Vodka is one of the most widely used hard spirits used in a variety of mixed cocktails. It’s an essential staple of any bar’s liquor well, and it’s quite popular among many people. Vodka is different from other spirits because it doesn’t truly have a distinct taste or smell. The vast majority of vodkas are completely clear, and they’re distinct from one another based on strength of taste rather than on actual flavor. A large number of vodka cocktails have been developed over the years, and many are staples of any knowledgeable bartender’s repertoire. Some favorites include the screwdriver, the vodka tonic and the cosmopolitan. One of the first things an apprentice bartender learns is how to make at least 10 essential vodka cocktails without the need to read them from recipe cards.
The business market for vodka has been expanding at a steady rate, and more brand names of vodka are widely available than ever before. Along with recognizable names like Ketel One and Grey Goose, many smaller scale distilleries are gaining regional and national distribution, giving vodka fans even more options. Vodka flights and even tastings have also increased in popularity in some bars and restaurants. Many boutique, small-batch vodkas are being brewed with new, experimental techniques and ingredients. Categorizing different types of vodka can be a challenge because each brand is formulated and brewed somewhat differently. Vodka makers aren’t subject to the same regulations as brewers who make other liquors, though the following process of brewing vodka is fairly standard.
Experts and connoisseurs call vodka a neutral spirit because it can be fermented and then distilled from a variety of raw grains, including wheat, rye, potatoes or corn. The popularity of potato-based vodka started in Poland but has since spread to many other countries. One of the epicenters of potato vodka brewing in the US is the state of Idaho. Some brewers also make specialty vodkas out of grapes, beets or similar. Vodka is run through the distillation process at least three times, with the finest grain vodkas distilled a minimum of five times. This process is what designates vodka a rectified spirit.
The vast majority of vodka brewing companies advertise that their batches are distilled a certain number of times, giving the public the idea that the more times it’s distilled, the purer and smoother the vodka. This idea is true in general because every time the vodka makes a trip through the still, the more microscopic impurities are filtered out. These impurities get filtered out of the bottom and top areas of each batch, leaving the vodka batch clearer.
Once the distillation process is complete, each individual batch of vodka is then filtered through charcoal to ensure clarity and purity. Unlike some other hard liquors, vodka doesn’t require any aging in barrels. It’s ready to drink immediately after the filtering and distillation are finished. The typical vodka brand is 40% alcohol, or 80 proof by volume.
The taste of different vodka brands relies heavily on on the kind of water used during the distillation process. Some of the top quality brands of vodka use high quality spring water in order to formulate the smoothest vodka possible. The purity and quality of water can’t be discounted when it comes to distilling and bottling top shelf vodka brands.
Vodka doesn’t have a distinct taste compared to other liquors, so another important factor is texture. Two of the most popular brands based on texture are Stolichnaya and Absolut. Stoli has a clean and water-like texture, while Absolut is sweeter, with an almost silken texture. The vodka market today emphasizes texture as a main determinant of what makes various vodka brands stand out.