Vodka vs Gin: What is the Difference?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on April 6, 2023

Vodka and Gin can sometimes be used interchangeably and are two of the most popular spirits in cocktail recipes. But apart from some basic similarities, the two are highly different.
Vodka vs Gin - The differences explained

Gin and Vodka, the two clear, high-ABV liquors, are both bartender favorites and are distilled from agricultural products like rye, barley, wheat, potatoes, and more. Still, apart from that, the two liquors differ significantly in aroma and taste due to flavoring botanicals in Gin - mainly juniper.

Our in-depth Vodka vs. Gin guide explains the similarities, highlights the differences, shows how to serve them, and how to use them in cocktails.

Are Vodka and Gin the same thing?

No, Vodka and Gin are not the same. They might look the same when poured neat, and their base is similar, sometimes even almost identical, but it's important to acknowledge that both have unique qualities and flavors. 

This guide will explain the differences between Vodka and Gin, what makes them unique, and which cocktails you should make with them. After reading, you'll be a Vodka and Gin expert ready to teach others.

What characterizes Vodka?

Vodka is a clear spirit with a long history and a close connection to Russia. The earliest mentions, however, are traced back to Poland during the 15th century. The first Russian mention of the beloved grain spirit appears roughly a hundred years later, in the 16th century. 

Although Vodka is famous everywhere, it's still most popular in the so-called Vodka belt. This group of countries includes Scandinavia (except Denmark) and all countries in North-Eastern Europe.

But let's have a closer look at Vodka and how it's produced.

  1. What's Vodka distilled from?: It is most often distilled from grains or potatoes. In general, however, Vodka can be made from anything as long as it contains fermentable sugar or starch.
  2. The number of distillations: Vodka is often distilled multiple times and then filtered to remove as many impurities as possible. In general, Vodka is distilled 3 to 7 times.
  3. Aroma & Taste: A great Vodka has almost no odor or taste. To differentiate the quality of Vodka, people typically compare how smooth and silky it is. To reduce scent and flavor further, Vokda is best consumed straight from the fridge.
  4. Alcohol content: Vodka contains at least 40% in the US or 37.5% in Europe. The alcohol content of Vodka can be as high as 96% ABV; The polish brand that sells this potent Vodka is called Spirytus.

What characterizes Gin?

Gin originally descended from Dutch Genever and is a clear, high-ABV spirit flavored with botanicals. 

In the late 1600s, William of Orange brought Genever to England and encouraged the Brits to produce their own version called Gin. It soon became the most-consumed spirit and culminated in the so-called Gin Craze.

So, let's look at the key features of Gin and how it's made:

  1. What's Gin distilled from?: According to EU law, Gin must be distilled from agricultural, natural products. Usually, that means grains like rye, but it can also be potatoes, rice, or fruits. On top, botanicals flavor the spirit and create a distinct flavor profile.
  2. The number of distillations: The production of Gin starts with a base spirit. That means, before adding botanicals, the base is already distilled once. After macerating, Gin is distilled a second time - often with botanicals, but in some cases, the botanicals are removed after maceration. In total, producers typically distill their Gin two times.
  3. Aroma & Taste: Gin is known for its distinct flavor of piney juniper. Besides juniper, there are many other botanicals used to flavor the spirit. Some classic botanicals are angelica root, cassia bark, cinnamon, cardamom, orris root, citrus peels from lemons and oranges, and licorice.  
  4. Alcohol content: Like Vodka, Gin must contain at least 40% of alcohol in the US or 37.5% in Europe. In some cases, the alcohol content may be higher, with the strongest Gin being Anno Extreme 95 Gin containing 95% ABV.

What Are The Similarities?

Looking at both spirits, Gin and Vodka have quite some things in common:

  • Both are clear, see-through, distilled spirits.
  • Both are very versatile when it comes to making mixed drinks like cocktails.
  • They're mostly distilled from grains but can also be made from other natural products.
  • The alcohol content is basically the same and starts at 37.5% (or 40% in the US) and goes up to 95% (for Gin) or 96% (Vodka).

The key differences between Vodka and Gin

While both spirits are distilled from agricultural and natural products, Gin is only distilled twice, Vodka three to seven times. The main difference, though, is aroma and taste: Vodka aims to be taste and odorless, while Gin is known for having rich and complex aromas and flavors due to its botanicals.

This difference in taste also explains why the two should be used differently. Vodka is a great base spirit in cocktails with otherwise bold flavors that need a strong alcoholic base, like a Bloody Mary or Moscow Mule. Gin, on the other hand, brings additional flavors and complexity to drinks, making it ideal in sour cocktails or fizzes like the classic Gin Fizz or Ramos Gin Fizz.

Vodka Gin
Distilled from Natural products, mostly grains Natural products, mostly grains
Number of distillations 3-7 2
Botanicals No Yes. At least juniper, often many more
ABV Min 40% in USA
Min 37.5% in EU
Min 40% in USA
Min 37.5% in EU
Popular brands Absolut
Grey Goose
Ketel One
Bombay Sapphire
Classic cocktails Espresso Martini
Moscow Mule
Dry Martini
Gin Sour

How to serve them

When serving Vodka or Gin neat, emphasize their distinct qualities: Vokda should be served ice cold, straight from the fridge. That helps mask any flavor that might still be detectable. Gin is best served neat at room temperature to bring out the botanical variety. 

If you want to use them in cocktails, try to start with these classic cocktail recipes below.

Classic Vodka Cocktails

Vodka is part of countless drinks as base or split-base. The fact that it's almost flavorless helps to make the other ingredients in a drink shine. Start with making these classics:

Classic Gin Cocktails

The juniper flavors paired with other botanicals help to create cocktails that are complex in flavors. Some of these recipes highlight the Gin others bring even more flavors to the cocktail.


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