Vodka may be made from many types of grain or vegetable matter that are suitable for fermentation, including rye, wheat, barely, corn, beets, sugarcane and potatoes. If made from sugarcane, it's called a neutral cane spirit; if made from a fermentable grain, it's called a neutral grain spirit.
As opposed to many other liquors, there are no strict rules for classifying vodka. It simply needs to be made from a neutral spirit: ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and water. And since water is the chief ingredient, its quality and character can influence the flavor of the finished product. Lastly, charcoal filtering gives vodka its characteristic purity. Flavoring may also be added.
Most of today's commercial vodkas are made using a continuous still, which neutralizes much of an alcohol's flavor. Some producers do use pot stills, as do distillers of rich-flavored liquors such as Scotch and cognac, as they retain more of the original character of the ingredients.
Fast Facts About Vodka
The name vodka comes from the diminutive form of the Russian word for water: voda.
The first Russian "vodkas" were grain concoctions used medicinally. Likewise, the Poles had vodka that was sometimes scented, and was used as aftershave. The Swedes were employing a form of vodka in the 15th century for gunpowder production.
By the 1300s, Russian potable vodka production was already underway. Poland also claims credit for its development in the 14th century, but critics argue that the Poles were producing crude brandy rather than vodka at this time. There is documented evidence that the Poles were able to imbibe it by the 15th century.
Vodka's popularity in Poland and Russia is attributed to the fact that highly purified spirit would not freeze as easily as other liquors in transport during the long winters.
The fact that most commercial vodkas have little or no smell or taste is what makes them so versatile and popular and as a mixer.
Though many think of vodka as a spirit made from potatoes, it's very often made using wheat, rye, or barley.
Due to carbon filtering, Vodka is a purer form of alcohol than others. It is low in congeners compared to, say, brandy or whisky. Congeners are a natural side 'effect of distillation that lend flavor, color and aroma to alcohol. They are also toxins and contribute to the hangover. (BUT congeners also help slow the absorption of alcohol into the blood, so a glass of 80 proof vodka might hit you more quickly than a higher congener liquor, like Scotch of the same proof.)