Vodka might be one of the greatest inventions of all time, whether you’re using it to house the party of the year or if you’re just after the next best cocktail. Vodka has a place in many of our hearts for its powerful taste, but what is vodka made from? To get to the bottom of the question, we first have to figure out the process and how it evolved over the years through new brewing methods and ingredients.
Just like your humble beer or whiskey, vodka first starts out through the fermentation of grains and vegetables. You might be wondering what the secret plant is that gives us our lovely drink, but it’s actually a medley of different things that can consist of anything from rye, rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, or even simple grain.
There isn’t any set way to make vodka, but these are the usual culprits for your favorite brands as their fermentation results in ethanol. For a long time, potatoes were the preferred way to get valuable ethanol, but this began to shift over time as different companies began to experiment with their concentrations and recipes.
If you’ve ever wondered why vodka seems to have a lack of aroma or even sometimes flavor, it’s because it mainly consists of just two different ingredients: ethanol and water. Water will be used much later on in the process in order to create your traditional glass of spirit, but these are the main two ingredients responsible.
Because of this, when you order a quality vodka, you’re not always paying more for the ingredients, but for the brewing method. While it’s true that some stillhouses use only certain types of ingredients for their drinks, it’s often the distillation and filtration processes that makes the bulk of quality and flavor.
Some vodkas are imbued with other special ingredients that help to control the flavor profile and even things out just a bit. For example, citric acid is great for balancing out the harshness of the drink and is often used so that the final result isn’t so rocky when in comparison to other liqueurs.
Now “3-Hexanone” might be much harder to pronounce, but it’s responsible for giving drinks that grape or wine flavor that can be slightly refreshing. There are plenty of different flavor enhancers across the board with one of the simplest being sugar, which you can find in a wide range of bottles for a hint of sweetness.
This ethanol isn’t quite ready yet to become vodka though, as it’s full of impurities. Ethanol can be full of anything from gluten to yeast, and unless you want to end up with an entirely different drink, you’re going to have to distill it. Distillation is the process of vaporizing the liquid so that it can become a gas before it is turned back into liquid form again.
This allows you to have alcohol with an extremely high rating that could probably put down a horse. While this product is fun on its own, it’s more similar to an antiseptic than it is to a drink at this point, and there is further work ahead in order to transform it.
Without distillation, you wouldn’t be able to have the amount of alcohol required to call it vodka. Instead, you’d be left with an entirely different product that doesn’t really resemble the classic drink, as it will be more akin to the strength of your average beer. Distillation also allows for the purification of the ethanol, turning it into the much more beloved alcohol.
This is one of the reasons that vodka can be called gluten-free, even though it was made from grain in the first place. All the impurities associated with ethanol are simply tossed by the wayside once it’s improperly distilled, and any further particulates are on the chopping block later down the line.
Every single vodka goes through some form of distillation, but the number of times that they do this can vary depending on the manufacturer. Some companies claim that due to their ingredients, they only need to distill their vodkas once or twice. Other companies subject their drink to a much more rigorous process where the drink is distilled upwards of ten times in order to make sure that they’re serving the purest vodka possible.
The quality of the water itself is another issue when striving for the purest bottle possible and many companies will go out of their way to make sure the water has no impurities.
When we ask ourselves “What is vodka made from,” the biggest ingredient is pretty surprising. The second main ingredient in vodka is water, which may sound pretty odd at first, but vodka has to be diluted with water down to at least 40% before it can hit the market. The alcohol molecules get trapped by the water once it’s mixed, and from here you have your basic vodka.
This still might not be safe to drink yet, however, as there are a couple more processes that it has to go through before it can hit the shelf. Drinking a vodka that hasn’t gone through filtration can result in sickness, and not the kind you would associate with having too much of your favorite beverage.
Dilution is also important as you couldn’t hope to drink pure alcohol. Not only would it taste pretty awful, but you can expect it to smell similar to a hand sanitizer. There’s a strong reason that rubbing alcohol hasn’t hit the market, and it’s not due to the flavor. Consuming such high amounts of alcohol so quickly can result in liver damage and can be extremely detrimental to your health.
That right balance of alcohol, primarily around 40% ABV, takes a lot of work to get to. Between legislation over how drinks can be marketed and the strength allowed, it was decided that 40% was the perfect ratio over time.
Because of distillation, distillers are able to control exactly how much alcohol goes into the final solution. This is why every bottle of vodka is consistent, as if there is too much water, you can simply distill it again and remix your drink for that perfect ratio.
When making a vodka that has pristine quality, it’s important to nail that quality across every single bottle shipped out, and many companies will practically drive themselves crazy making sure that each individual component is up to standard. Some even go as far as to look into the chemistry of each bottle in order to make sure that everything is going smoothly.
There are quite a few ways that companies filtrate their product, but one of the more frequently seen ways to do it is through a carbon filtration process. This gets complicated quickly, but the basic idea is that vodka is passed through what is most commonly a carbon column, and from here, pressure is added in order to ensure that organic impurities are removed.
This ensures that the vodka is the right color, as it is unlikely that anyone will want to drink a vodka that doesn’t run clear. It also adds a new flavor profile without affecting the alcohol content of the drink. When you ask “What is vodka made from?” you can consider this the finale.
While this might be the most common method, it certainly isn’t the only one. People have used everything from wool, paper, and even crystals in order to purify their final product. Many distillers considered that the more extravagant the filtration method was, the more extravagant their vodka would be.
Many of these methods were either lost in time or simply outdone by carbon filtering and this is one of the reasons that it so easily dominates the filtration market. It can also be set up so that vodka is automatically transported through pipes for filtration, allowing for astonishingly huge batches to be doled out all at once.
Vodka is also often kept cold as it goes through the process as anything that isn’t part of the drink will freeze and be more easily separated. This allows it to truly get rid of all the individual particulates that may be invisible to the naked eye.
There are plenty of different methods for filtering as it is commonly believed that this is one of the most important parts of imbuing flavor. Distilleries are willing to do anything they can to achieve the next best vodka, and so experimentation is a common pursuit in order to impart the best flavor.
Most commonly, vodka consists of only two ingredients that sound fairly humble at first, until you realize how many processes and steps are involved in producing the classic drink. If you want to sample some of the best vodka put through a technique compounded by centuries of tinkering, you’re going to want to visit Town’s End Stillhouse and Grill.