The definition of vodka image 1

The definition of vodka

Words by Simon Difford

Vodka is a clear spirit that can be produced from anything containing starch or sugar, including potatoes, sugar beet molasses, and, most commonly, grain. Since the 1970s, 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 dispute between the Russians and Poles, who both argue that vodka originated in their country and 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.

Definition of Vodka

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'.

For decades, in its Class And Type Designation, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (TTB) defined vodka as "Neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." This is obviously ridiculous as different vodkas taste different, so must have distinctive character, aroma and taste!

Thanks to industry lobbying, on 2nd of April 2020, the mandarins at the TTB amended their definition.
{quote[Docket No. TTB–2018–0007; T.D. TTB–158;
Ref: Notice Nos. 176 and 176A, Modernization of the Labeling and
Advertising Regulations for Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages, 02.April.2020]:TTB agrees that the requirement that vodka be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color no longer reflects consumer expectations and should be eliminated. Vodka will continue to be distinguished by its specific production standards: Vodka may not be labeled as aged, and unlike other neutral spirits, it may contain limited amounts of sugar and citric acid.

Accordingly, TTB is amending the existing regulations at § 5.22(a)(1) to
remove the requirement that vodka be without distinctive character, aroma,
taste, or color, and to incorporate in the regulations the standards set forth in the
rulings discussed above, obviating the need for those rulings which will be
canceled. TTB will also make a conforming change to existing § 5.23(a)(3)(iii), which discusses the addition of harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials to neutral spirits, to reflect the allowed additions to vodka in amended § 5.22(a)(1).}

In the USA. the minimum bottling strength for vodka is 40% alc./vol. and a mere 30% alc./vol. for flavoured vodkas.

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