Vodka Production

Urheber: 3268zauber

Copyright: 3268zauber

All Vodka is not the same. We emphasize time and time again that it’s the versatility that makes our favorite spirit so special. This may be surprising for some, since they can hardly tell the differences in taste between brands unless it’s flavored Vodka. If you think about it a little longer, you’ll begin to wonder what it is that actually makes Vodka Vodka? We’ve already talked about the basic legal conditions within the EU. And here’s a slightly more differentiated look at the background of Vodka production.

„But isn’t Vodka made from potatoes?“

Vodka can be made from potatoes. But in fact, most Vodka is made from wheat (mostly in Russia) or rye (mostly in Poland). But there are also Vodkas that are made from beet root, grape or Quinoa, and so on. How is such variety possible? The EU’s enactment for spirits, which resulted from the Vodka debates, leaves a lot of leeway for producers. We have to add that globally (USA, Asia, etc), there are even more lenient policies as far as Vodka production is concerned. All in all, the definition of Vodka as a consumable product is very vague, which can be a problem and an opportunity at the same time. What’s essential for the EU is simply that Vodka is a mixture of ‚ethyl alcohol from an agricultural source‘ (96% vol. minimum) and water and that it has a minimum alcohol content of 37.5%. High quality Vodka mostly contains 40% alcohol, but there are kinds with a higher alcohol content. We know from experience that anything with an alcohol content of over 40% should be enjoyed with care.Danzka_1

„All Vodka tastes the same.“

So if you want to produce Vodka the easy way, you order distilled alcohol with an industrial bulk producer, add some water to it, and fill all that into a bottle. Pretty simple, right? Of course, the market image is much more complex. And in order to stand out from the crowd, you need a flavor enhancer and a certain degree of refinement. For a flavor enhancer we have the choice between water and alcohol. And since it’s expensive and elaborate to produce alcohol in the quality and quantity needed for Vodka production, most producers prefer a taste differentiation by using particular water (from the ‚deepest lake‘, water from artesian springs, glacier water, etc.). Sometimes, the acquired alcohol is refined by the use of ‚copper burning bubbles‘ or manipulated by adding further ingredients and re-distillation. So it matters whether Vodka is made ‚from‘ or ‚with‘ a certain ingredient. Another possibility is to manipulate the flavor by adding bison grass, aromas, or similar flavor enhancers. Unfortunately, producers don’t like to reveal too many secrets in that department, which tells us that price differences don’t necessarily mean that one final product is indeed better or worse than another. Personal preferences are also important here: Some prefer their Vodka as mild as possible, others like character and a distinct taste.zubrowkabiala

„Vodka is not as sophisticated as Whiskey or Gin.“

What matters at the end of the day is what you’re looking for. We can only try to inspire you to deal with Vodka a little more in-depth; because the special attraction and potential of Vodka is really in the variety of the supply. If you’re after distinct flavors and true art in production in regards to the design of a flavor profile, you should give Freimut, Xellent or Farthofer O-Vodka a shot. If you’re looking for a very mild Vodka that’s neutral in flavor, you should try something like Grey Goose or Beluga. And if you need a Vodka for cocktails, you may help yourself to the very neutral tasting brands Smirnoff, Level or Imperial Gold. Freimut_1Annotation: We would like to thank Florian Renschin, the producer of Freimut Wodka, for several tips in regards to production. His own product has proven since 2004 that Vodka can be more than just alcohol for mixed drinks. The traditional raw material for Vodka production, especially in Russia, is rye. Below is a detailed look at how the finished, crystal clear, and mild tasting Vodka is made from this grain.

Production of the seasoning and mash

The first steps in Vodka production are very similar to the steps of a brew master. Firstly, the raw material for Vodka – no matter what kind – needs to be mixed with water and heated up. This ‚original soup‘ is then cooked until the starch of the base material has completed the transformation process to sugar. The result is a sweet smelling mush that is called ’seasoning‘ in professional terms. Yeast is then added to this seasoning, which starts the fermentation process. Thus, the alcohol containing mash develops in a short amount of time, which in turn is the base for the following process of distillation.

Distillation

In order for the result of the distillation to be pure alcohol at the end, the mash needs to have an alcohol content of between six and eight percent. In the process of distillation, the different boiling points of alcohol and water are alcohol begins to boil. What remains is the water, whose boiling point, as we all know, lies at 100 degrees Celsius. With this, an automatic separation of the two materials is performed simply by heating them up.

