What is vodka?
Vodka is a clear spirit that originates in parts of Eastern Europe. It can be made from a variety of ingredients - anything from starchy grains, such as rye and wheat, to vegetables such as potatoes! Vodka is officially “tasteless”, and due to this, it is used in many cocktails as a base alcohol, rather than any kind of flavour enhancer. However, others know it to taste spicy and sweet, with a smooth, “oily” texture. It is also known for its high alcohol content, reaching up to 40% ABV. Vodka remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Eastern Europe, with the average Russian consuming up to 17 shots a month!
What is gin?
Gin is another clear spirit that has a distinct flavour that comes from distilling juniper berries during the production process. This spirit originates in Holland around the 17th century, and like many other alcoholic beverages, it was originally used for medicinal purposes. Gin is flavored through a re-distillation process in which a neutral spirit is distilled with juniper berries and other flavoring agents, turning it into gin, however, the production process varies from one gin to another. Many cheap gins are made with artificial flavorings, rather than with actual juniper berries.
Gin and vodka are similar in their clear, water-like appearance. This makes the two spirits common substitutions for each other in cocktails. For example, it is common for the gin in a Martini to be swapped out for vodka, making the drink a Vodka Martini. In addition to this, both vodka and gin can be made out of a wide variety of base ingredients; common bases include corn, wheat, sorghum, rye and more. The production process is also similar between the two spirits - first, fermentation and then distillation multiple times until most flavour is removed. Then, water is added to dilute the alcohol percentage by volume. During the production process of gin, juniper and other spices are then added.
What makes them different?
It is important that gin can be classified as a flavored vodka, due to the similarities in production process, with the addition of the added gin flavorings. With this, vodka can not be labelled as a type of gin. Without the added flavorings, gin is essentially a type of vodka.
As mentioned above, gin and vodka have very similar appearances, however, they differ largely when it comes to taste. Vodka is officially said to be “tasteless”, whilst gin has a larger flavour profile, with hints of herbs and berry. Where vodka is water based, gin is distilled with herbs and juniper, making them distinctive in their own flavors.
When being served, it is vital that vodka is served extremely cold. When chilled, vodka is at its peak, enabling you to access every flavour it provides. On the contrary, gin can be served both chilled and not chilled - its flavour is still delicious at whatever temperature. Its aromatics are present whether chilled or not.
Vodka can be used for a number of cocktails, due to its “tasteless” profile, making it compatible with a range of flavors, from fruity to bitter. Some of this classic cocktails that every vodka fan should be able to make include:
- Cosmopolitan: Vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and freshly squeezed lime juice
- Screwdriver: Vodka and orange juice.
- Bloody Mary: Vodka, tomato juice, and other spices and additional flavorings including Worcestershire sauce, hot sauces, garlic, herbs, horseradish, celery, olives, and more.
- Moscow Mule: Vodka, ginger beer, freshly squeezed lime juice
- Black Russian: Vodka and coffee liqueur.
When it comes to gin, these cocktails tend to be a little bit more minimalist, allowing the strong gin flavour to shine through. Some of these cocktails include:
- Martini: Gin and vermouth, garnished with an olive
- Negroni: Gin, vermouth rosso, and Campari
- White Lady: Gin, cointreau, fresh lemon juice (and an optional egg white!).
- Gimlet: Gin and lime cordial.