Vodka, also known as “water of life” in its Slavic origin, is an un-aged, clear spirit that can be produced using practically any ingredient that contains fermenting sugars. As a neutral grain spirit, it is often distilled multiple times.
But isn’t it flavorless? Colorless? Odorless? While it can be enjoyed neat, vodka allows other ingredients to take center stage; enhancing and bringing aroma and flavor to the forefront. It is certainly argued that it isn't so indistinct. Every brand uses different bases, and this can certainly become apparent in aroma and taste. Some would even go as far as to say that the water used to make the vodka affects the flavor! Common bases include barley, wheat, rye, potatoes, or even sugar beets and grapes, and these can all affect the character of the vodka. It originates in Eastern Europe; what is now Russia, but was once Poland.
Typically, Eastern-style varieties are more spirited and harsh, with more noteworthy flavor and aroma of the original ingredients. Vodkas made in the west tend to be more neutral, smooth and cocktail-friendly. Vodka became particularly popular in the US following the Prohibition era, and is since now produced all over the world.
Usually distilled in a column still, it is filtered once or multiple times using various ingredients. Some very exclusive vodka brands distill using quartz, silver and diamonds, or distill them in a pot still. Many might use charcoal to remove impurities. Although some would argue that the more it is filtered, the more likely it is that the original aromatic qualities disappear. Vodka is typically bottled at 80 proof.
Vodka can be enjoyed neat, but is celebrated for its affinity with cocktails such as the Moscow Mule, Vodka Martini and Cosmopolitan, or simple juice cocktails. It has a dry quality that brings the other ingredients’ flavors and aromas to the fore - this is probably why it’s the number one selling distilled spirit in the world. It is a bar essential that is a common counterpart for many a drink. With hundreds of brands available, you can enjoy big names like Absolut, Smirnoff and Grey Goose, but also a wide range of boutique vodkas made with interesting ingredients.