Foto: FotoGuy 49057

Image: FotoGuy 49057

The distillate, which is pure alcohol, is then caught in a vessel. However, at this point it’s still far from being Vodka.

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Filtration

After the distillate has been produced, the flavors it contains need to be removed as far as possible in order to make Vodka. This is achieved by multiple filtration processes. Charcoal is normally used for the first level of filtration. In this process, the flavors are bonded to the coal so that only very small amounts of them are left in the distillate afterwards. Alternatively, some producers filter the distillate without charcoal and use ceramic filters or proteins that have the same properties to loosen flavors and bind them to themselves. The filtration process is essentially responsible for whether or not remnants of unwanted fusel oils and other flavors are left in the Vodka later. After the first filtration, there can be more filtration processes that may for instance utilize particular paper filters which filter out unwanted aerosols and thus further flavors. The lot of the different levels of filtration is also called neutralization. This process sets Vodka apart from many other spirits, for example Korn brandy, that don’t undergo such filtration processes, since the flavors from the seasoning and the mash are wanted in the finished product.

Blending

The product gathered from the distillation and the subsequent neutralization is now almost completely scent and flavor free, but still is not Vodka. It only turns into Vodka by being blended (mixed) with specially prepared water. Generally, this rule applies: Besides the filtration process, the water quality essentially determines the taste of the finished Vodka. Thus, no regular tap water can be used for blending. Distilleries that make real high quality Vodka use spring water as fresh as possible for blending, and in addition the water is softened before use, for instance by utilizing activated carbon or sand filters. After softening, the water is being filtered in order to remove possible aerosols and other unwanted substances. Now the water can be used for blending the Vodka. The blending usually occurs at a ratio of 60% water / 40% distillate, which results in an alcohol content of 40% vol. However, there are also Vodkas that have an alcohol content of up to 56% vol.

Bottling and storage

Vodka does not need to mature after distillation and blending. It can be consumed instantly. But of course, distilleries store large amount of Vodkas, which occurs in tanks made from steel, glass, or stone. These materials ensure that the neutral taste is maintained even when the Vodka is stored for a long time. The Vodka is bottled before it’s sold. Those bottles are mostly simple glass bottles (and even used to be plastic bottles) that, especially in Russia, contain a relatively small amount of Vodka. The 0.5 liter bottle is standard in Russia, whereas in Germany and other Western countries, Vodka is sold in 0.7 or 1 liter bottles in retail.

Wheat, potato or rye – what’s the difference?

Nowadays, Vodka is made from many different ingredients, among which are the classics wheat, potato and rye – but also wine grapes, molasses, and even soybeans and rice. Basically, all you need is a starchy plant to trigger the fermentation process necessary for Vodka production. But can you taste a difference? And is there a reason to prefer one kind over another?

Connoisseurs prefer the classic kinds

When Vodka was first made, rye was used for its production because it was readily and plentifully available; in the 14th and 15th century, there was an overage of this grain in Poland and Russia. And so, rather than letting it go bad, people fermented it and turned it into alcohol, which was a good means for staying warm in the cold winter. And after the potato, which was even more fruitful, had been imported from the New World, people started to use potatoes for Vodka production as well, before exotic plants like corn and rice were added as raw materials in more recent times. However, among grain Vodkas, the classic kinds made from wheat and rye are regarded as higher quality.

You can taste the difference

You can actually taste what a Vodka was made from, even if the manufacturing process of Vodka focuses on flavor neutrality. Rye Vodka tastes very smooth and mild and a little sweet, and is still regarded the best Vodka, with wheat Vodka following closely behind it. Potato Vodka has a stronger taste and is generally sweeter, and it is also regarded a classic that’s higher in quality than Vodka made from other raw materials. Compared to grain and potato Vodkas, connoisseurs view Vodka made from molasses, which is also a common kind, as inferior, whereas the producer also makes a difference. Molasses Vodka is sweeter than the classic kinds of Vodka. Lately, there have also been some Vodkas that are made from wine grapes and have been able to establish themselves.

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Flavored Vodkas

Flavored Vodkas have been all the rage in the past few years. What the producers are trying to do here is to jazz up the neutral flavor that’s boring to many even before the Vodka leaves the factory, so that it will be accepted as a scene drink rather than only serving as a base for cocktails and other mixed drinks. The flavoring occurs by adding seasonings, extracts, or fruits to either the distillate or the finished Vodka. Aroma oils can also be used for flavoring. Vodka is often flavored with fresh fruit notes such as lemon, lime, orange, or blackcurrant in order to give the drink a refreshing and lively character.