Vodka guide: all you need to know about the Queen of spirits
Vodka is a distillate of cereals or potatoes born in the cold lands of the east; both Poland and Russia are great producers and consider themselves the inventors of this icy spirit. Still, the dispute has not been resolved, and probably it is better this way: we leave a veil of mystery.
Vodka is probably the most rebellious and different of all distillates. While whiskey, gin, rum, tequila, grappa, and brandy try to get every flavor from the distillation process and then age in wood or add botanicals to add other scents and hints, vodka does the opposite.
It goes against the grain in its search for purity and unwavering taste, which might seem counterproductive but, in reality, hides an amazing charm. And then consider that it is one of the most appreciated spirits in the world.
So much so that excellent vodka producers can now be found in Northern Europe, the United States, and even Japan, where many historic whiskey distilleries (Nikka) are beginning to produce their own vodka.
How is vodka produced?
The number of distillations changes, but the process is always the same. Milled grains (like barley or wheat) or potatoes are mixed with water and fermented with certain yeasts to make “beer” with an 8 percent alcohol content.
At this point, we start with the first distillation: our beer is heated, and the steam is collected in a cooler where it condenses. With the second distillation, heads and tails are usually eliminated. In a second batch, the aldens, esters, and sulfur dioxide that are lighter and heavier will be redistilled.
At this point, it depends on the master distiller to decide how many distillations are necessary. The more you distill alcohol, the more things besides alcohol you lose, so the distillate tends to have no taste.
But distilling over and over again to get a distillate that is as neutral as possible is very expensive, so for vodkas that aren’t as smooth, carbon is used to filter the distillate to make it even cleaner.
The most extreme case is represented by Swedish vodka Purity, produced with pure water taken directly from a glacier, whose heart has been distilled 34 times. And each time it is distilled, it gets more pure and refined, but 90% of its original volume is lost.
Vodka: the water of life
Even the name vodka recalls purity; in fact, the word vodka means “water” in many Slavic languages. A magical water that warms and chases away the cold. Vodka literally means “little water”, voda.
But thanks to some brilliant advertising maneuvers and some great cocktails, such as the Moscow Mule and Sex on the Beach, invented to launch vodka on the US market, people discovered that vodka is fabulous for making cocktails.
The tasteless vodka does not change the flavor of the ingredients, but it strengthens them with its alcoholic thickness: perhaps whoever invented vodka has found the philosopher’s stone. Gin is resinous, rum is aromatic, tequila is lysergic, cachaça is enveloping and fruity, and vodka is hot and sharp. It can be mixed with almost anything: juice, bitters, jam, vermouth, and wine.
How to drink vodka?
Vodka is not exactly a meditation drink. It should not be sipped while studying every nuance of a balloon in front of a fireplace.
It is a battle drink to be thrown down as if there were no tomorrow.
It should be served cold in small glasses like chupito, but don’t make the mistake of putting the glasses in the freezer or serving the vodka in those super long, narrow, and goofy glasses. We do things right. We are no longer in the 1980s.
Vodka: the queen of cocktails
Vodka was born to make great cocktails like the Espresso Martini, White Russian, Moscow Mule, Cosmopolitan, Vodka Sour, Vodka Tonic, Kamikaze, Sex on the beach, Screwdriver, Bloody Mary, Black Russian.