What is Vodka?
Vodka is a neutral spirit without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. Sounds delicious right? Well, it’s also the No. 1 selling distilled spirit in the world.*
You Taste Them, Not It
This text from a 1957 Smirnoff print advertisement kind of sums it up best.
It may be years before a barman’s failure to use the vodka of vodkas will justify a plea of self-defense. Meanwhile, when ordering a vodka drink, you are well advised to specify: “with Smirnoff.” It makes the driest, smoothest of Dry Martinis. And it loses itself completely in any fruit juice or soft drink – blending with their flavors. You taste them, not it. Make sure you get smooth, mellow, flawless Smirnoff. Speak up! Remember, you drink it!
You can see the 1957 Smirnoff print ad here.
Isn’t All Vodka is Made with Potatoes?
Couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, less than 1% of global vodka production utilizes potatoes as distillation feedstock.” According to Glacier Potato Vodka, “There is a common misconception that most, if not all, vodkas are made from potatoes. In fact, 99% of vodkas in the world are distilled from grain – corn, wheat, or rye – using the least costly grain available.”
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How the TTB Defines Vodka
The Beverage Alcohol Manual from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or TTB defines Vodka as a specific type of “Neutral Spirits or Alcohol.”
|Class||General Class Definition||Type||General Type Definition|
|NEUTRAL SPIRITS OR ALCOHOL||Spirits distilled from any material at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), and if bottled, bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)||VODKA||Neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.|
|FLAVORED VODKA||Vodka flavored with natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, bottled at not less than 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof). The name of the predominant flavor shall appear as part of the class and type designation, e.g., “Orange Flavored Vodka”. Wine may be added but if the addition exceeds 2½% by volume of the finished product, the classes and/or types and percentages (by volume) of wine must be stated as part of the class and type designation.|
Don’t All Vodkas Taste the Same Then?
Not exactly. The taste of the vodka will depend on the distilling and filtering process depending on the distillery. The number of times a vodka is distilled may also alter the flavor profile. Some vodkas pass through activated charcoal or other media to absorb trace amounts of substances that may alter the taste of the vodka. And finally, most vodkas are cut with water before being bottled. The amount and source of the water can affect the flavor.
*Resource: US Beverage Alcohol Forum