Words by: Simon Difford
Vodka is a clear spirit which can be produced from anything containing starch or sugar - including potatoes, sugar beet molasses and, most commonly, grain. Over the past forty years vodka has grown from relative obscurity in the west to become the biggest selling spirits category.
Vodka originated in the grain-growing regions of western Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland. Its exact origins are frequently the source of bitter dispute between the Russians and Poles, who both argue that vodka originated in their country. Both claim it as their national drink.
The 'Vodka Belt' countries of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe are historically connected to vodka production and still have the highest rates of consumption in the world.
Vodka cocktails - over 470 cocktail recipes using vodka
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Corn (maize, mielie) vodkas
Honey vodkas (not honey flavoured)
Multi grain/base vodkas
Oak aged vodkas
According to Section 15 of Regulation European Commission No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament of 15 January 2008, "Vodka is a spirit drink produced from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin obtained following fermentation with yeast from either: (i) potatoes and/or cereals, or (ii) other agricultural raw materials, distilled and/or rectified so that the organoleptic characteristics of the raw materials used and by-products formed in fermentation are selectively reduced. This process may be followed by re-distillation and/or treatment with appropriate processing aids, including treatment with activated charcoal, to give it special organoleptic characteristics."
Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 also requires that "The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of vodka shall be 37.5% abv" and that "The only flavourings which may be added are natural flavouring compounds present in distillate obtained from the fermented raw materials. In addition, the product may be given special organoleptic characteristics, other than a predominant flavour."
Prior to this regulation passing into E.U. law in 2008 the Vodka Belt countries of Poland, Finland, Lithuania and Sweden campaigned for the new legislation to categorise only spirits made from grain or potatoes as 'vodka'. This pressure led to the inclusion of the following clause "The description, presentation or labelling of vodka not produced exclusively from the raw material(s) listed in paragraph (a)[cereal grains or potatoes] shall bear the indication 'produced from...', supplemented by the name of the raw material(s) used to produce the ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin." Basically this means that vodka made from cereals and potatoes can continue to be labelled just 'vodka', while vodka made from other materials (e.g. grapes) now has to carry the indication 'produced from'.
The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms defines vodka as, "neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or colour". In the U.S. the minimum bottling strength is 40% abv and additives are permitted, including sugar at less than 2 g/l and citric acid at less than 1,000ppm (1 gram per litre.)
Made in London, England by infusing blackcurrants in wheat neutral spirit for up to eight weeks, before filtration and bottling at the distillery. An aromatic bouquet of black and red berry fruit with blueberry and blackcurrant predominating. Light black tea leaves and black pepper.
Made in London, England by infusing blackcurrants in wheat neutral spirit for up to eight weeks, before filtration and bottling at the distillery. Black tea leaf infused blackcurrant Ribena with light black pepper tingle. Faint notes rolling tobacco pouch and chocolate.
Made by aging wheat neutral spirit in ex-bourbon barrels (Woodford Reserve) with an infusion of cinnamon, vanilla and cloves. Toasty sandalwood, old leather, black tea, overripe banana, charred pineapple and buttery vanilla. Faint smokiness.
As The Periodic Table inspired name might suggest, Au Vodka is packaged in a tall, shapely gold mirrored bottle with hand-applied pewter plaque labels. Au Vodka is made at Hayman Distillery from wheat neutral spirit. Clean and fairy neutral with cracked black pepper and faint cereal notes.
Launched May 2016, Porter’s Perfection Vodka is handmade and bottled on Liberty Farm in Dorset, England from wheat grain and heritage apples grown on the farm. Porter’s Perfection, the apple after which this vodka is named, is a late harvested, deep red apple variety with fused fruits. Clean, faint notes of white bread and green apple with white pepper nose tingling spice.
Created by master distiller Jean-Sébastien Robiquet, this grapefruit Cîroc variant is flavoured with citrus peel extract and pink grapefruit oils. Pink Grapefruit is the seventh of the Cîroc flavours to be released. Zesty pink grapefruit marmalade - cooked and candied rather than fresh, with orange blossom water.
Made from potatoes grown in Germany’s Volcanic Eifel region which are fermented and distilled by Holger Borchers at his distillery in Selsingen. The distillate is then matured in ash casks for several months. A different variety of potatoes are used each year, the Pirol variety was used in 2016. Vanilla, dairy cream, almond milk and black pepper spiced oak.
A French made vodka launched in June 2016 as part of a range of spirts designed to represent good value-for-money and branded to sit alongside NV Absinthe, established in 2007. Other products in the range include: Caribbean White Rhum, London Dry Gin, and Scottish Blended Whisky. Superbly clean. Black pepper spice with faint bread, dairy cream and aniseed.
Created by Jan Krak, Master Distiller at GAS Familia Distillery, this Slovakian vodka is made from Durum winter wheat using a seven column distillation process and is hydrated with demineralised water from the Tatra springs. Prior to bottling, Goral Vodka goes through a seven step filtration process Clean with minerality and mild black pepper. Very faint notes of icing sugar and caramel.
Launched early in 2016, Vintage Velvet is an English vodka based on British sugar beet spirit which has been filtered through white sand and flavoured with Chardonnay grape juice from an East Anglian vineyard. Diary-like buttery aroma with white pepper spice and faint caramel.
Quadruple-distilled at micro distillery in Montreal, Canada from Quebec and Canadian grown corn in small batches of 1200. Reduced to bottling strength with local water and carbon filtered five times prior to hand-bottling. Clean, faintly nutty with mild black pepper spice and faint star anise.