Vodka is a one of the most popular and versatile liquors in the world, and it seems it can be mixed with just about anything. Vodka production has exploded around the world, and there are enough different types that purchasing one is like buying a used car. It might look good on the outside, but you’re not sure what’s under the hood.
I examined some other common libations in Part 1 – Tequila, and Part 2 – Bourbon, Whiskey and Scotch. Now we delve into the somewhat simpler world of vodka.
Vodka is made mostly of water and ethanol. Those are the basic components. You can’t get a more simplified beverage. But what makes vodka a vodka and not just something that could be called a moonshine? Well, there is a difference, I guess. Moonshine is a homemade beverage, vodka is not. There are laws that govern what can be called a vodka. In the U.S., vodka must have a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). In Europe a vodka must be 37.5% alcohol by volume. Technically, moonshine is a vodka if it is above 80 proof and not aged or touched with an oak barrel. Leaving that point behind, vodka has traditionally been made from potatoes, but the vast majority are now made from some type of grain, including wheat, barley, rice, rye, or corn. Vodka can be drank neat, straight up, chilled, or mixed with ice, water, fruit, or any other liquid beverage you could possibly imagine.
The history of vodka can be a bit contentious, simply because no one really knows when it got its start. It’s probably safe to say that it originated in Poland and Russian and parts of Eastern Europe, possibly around the 8th century. Funny enough, it was mainly used as a medicinal remedy. It’s believed vodka hit its stride and became mass produced in the late 18th century, and production centered around Poland and Russia. Vodka has almost always been associated with Russia, and for good reason. They drink a lot of the stuff. In 1911, 89% of all the alcohol consumed in the country was vodka. Today that figure stands around 70%. Either way you cut it, the Russians love their vodka.
|The countries with the highest vodka consumption Itinerant1/Wikimedia Commons|
The production of vodka is rather simple if you compare it to other spirits. As said before, it can be made from just about anything, but that doesn’t mean it will taste good. Anything that has starch or sugar can technically make a vodka. Grains such as rye, wheat, corn, or sorghum, as well as potatoes, sugar beets, grapes, molasses, rice, or soybeans can be made into a vodka. Even just sugar and yeast can produce vodka if done correctly. Many vodka distillers use extensive filtration to get as “pure” of a vodka taste as possible, while some rely on the distillation and go with a more traditional approach. After filtration is when many flavorings are added or spiced with any number of concoctions.
|A Russian Supermarket Vmenkov/wikicommons|
Useless Facts about Vodka (How dare you, there is nothing useless about vodka)
Vodka does have an expiration date and will most likely go bad after 12 months. Sad but true. No matter, the stuff is usually gone in 12 hours anyways.
Until 1885 vodka was sold in 12.3 liter (3.2 gallon) buckets. Why, do you ask? I have no earthly idea. The best reason I could come up with was it was just easier and real production in bottles hadn’t yet started. Don’t quote me on that though.
Vodka was originally created as a medicine. It is said it can treat everything from cold sores to fevers. I guess it depends how you use it. You know what they say, “Feed a fever.”
Vodka doesn’t freeze. Maybe that’s why the Russians like it so much since it gets cold in those parts. If it does freeze, then its not vodka. Ask your buddy why he drank all your vodka and replaced it with a large bottle of water.
Vodka can be used as a disinfectant for razors, mouthwash, insect spray, weed killer, and shampoo. It can also be used for a high amount of drunkedness. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
Have we mentioned that the Russians love their vodka? Drinking the spirit is such a part of Russian life that they have a word for a drinking binge that goes on for many days – “zapoi”.
The Russians drink vast quantities of the stuff. Yes, we’ve established that. But how much exactly? An Oxford University researcher named Sir Richard Peto said that the average Russian adult drinks over 5 gallons of vodka per year. In comparison, a person in the United Kingdom drinks about three-quarters of a gallon. On top of that, previous studies have estimated that Russian working-age men die from drinking too much at a rate of more than 40 percent. Yes, you can drink too much vodka.
James Bond didn’t always drink a vodka martini. In Ian Fleming’s books about the secret agent, Bond orders 16 gin martinis and 19 vodka martinis.
The famous line, “shaken, not stirred,” in the James Bond films has lead to some strange research studies. The University of Western Ontario in Canada, through the Department of Biochemistry, did a study to determine if the antioxidant capacity was different between a shaken or stirred martini. They found that a shaken martini has more antioxidants from the shaking process than a stirred one. Bond was right on so many things, and on so many levels.
What is your favorite vodka? Remember to always consume it responsibly (which might mean to not let it go bad in 12 months).