belarus and Polish Vodka: Rye and wheat are the
classic grains for vodka, with most of the best Russian Vodkas being made from
wheat and some from Rye. In Poland they are mostly made from a rye mash but
some are from potato. Most of the high- quality brands are produced in pot
stills. In Poland, Vodkas are graded according to their degree of purity:
standard (zwykly), premium (wyborowy) and deluxe (luksusowy). In Russia Vodka
that is labeled osobaya (special) usually is a superior-quality product that
can be exported, while krepkaya (strong) denotes an overproof Vodka of at least
56% ABV. While most vodka is not flavored, the Russians and Poles in particular
still market dozens of flavors. Some of the better known types are:
Vodka flavored with an infusion of dried lemon and orange peels.
Lemon-flavored Vodka, usually with a touch of sugar added.
-"Hunters" Vodka is flavored with a mix of ginger, cloves, lemon
peel, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices. It is then blended with sugar
and a touch of a wine similar to white port. A most unusual Vodka.
-Pepper-flavored Vodka, made with both black peppercorns and red chili peppers.
"Old" Vodka, a holdover from the early centuries of Vodka production,
which can be infused with everything from fruit tree leaves to brandy, Port,
Malaga wine, and dried fruit. Some brands are aged in oak casks.
Zubrowka in Polish; Vodka flavored with buffalo (or more properly
"bison") grass, an aromatic grass favored by the herds of the rare
In recent years numerous other flavored
Vodkas have been launched on the world market. The most successful of these
have been fruit flavors such as currant and orange.
and Canadian Vodka: American distillers use the full range of grains
including corn and molasses. In the United States, domestic Vodkas are defined
by U.S. government regulation as "neutral spirits, so distilled, or so
treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without
distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." Because American Vodka is,
by law, neutral in taste, there are only very subtle distinctions between
Finland and Baltic Region (Estonia, Lativia, and Lithuania) Vodka: This region is partial to wheat mashes.
Potatoes are looked down on by Russian distillers, but are held in high esteem by
some of their Polish counterparts. Sweden in recent decades has developed a
substantial export market for its straight and flavored wheat-based Vodkas.
Caribbean/Export Vodka: Molasses,
a sticky, sweet residue from sugar production, is widely used for inexpensive,
mass-produced brands of Vodka but is also the main type of Vodka from the Caribbean.
Most of it is exported for blending and bottling in other countries like the
vodka: Vodka is also made in other regions of the world but is
not heavily exported. Western Europe has local brands of Vodka wherever there
are distilleries. The base for these Vodkas can vary from grains in northern
countries such as the United Kingdom, Holland, and
Germany, to grapes and other fruits in the winemaking regions of France and
Italy. Australia produces molasses-based Vodkas, but few are exported. In Asia
there is a smattering of local Vodkas, with the best coming from Japan.
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