Vodka is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the US because it provides drinkers with an almost colorless, odorless, and flavorless spirit for their cocktails and mixed drinks. But despite the neutral taste, there are still enormous differences between the various brands and products. For one, the vodka alcohol content determines both the strength and the flavor of your drink.
Most of the spirits currently sold have an alcohol by volume content of 40%, but this isn’t always the case. Today, we’ll have a closer look at your options and how they might affect your drink. What’s more, we’ll go over some of the other factors that influence the way your vodka tastes, such as the ingredients and the manufacturing process.
What Is the Vodka Alcohol Content?
People who are new to drinking spirits might not know exactly how potent their drinks are and what this means in terms of quality. In the US, we measure alcohol content in two different ways. Proof is the original measure, which has been around for around 500 years, and ABV is the newer and more internationally accepted way of determining the level of ethanol in a beverage.
Because of advances in science, we can now measure alcohol content very accurately. Most types of vodka are designed to have an ABV of 40%, but some brands also produce 45% or even 50% ABV vodka. These beverages are a lot more potent, so it’s important that consumers use them responsibly and mix them with other ingredients.
A Brief Explanation of Alcohol Proof
If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term ‘proof’. But what does it actually mean? Nowadays, we mostly measure the amount of alcohol contained in drinks with Alcohol by Volume (ABV), which is expressed in a percentage. This is an internationally accepted model, so it’s useful in determining the strength of a beverage sold in multiple countries.
But before that, proof was the best way of determining the amount of ethanol in a drink. Although this method was invented in England in the 16th century to determine the tax rate of various beverages, it is predominantly used in the US nowadays, since other countries favor ABV. With proof, we can measure how much alcohol is contained in drinks such as vodka, rum, and whiskey.
The Current Testing Method
In the past, proof was determined by setting the beverage in question on fire. If it burned, it was considered “above proof” and if not, it was “below proof”. But unfortunately, this method wasn’t very accurate because flammability depends on other factors such as the room temperature, so people began to use the gunpowder method. This involved soaking a gunpowder pellet in alcohol and testing whether it burned or not.
Nowadays, these ways of measuring proof are no longer in use and we have more reliable options. Most of the time, the proof is tested with the specific gravity method, which looks at the density of the liquor and compares it to water. Since we can make much more accurate measurements this way, we can not only determine whether the liquor is above or below proof, but we can also figure out the exact ABV.
What Does a Proof of 80 Mean?
Just like with other spirits, vodka is available in a range of proofs. However, the most common one in the US is 80, which translates to an ABV of 40%. This is also the minimum amount of alcohol that vodka and a number of other spirits need to have to be sold on the American market. Many of the most popular brands, such as Khor Vodka, stick to this proof because it provides the smoothness and the neutral flavor that vodka drinkers seek.
At 80 proof, alcohol is strong enough to be intoxicating but not potent enough to be really dangerous to the average consumer. Most companies favor it because they know that vodka with an ABV of 40% is very versatile, and it can be drunk straight or mixed into a wide variety of cocktails.
Higher Proof Vodka
Occasionally, you will see spirits with a higher proof on the supermarket shelves or at your local distillery. In fact, a number of the leading brands that produce 80 proof vodka also offer the same beverage at 90 proof or even 100 proof. These drinks, which have an ABV of 45% or 50%, are designed to be more potent, and they’re not meant to be drunk on their own. The best way to consume them is in a cocktail, since they can otherwise be dangerous.
The highest proof vodka ever created is sold by the company Spirytus, and it has an alcohol by volume content of 92%. It’s important to remember that this drink isn’t designed for the average consumer, and it can be hazardous to your health when you drink it neat.
What Else to Consider when Buying Vodka
Vodka alcohol content isn’t the only important measure you should consider when buying your next drink. While many American consumers believe that vodka should be as neutral as possible, it does have its unique flavor, and different brands produce different products. There are a variety of factors that influence the way your beverage tastes, and you should take into account the ingredients and the production method before making your purchase.
The type of wheat and water the manufacturers use and the way they process these ingredients can significantly affect the end result. New vodka consumers could benefit from trying a variety of brands and seeing what they like best.
Although vodka used to be made with potatoes, many manufacturers have now switched to wheat because it requires less distilling and creates a crisper, cleaner taste. To create the perfect vodka, distillers need to use wheat that contains a good balance of protein and starch, so one doesn’t overwhelm the other. Some vodka manufacturers purchase their wheat from outside sources, whereas others own fields and grow it themselves.
For instance, the Swedish distillery Absolut Elyx produces their vodka from winter wheat grown in optimal soil and weather conditions. When making your next purchase, consider where and how the main ingredient was grown. If you’re buying from a private distillery such as Town’s End, you can ask the manufacturers directly.
Water is used throughout the wheat growing process, but it takes on an even more important role during dilution. At this stage, distillers add demineralized water to the pure spirit and thereby create the desired vodka alcohol content. Manufacturers use a variety of processes to distil the water they use. For instance, they might opt for reverse osmosis, filtration, or charcoal filtering.
It goes without saying that the type of water used and the way it is distilled affects the final quality of the vodka. When you buy drinks from different brands, you can taste this difference, as some have a silkier texture than others.
Once the vodka has been fermented and distilled, it still has to be refined. Nowadays, many manufacturers use copper to achieve this. Adding small packets of this metal to the spirit can help remove sulfur compounds that would otherwise spoil the pure taste of the drink. Unfortunately, not all brands go through this step, and this is one of the reasons why some vodkas are better than others.
While it is common for luxury manufacturers to carefully control quality, other vodka producers simply skip the step or purchase already rectified spirits on the market. As you get more used to the taste of vodka, you’ll be able to tell the difference between an average product and one that has been produced in a highly controlled and specialized environment.
Many American vodka drinkers believe that the beverage should have very little taste or smell. But this isn’t always the case, and a good vodka has its own unique flavor. While the taste mainly reflects the base, many vodkas also include other grains and fruits, so you’ll catch a hint of them. Depending on the manufacturing process, drinkers might also experience a sweetness or the flavor of bread dough.
In addition to the taste, many connoisseurs appreciate the texture of this spirit. The best vodkas are creamy and smooth, and while potato-based beverages are oilier, the ones created with wheat are sweeter. Depending on which of these subtle qualities you prefer, you’ll favor a different brand, so you will need to visit various distilleries and experiment.
Although vodka is one of the most neutral spirits out there, you can expect the taste of your drink to be affected by various factors such as the type of wheat used, the water added to the pure spirit, and the manufacturing process. One of the most important differences between various vodkas is the alcohol content. Most commonly, you’ll find that the spirit comes at 80 proof, which means it has a vodka alcohol content of 40%.
But this isn’t the only option. Some of the large manufacturers also produce the drink at 45% and 50% ABV, and some specialty vodkas contain even more ethanol. You can choose your favorite beverage based on your personal preference and what you’d like to do with it. Contact us now at Town’s End Stillhouse & Grill in Apple Valley, CA to find out more about our Stillhouse and how you can purchase some of our products.