Vodka: it’s one of those “basic” alcohols. It’s colourless, has little flavour, and is very mix-friendly. In recent years, the Moscow Mule has become one of those go-to drinks. You see people drinking it in copper mugs in bars all over. Vodka has become iconic, but also somewhat abused. It’s the alcohol that we mix with other things for flavour. But there’s actually a lot more to vodka.
Vodka was first produced in Russia (or Poland: there’s a dispute over this) in the 8th and 9th centuries. But this was probably just a precursor to what we know as vodka today. The first written record of vodka occurred in the Sandomierz Court Registry in Poland in 14005. Here are five facts you didn’t know about vodka:
Most Vodka Isn’t Made From Potatoes
What? This is probably one of those basic vodka facts you thought you knew. Sorry, vodka wasn’t even originally made from potatoes. You _can_ use potatoes to make it, but all you really need is sugar. Most modern vodka is actually grain-based. The base ingredient can change the final product though.
Whey or potato-based vodka may be more creamy than wheat-based vodka (which is often lighter). Vodka can actually be “corrected” after it’s been distilled. Producers will add sugar, glycerin, or citric acid to try to soften the harshness. These levels are usually pretty low though.
Both vodka and whiskey have similar origins. The word “vodka” comes from the Slavic word for water (voda). The word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic expression “water of life” (uisge beatha).
Vodka This Is “Flavourless” is Flavourless On Purpose
We can thank the distilling process for that mass-produced and flavourless vodka. During the process, the alcohol is stripped of impurities, but it’s also stripped of congeners (those are the things that give the alcohol the flavour). Because most vodka is distilled at least three times, the flavour tends to “run out.” In actuality, different vodkas subtly have different flavours, fragrances, and texture. Some is even sweet.
Vodka wasn’t always flavourless. Distillation came to Europe around the 8th century AD, but it was still a rough process. Because impurities were frequently left in the alcohol, producers would try to mask them with spices and fruits.
Higher Quality And Craft Vodkas Are Becoming More Common
Even though vodka has an odourless and flavourless reputation, many vodka producers are using higher quality ingredients. The result is a subtle blend of flavours, and vodka that you may want to sample straight (without all the mixers).
Pyotr Smirnov was a Russian peasant who began producing the iconic vodka. To market his product, he went to the poorest neighbourhoods, got people drinking it, and paid them to ask for it in other taverns. We’ve got social media now, but I recently stayed at a resort where a craft vodka producer gave out samples… and told us to ask for it at bars. I guess he learned from the best.
There Is A Reason We Store Vodka In The Freezer
Vodka has a lot of heat to it. It’s distilled to a minimum of 40% ABV (and often higher). If you store it in the freezer and keep it cold, the heat is tamed. More of the viscosity and richness of spirit are evident when you drink it cold.
Russians Usually Drink Vodka With Food
Russians almost always drink vodka with food. While drinking, they eat little plates of “zakuski” (which means, “something to bite after”). These are hors d’oeuvres, or snacks that are used to protect your stomach from that fiery vodka. The Russians like to toast too, and there’s a complicated etiquette involved. The toasts are supposed to come in a specific order. They used to toast, “To Stalin,” but these days it depends on where you are as to what you toast first (and second, and third, and fourth, and… well, you get the picture).
In the past, vodka was sold as a cure to all sorts of things: infertility, the plague, etc… But today, vodka has been proven effective at disinfecting a toothache, and treating poison ivy. If you’re exposed to poison ivy, immediately pour vodka on the skin. The alcohol will wash away the toxin. Higher proof vodka is better.