Staple at every bar, liquor store, and college party, vodka is the neutral-tasting liquor everyone gravitates towards. Not only is it clear, making it perfect to go with any kind of mixer.
Vodka is also a versatile ingredient in both cocktails and gourmet dishes. You can use it to make a martini when you don’t have gin on hand. You can also add a splash of it to pasta sauce, or infuse it into the ingredients of a chocolate cake.
Vodka is the booze everyone needs for a good kick. But how much do you actually know about this liquor? How did it come about, and is it really as straightforward as its color and taste make it seem?
What exactly is vodka?
Coming it at an ABV of 37.5% at its lowest and 55% at its highest, vodka is a type of distilled liquor.
Many will tell you that vodka is made of potatoes, but this isn’t exactly accurate. Some vodkas are made of potatoes as per the distiller’s choice, but vodka is inherently made of distilled starch, be it grains, corn, potatoes, or fruits.
The European Union has its own rules about what liquor can be considered as vodka. A drink made of distilled starch can only be named “vodka” if its ABV is 37.5%. Across the pond in the United States, the standard ABV for vodka is 40%.
How vodka came to be?
A universally accepted myth is that vodka originated from somewhere in Eastern Europe. However, there is no verifying whether this is true or false.
To this day, there is an area in this part of Europe called the “vodka belt” though. These countries are where people think vodka came from, and includes Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
Perhaps some may lean towards believing that Poland was the birthplace of vodka. There is proof that somewhat supports this, as a Polish manuscript from 1405 was discovered to contain the earliest record of vodka.
Another account favors Russia as the origin country of vodka. Stories have it that the Russians found out that distilling wheat resulted in alcohol, and that was the origin of vodka. However, as distilling technology hadn’t evolved, the drink became more of a lowbrow beverage.
In the Russian account, Empress Catherina II was the gamechanger. When she took the throne, she permitted the country’s noblemen to make liquor from home, functioning as small-scale vodka factories.
This was when the clarifying technique for vodka was birthed. The nobles found that incorporating charcoal could make the vodka appear clearer in the end. And so, the vodka began to look like the vodka we know today.
Despite the disputes as to where the clear liquor originated, history seems to agree upon the fact that it was exclusively produced in Eastern Europe and Russia, at least until World War II.
At this point in time, western countries started making their own vodka however they saw fit. America began using potatoes as a base ingredient, and vodka increased in popularity from there.