There’s nothing quite like vodka to remind us of the best in classic alcoholic tipples. But what is vodka made from? Vodka is a staple of great socialising, so most of us think we know everything there is to know about Vodka. For example, is vodka made from potatoes? That's right. The answer is, yes, usually. But actually vodka is made in different localities, with alternative ingredients such as sugar beet and grains, and every different ingredient will affect the flavour of the drink. In Finland, barley tends to be used, which gives the drink a hint of sweet bread. Russians vodka is mostly wheat based vodka, which produces that kind of peppery, aniseed flavour. In Poland, most of the time, vodka is indeed potato-based. It gives a creamier feel and a chunkier flavour.
Now, of course, English vodka is about potatoes. But even before they’re planted, the soil is checked to ensure it’s the right mix of nutrients. Then the seed goes into the ground. When they're grown, the harvested potatoes are washed and given a scrub to take the hard outer skin away as the potato peel can’t be part of the fermentation process. Next, the potatoes are cooked and mashed to produce smaller pieces. The smoother consistency helps the chemical processes to get well underway. After cooling, the starch in the potato the starch turns to sugar, and yeast is usually added. Fermenting can take a few days or even weeks, and the care and time taken for this process will determine the quality, flavour and purity of the alcohol as well as the alcohol content. The resulting liquid is called ‘wash.’ For efficiency, the neutral alcohol tends to be shipped to a larger distillery and redistilled at this point.
Rectifying is the process of improving the flavour and odour, perhaps with sugar and added flavours. Some use a pot still, which is said to add character and roundness to the taste. Copper can be used for finishing the process. It takes out the unpleasant sulphur aromas. Some distilleries use charcoal in the filtration process to remove any final contamination, all those these days, the processes are refined enough that the alcohol may not even need filtering.
Did you know that a bottle of English vodka has around 70% water by the time it gets to you? It shouldn’t affect the taste though. Often spring water is used, or water with a low sodium content to keep the taste as pure as possible. Then extra flavouring might be added to take the harsh edge off the distilled spirit - something like honey, or sugar, or citric acid. Straight vodka isn’t meant to have any discernible taste as we know, so the quantities added should be minimal. Testing ensures that no more than the smallest quantities are added, keeping the flavour as pure as possible. Fun fact - with Polish vodka, no additives apart from water are allowed.
That’s probably all you need to know for now about how vodka is made. We reckon it’s worth sampling various types so you can understand the value of different base ingredients in English vodka production - whether root vegetables, grains or gape. We can help you out with that. Stock up and test a few different English vodkas to get a feel for your own favourite vodka.
Stuck with what to mix vodka with? Check out our blog on the best vodka mixers!