Among all spirits, Vodka is one of the most popular ones. Especially in Eastern Europe, no other comes close to reaching similar popularity.
According to Worldatlas.com, the United States ranks in position 6 of countries with the highest per capita Vodka consumption. It is the top position outside Eastern Europa. Also, the United Kingdom is not far behind in position 9.
However, where Eastern Europeans consume their spirits neat in shots, others prefer highballs and cocktails.
But now, let's find out what Vodka is made from and why it tastes more neutral than other favorite spirits like Whiskey, Tequila, Gin, or Rum.
What is Vodka?
Vodka is a clear and odorless spirit with a neutral taste. It usually contains a minimum of 37.5% alcohol when sold in the European Union and 40% ABV when you want to sell in the United States. Some even have as much as 80% alcohol by volume or 160 proof - though they are not made for consumption.
Due to the absence of flavors, Vodka is a very versatile spirit. That is why also the Cocktails made with Vodka are extremely versatile.
If you want to read more about history, regulations, production process, etc., find more information in our Guide to Vodka.
What is Vodka made from?
Many think that potatoes are involved in the production of Vodka. While that is not wrong, traditionally, Vodka is made of grain. -Rye and wheat being the most common.
Potatoes were brought to Europe from South America only in the middle and later 1500s, whereas the origin of Vodka goes back more than 1000 years. So the starchy vegetable had nothing to do with Vodka for quite some time. But that would change later on.
As with most spirits that go back to medieval times or even further, the quality was far from anything even remotely enjoyable for the taste of today. And frankly, it couldn't have been much better for the people back then.
That is why in the mid-18th century, flavored versions of Vodka came up. Producers (both, state-run and private) experimented with flavorings of all kinds of berries, ginger, hazelnut, citrus fruit, herbs, spices, and apparently even horseradish.
Around the same time, a Russian professor discovered the method of filtering and purifying Vodka with charcoal, which improved the quality considerably.
Further, also in the 18th century, people started to use those often-mentioned potatoes for making their Vodka. It was cheaper than grain and quickly brought the clear spirit with the nickname potato-schnaps.
Today, Vodka can still be made from almost anything. From grain and potato to corn, rice, and fruits. Pretty much everything that contains sugar and ferment is a potential candidate.
That is because Vodka is a liquor with next to no legal regulations when it comes to the choice of ingredients. So there are no limits. And despite being known as a neutral spirit, a trained palate can still taste the different base ingredients.
Vodka with different base ingredients
If you now want to try and compare Vodka made from different base ingredients, here is a list of brands sorted by the base they use:
Vodka made from different grains
Smirnoff is the largest Vodka brand in the world. Once founded in Moscow, Russia, by P. A. Smirnov, Smirnoff has a turbulent history. From being the official Vodka supplier of the Winter Palace (once the residence of the Russian Emperor in St. Petersburg) to closing its doors during Russia's "dry law", facing bankruptcy, and being sold.
It is now a British Vodka brand with production facilities in the US. So, Smirnoff has seen it all and survived it, too. Better than most in the Vodka business, actually.
Their top-selling Vodka, Smirnoff 21, is made of different grains and filtered ten times for extra smoothness. And they are also co-responsible for the invention of the Moscow Mule in 1941.
Vodka made from winter wheat
Renowned brands like Grey Goose (France), Absolut Vodka (Sweden), and Russian Standard (one of the top Russian Vodka brands) distill their Vodka from winter wheat.
Winter wheat is a wheat variety planted in the fall to sprout and then remains dormant in the vegetative phase -after germination but before flowering- during winter.
It resumes growth in spring and then is harvested in summer. -Opposed to spring wheat, which is sowed in spring and harvested in autumn.
Vodka made of corn
A prominent representative for Vodka made from yellow corn is Titos Handmade Vodka from Austin, Texas. After a bumpy start, Bert Tito Beveridge was the first to obtain a legal distilling permit in Texas.
Tito's story starts with instance, self-teaching how to distill and build his own pot stills according to photographs. Once he figured everything out, he found a formula for making Vodka with corn that eventually worked out pretty well for him.
Vodka made from rye
Belvedere is one of the best-known luxury Vodka brands and owes its name to Pałac Belwederski in Warsaw, Poland. They pride themselves on representing more than 600 years of experience in the craft of Vodka-making.
Since they follow the Polish Vodka legal regulation, one -if not- the strictest in the world, they use 100% rye grown and harvested in Poland.
Vodka made from potatoes
Two renowned brands that distill their Vodka from the often referred to potato are Blue Ice and Boyd and Blair, both from the United States. Both brands value sustainability and use local resources for their production.
Boyd and Blair is a family business that launched its handcrafted spirit in 2008. They use 100% Pennsylvania-grown and harvested potatoes for their distillate.
Blue Ice is the leading brand of 21st Century spirits in Los Angeles. They obtain their potatoes from local farmers in Idaho.
Vodka made from grapes
And last but not least, something quite extraordinary: Cîroc Vodka is made 100% from the finest French grapes for the Cognac region. The grape base gives the spirit a unique flavor and extra fruity notes.
The base product gets distilled four times in a column still before being transferred to Maison Villevert Salles d’Angles in Southern France for the finishing touch. There, it gets distilled a fifth and final time in a traditional, tailor-made copper pot.
Cocktails with Vodka
Cocktails with a Vodka base are as versatile as the base ingredients Vodka can be made from. You can get warm and creamy flavors in an Espresso Martini and a White Russian. Or fruity drinks like the Cosmopolitan or the Appletini.
And then there are exact opposites like the savory Bloody Mary and the neutral, low-calorie Skinny Bitch. One is the ultimate -even if controversial - flavor bomb. The other is just as neutral in taste as Vodka itself.